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Photo: Bob DeChiara

When we last caught up with Connor Carrick, the diminutive first-year pro was oozing confidence after a successful 2012-13 campaign with the Plymouth Whalers. Carrick, an intelligent and motivated student of the game, continued to play out of his mind during Caps’ training camp in the fall and unexpectedly made the team as a 19-year-old.

Since then, Carrick, who scored his first NHL goal on a breakaway in his second NHL game (and also got pied), has been challenged in every way. Three games into his NHL career, Carrick dealt with the disappointment of being sent down to the American Hockey League. A few months later, he left the Bears and flew to Sweden to be a leader on Team USA’s World Junior Championship team. That’s three different coaches in three months for a teenage defenseman.

Once he returned to the states, Carrick was recalled to Washington to play 27 games for the Capitals through March. During that time, Carrick was paired with veteran John Erskine (who has been injured much of the year) on the third pairing. They struggled together and at times, Carrick looked overmatched. Though his footwork, fundamentals, and decision-making improved during that time, Carrick has felt the pressure of not succeeding and producing immediately.

On Saturday, after Caps practice ended, I caught up with Carrick in the locker room and asked him about his season so far. He seemed to have a lot of things on his mind, knowing he was not playing his game but remaining optimistic and realistic for the future.

“The biggest thing in success is not just being in the lineup,” a determined Carrick said to me. “Making the team is one thing, making the team better is another, and that’s kind of that next step. I’m hoping to take it as soon as possible.”

Here is the full transcript of our chat.

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Photo: Rob Carr

It’s been just over a week since the Washington Capitals traded Michal Neuvirth to Buffalo for Jaroslav Halak. Halak, a veteran of eight NHL seasons, is already the Caps de facto starter, sporting an above average .924 save percentage and leading the Caps to three wins in five starts.

While Halak’s play has been calming on the ice, the gear he’s been wearing has been anything but. He looks like a man without a country. Unlike Neuvirth, who has been wearing his Caps-colored mask with Buffalo, Halak has opted to wear one plainest goalie masks ever seen in the NHL. His bucket, painted a bright pearly white, has only one design feature: red painted bars covering his face.

On Saturday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, I spoke with the Slovakian netminder about his unusual gear and if or when we’ll ever see him with a Caps mask.

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Richmond-native Chelsea D. had been looking forward to this day for months. The 23-year-old sociology major from VCU has been a Washington Capitals fan for years. Her father Greg — a huge hockey fan himself– takes his daughter to five to ten Caps games a year. On New Year’s Eve, he asked Chelsea if she wanted to try something different this time. Something a little more fanatical.

“You interested in going to Casino Night? It’s in March. Mom doesn’t want to go.” Greg said. “I promise I won’t embarrass you much.”

In disbelief, Chelsea replied, “I’ll definitely go! But yes, please don’t embarrass me.”

Life threw the family a curve ball a few weeks later. Greg had to get knee replacement surgery at the end of January, then a few days before Casino Night, there was a death in the family. Greg, already hobbling as it was, had to go out to Las Vegas.

Chelsea wasn’t sure she’d still go without her dad. Unsure what to do, she asked her boyfriend Evan if he would come along. Evan, a Caps fan himself, obliged.

And then, despite all the trouble following them around lately, a special moment – that could have happened to anyone – found their family.

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Photo: Chris Gordon

Sunday was Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s first full day as an official Washington Capital, and we were all over it. Our intrepid reporters were at Kettler Capitals Iceplex first thing in the morning, taking photos, and covering his first press conference. But we also got a couple minutes with the man himself to chat in his native tongue.

RMNB’s own Igor Kleyner and Kuznetsov chatted about his first few hours in Washington, expectations for the Penguins game, and comparisons to Evgeni Malkin. Igor’s got your translation below.

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RMNB Talks to Secretary of State John Kerry

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Bros. (Photo: James Heuser)

Bros. (Photo: James Heuser)

Kerry stands at attention during the Star-Spangled Banner. (Photos by Chris Gordon)

In DC, hockey seems to be all but forgotten. Not by the residents, but by many of those who come here to govern. Capitol Hill is filled with baseball and football fans, and President Barack Obama is an enthusiastic basketball fan.

A few, though, like to lace up the skates. Until he was named America’s 68th Secretary of State last year, the annual lawmakers versus lobbyists hockey game was headlined by John Kerry, a former Yale University hockey player and senator from Massachusetts. The former Democratic nominee for president appeared at the State of the Union in 2012 with two black eyes and a broken nose, injuries he sustained in a pickup hockey game.

With the Sochi games kicking off earlier in the day, Secretary Kerry, a massive Bruins fan, visited Verizon Center to wish the eight Olympic athletes from the Jets and Caps well.

Before dropping the puck between Team USA’s Blake Wheeler and John Carlson, Secretary Kerry addressed the Capitals locker room. He also talked to RMNB in a one-on-one interview. Yeah, we’re surprised too.

Check out my conversation with the Secretary of State:

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Johansson (red) laughs during the preseason Capitals Alumni Game. (Photo: Chris Gordon)

The Washington Capitals’ defense allows the second most shots per game in the NHL. They’ve put perhaps their best defensive prospect, Dmitry Orlov, through recall-scratch-repeat hell. Now that Orlov is finally playing, he’s paired with a guy who has a similar skill set, Mike Green.

Then there’s the frequent shuffling of the Caps blue line deck. Due to injuries, on-ice struggles, waiver pickups, and call-ups from the minors, Washington has used twelve different defenseman this season. Just about every blue liner in the organization has gotten a shot as part of the 2013-14 Caps D corps.

As we head towards the stretch run, the Caps seemed to have settled on a lineup for now: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, Dmitry OrlovJohn Erskine, and Connor Carrick. Though Washington’s defense has been its biggest flaw, its recent improvement may also their best chance at making — and succeeding — in the playoffs.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with assistant coach Calle Johansson, the man who runs the Caps’ blue line, and asked him about some of his decisions, including some of the positives from this season.

The full transcript is below.

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Photos by Chris Gordon.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about a five-year-old boy named William Shannon who skated with the Capitals as part of the Make-A-Wish program. William had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It was a heartwarming story about a kid getting a little bit of joy despite a terrifying diagnosis he was probably too young to comprehend. A few days later, he was honored at Verizon Center with the jersey off Alex Semin’s back. It was a nice story, but one with an uncertain ending.

“Hockey is what has gotten him through,” his mom Sandy told me back in 2011. “Our hard days, our tough days, we are watching hockey. On our better days he’s playing hockey.”

Two-and-half years later, William is cancer-free. Monday night, he skated on the same Verizon Center ice he watched on TV from his home in West Virginia — a goalie during the first intermission Mites on Ice game. It doesn’t matter how he played. The triumph was being there — even if it was only for four minutes.

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Self-dentistry FTW!

Friday night, the Washington Capitals lost to the Florida Panthers. It was the second meeting between the two teams this season, with the Capitals winning the other match-up 3-2 (SO) in early November at Verizon Center.

During the third period of Friday’s game, as Panthers forward Krys Barch dumped the puck into the Capitals zone, CSN’s Craig Laughlin had a question for play-by-play man Joe Beninati.

Didn’t Barch pull out his tooth in the first meeting… in the penalty box?” Laughlin asked.

“Yeah, I was never sure if he did that for real or if it was all a big joke,” Beninati responded with a laugh.

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Photo credit: Justin K. Aller

Coming into training camp, Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov was looking forward to his third full season of hockey in North America. A couple of months into the season though, his hopes and expectations remain unfulfilled, as Orlov started the season in Hershey, then lost some time battling an eye infection, and then spent the rest of the time alternating between a healthy scratch with the Caps and an occasional game or two with the Bears. While there had been speculation regarding the reasons behind Dima’s numerous short-term assignments to Hershey followed by gameless call-ups to the Capitals, last night, The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera’s finally shone light on this mystery – a special clause in Orlov’s contract allows him to sign a deal in the KHL if he is not on NHL roster for at least 30 days this season by January 1st.

Just a couple of hours before the Capitals announced that Orlov was returned to Hershey for the fifth time this season, we caught up with Dima after the Caps’ morning practice and talked about the situation and how he is handling it.

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GIF by welshhockeyfan

Braden Holtby and Alzner celebrate a shootout victory. (Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub)

Braden Holtby and Alzner celebrate a shootout victory. (Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub)

When Mathieu Perreault was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, the Caps lost more than a talented forward. Perreault was the terrier puppy of the Washington Capitals: small, frantic, usually bouncing with joy. His post-game celebrations became A Thing. But Perreault wasn’t the one who came up with the idea. It was his buddy Karl Alzner, who was inspired by YouTube videos of Seton Hall basketball player Peter Dill. Though they both made up elaborate rituals, it was Perreault who got all the attention. So, after a while, Karl stopped trying.

“I was like ‘Man, that’d be awesome if we did that!’” the mustachioed defenseman told me Wednesday. “I said, ‘Perry, you gotta watch this! It’d be awesome if we did this after a win’” Next game, it went to a shootout. He did it, I did it, and his got a ton of attention.”

This year, though, Perreault is gone and the Capitals have won a spade of games in the shootout. Therefore, it’s been up Alzner to carry the torch. His repertoire is more advanced than Perreault’s, with Alzner featuring distinct celebrations this year: Bow and Arrow, Thor’s Hammer, and the Hulk Hogan.

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