Monday morning, George McPhee said goodbye to an organization he’s known for 17 years.
He was charming, not bitter, during his 34-minute press conference at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Canned on Saturday, McPhee deflected blame toward himself, refusing to discuss individual performances.
“Should I start by saying fire away or is that the wrong terminology?” McPhee joked as he walked up to the podium. “I felt it was coming, but in this job, you’re 24 hours away from being fired almost any time.”
What could be a bigger downer than giving an interview right after missing playoffs by by just four points? How about giving an interview after missing two playoffs by four points in two months! Because’s that’s what happened to Evgeny Kuznetsov: first in the KHL, when last year’s Gagarin Cup finalist Traktor came up short, then again when the Caps missed their chance by the same margin.
That was on Kuznetsov ‘s mind when we chatted on breakdown day.
On Monday, the Washington Capitals held Breakdown Day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. For two hours, Caps players filed out of the locker room and conducted exit interviews with the media. Because of the whole no playoffs thing, there were a lot of long faces.
There’s about three hours of interview video to surf though on Monumental Network. Because I hate myself and care only about you, dear reader, I’ve transcribed all the key quotes. And because this is RMNB, I also pointed out the fashion choices. Sadly, there was no crazy hair this year.
Lt. Mosko and his wife Amanda in Hawaii in 2010. (Photo via NY Times)
On April 26, 2012, Lt. Christopher E. Mosko, a Naval explosive ordnance disposal technician, was killed along with two fellow servicemen when they hit a roadside bomb heading into a village. He was 28-years-old.
Lt. Mosko was stationed at a remote 30-man outpost in Zabul province called Camp McPhee. He had been in the military since 2007, joining after getting a degree in finance and engineering at Drexel. He left behind a wife, Amanda. The couple married in 2009 after meeting in R.O.T.C. They both ended up in the Navy. After his death, Lt. Mosko was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
Two years later, Americans have left Camp McPhee. Our involvement in Afghanistan is coming to a close, and Afghans are in the process of electing a new president. While there will likely be an American presence in the country after this year to train Afghan forces, the majority of the troops have already come home. Twelve years after special operations troops chased Osama Bin Laden through the mountains of Tora Bora, the war is winding down with uncertainty and 2,316 American fatalities, including Lt. Mosko.
A few days ago, on a sunny Friday afternoon, I met one of Lt. Mosko’s friends. They grew up together, attending the same high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Years later, coincidentally, they found themselves in the same dusty collection of buildings in Central Asia.
“It’s kinda like the Wild West where we were,” the friend said. “It was just on an island out there. Us versus them.”
With 42 seconds left in the Capitals’ 4-0 win over Chicago, Jay Beagle skated to the bench looking for a change. He had been on the ice for three shifts in the last four minutes. His teammates, however, were adamant that he stay on the ice. But finally, after Beagle crawled over the bench wall, Eric Fehr stepped on for the final shift.
“I felt bad for him because I knew how tired he was,” Fehr told me. “I could see it in his eyes. He doesn’t get that look very often. He was begging to come off. I took a second and evaluated it and figured I better go.”
Said Beagle of his reaction: “I said “’I’m not! I’m not staying on. I can’t even move my legs anymore!”
Beninati was last seen on television on Friday, when he was covering the NCAA Hockey Midwest Regional for ESPNU in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“We had two semifinal games [to call on] Friday,” Beninati told me by email. “On Friday afternoon before the games began, I felt like my voice was weakening with laryngitis. I called both games and by the time I finished those six hours on air, my voice was shot.”
The Caps are bad at defense and give up a lot of odd-man breaks. Even when they win, Washington can’t hide that flaw. One aspect of that is particularly troubling: the amount of rushes they allow on their own power play.
The Capitals man-advantage has kept them afloat all year, generating about a third of their offense. However, against the Stars their PP could barely get going. Dallas had two breakaways on Washington’s opening power play, which was quickly negated by a John Carlson slash.
“Usually odd-man rushes are our breakdowns, not necessarily great plays by them,” Carlson said after the game. “We can’t let that happen. We’re too good of players.”
For 10 years, Jarome Iginla was the captain of the Calgary Flames. He was the franchise, in the same way Alex Ovechkin is now synonymous with the Washington Capitals. But in Iginla’s last few years with the team, the Flames got bad. Wanting to win a Cup before his career was over, Iginla engineered a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, spurring the Boston Bruins at the last second. The closest Iginla had ever come was a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2004.
Ironically, the Bruins headed to the Final against the Blackhawks last season, with another year ticking off on Iginla’s career. He signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Bruins this offseason. At 36, Iginla is on the top team in the east. The Bruins clinched the Atlantic Division by beating Washington on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s been a fun year,” Iginla told reporters after the game. “It’s been fun to win games and battling at the top of the league, to be on some streaks as a group and see them go in too. It’s been fun.”
After almost an hour and a half on the ice, the players started trickling in to the locker room. Some of the guys, though, stayed on the ice a bit longer, including Dmitry Orlov, Mikhail Grabovski, and the latest addition to the Capitals roster, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian-speaking troika remained on the ice, enjoying a game of King of the Hill on the center circle.
Finally, the Russian rookie and his buddies made their way to their locker room stalls, where he patiently answered RMNB’s questions until no stone was left unturned in the first chapter of what hopefully will be Kuzya’s long tenure in a red jersey with #92 on the back.
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.”