Oleksy smiles and holds up his milestone puck. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)
In Sunday’s game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, number 61 netted the game’s first goal. That’s not surprising: Rick Nash is an elite player. But it wasn’t New York’s number 61; it was Washington’s Steve Oleksy. Before this season, Oleksy had just a few years playing college hockey and a bunch of ECHL games to his name. Now, he’s got four points in four National Hockey League games. His goal on Sunday was the first of his NHL career.
“I don’t score a lot of goals so every one’s nice,” Oleksy said after the game. “I don’t really know what to say. I’m just kind of the kid living the dream right now.”
Wolski isn’t dead. This is just how he celebrates goals. (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)
Wojtek Wolski was playing first-line left wing when he scored a third period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was February 1. He would take 35 days to notch his next tally, which came during Tuesday’s overtime win over Boston. Wolski scored another goal less than 48 hours later– at the beginning of the Washington’s 7-1 rout of the Florida Panthers.
“It’s the fun part of hockey,” Wolski said of his recent goals. “I had so many chances in the last little while, and they weren’t going in, and we weren’t scoring, and we were losing. It’s tough, it’s frustrating. When it turns the other way and the hard work pays off, it’s reassuring. I’m really happy about it.”
Oleksy and Kundratek pose with their milestone pucks. (Photo via the Capitals’ Instagram)
Tuesday, while also a good night for the Washington Capitals, was a great one for former Hershey Bears defensemen. First, Steve Oleksy notched his first NHL point, getting an assist on Mike Ribeiro’s second period tally. Later in the period, it was Tomas Kundratek‘s turn. With the Caps down 3-1, Kundratek put Washington within one with a pin-balling shot that hit the back of the net for his inaugural NHL goal. Thanks to Eric Fehr’s magical overtime marker, Washington came back to win 4-3, beating one of the league’s top team in the Boston Bruins. Kundratek, adding to his memorable night, had an assist on the game winner.
“It’s great to comeback in a game like this against a team like this,” Kundratek said after the game. “It’s great thing for us. We’ll have to keep going after this.”
“Fans were pushing us forward,” he added. “It was unreal. It was a great crowd.”
The past decade has seen the United States involved in two wars — one in Iraq, one in Afghanistan. We’re all aware of them, we’ve seen the headlines. But for most Americans, the country’s battles are an abstraction. It’s something on the news, not part of the stories of other human beings.
Some Americans, though, can’t remove themselves from them — the wars have taken members of their family. Husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers: the all have loved ones who will never come home. This has unfolded thousands of times throughout the past 12 years.
We haven’t seen Alex Ovechkin like this in a while — for more than two years to be exact. On an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center, Ovi showed that he is not washed up. He can still be Alex Ovechkin. Three goals, four points, and one Capitals victory. It was his first hat trick since January 2011.
“The chances are there but just sometimes I feel the puck just doesn’t want to go in,” Ovechkin told reporters after the game. “Today it’s that kind of a game. Almost every shots goes in.”
Finally, this season is starting to look bright for the Great Eight. He struggled early in the year, registering two more collisions with teammates then he did goals for a time. Now, though, he’s scoring at his old pace. Caps fans waited a long time to see — and cheer — for that.
“To be honest with you I kind of forget what “Rock the Red” means,” Ovi said.
Fehr, center, celebrates his first goal against the Bolts on Thursday. (Photo credit: Scott Audette)
I was sitting in section 112 of Heinz Field as the rain steadily picked up. It was New Year’s Day, night time, and the Capitals were clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period of the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. As puddles were forming on the temporary ice sheet, Jason Chimera fired a centering pass to a player streaking down the middle of the ice. A couple seconds later, Eric Fehr had his second goal of the game. Washington won 3-1.
Two years later, things are different. Their coach at the time, Bruce Boudreau, is gone. As is his successor Dale Hunter. The Caps are no longer competing for the best record in the National Hockey League. Right now they’re just trying to stay relevant.
But Fehr got out before all that. When he left the team, they just finished their second straight year being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the number one seed. Fehr had a rough last year in Washington. A victim of nagging shoulder issues (which had previously required surgery) the Manitoba native dislocated his shoulder just two weeks after the marquee match in Pittsburgh, tearing a ligament in the joint. He tried to come back after rehab, but former 20 goal scorer wasn’t the same. In May of 2011, he went under the knife to repair the damage. Two months later, Fehr, a fan favorite, was traded in a salary dump to the newly minted Winnipeg Jets. It was the team — albeit in a different incarnation — he grew up loving as a kid.
Fehr, though, didn’t step on the ice much for the Jets in their inaugural season. His shoulder never fully healed. He would play for a few weeks and then be sidelined again. In 35 games, Fehr scored just two goals. Winnipeg showed no interest in resigning him. He couldn’t get a deal before the NHL lockout.
“It was frustrating because knew I wasn’t at my best, I wasn’t at the top of my game,” Fehr said of his time with the Jets. “I feel like I was more in survival mode.”
Braden Holtby has been shaky at times this season. After his excellent run in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the young netminder has struggled to find his game the first few weeks of the season. Of course, he wasn’t the only one.
“It’s obviously it’s others saying that — the media and whatnot,” Holtby said of the early season travails. “It doesn’t even come close to the pressure we put on ourselves in this room.”
Saturday, though, we saw the Holtby Caps fans love — saves, sass, and stick handling that can put forwards to shame.
With the Caps on the power play up 1-0 early in the second period — a frame that they’ve had some issues with this season — Holtby scooped up the puck cleared down the rink by the Florida Panthers. The former minor hockey forward then fired a beautiful saucer pass from here to the moon — or rather from the crease to just before the far blue line (around 110 feet), where Troy Brouwer was waiting. Brouwer then rifled a slap shot past Jose Theodore for his second goal of the night (his first tally required less skill and more backside).
“Great play, big goal,” head coach Adam Oates said. “It obviously hurt.”
As you might have heard, the Caps have lost a few games recently. No one really has good answer for why that’s happened. George McPhee wants the team to take fewer penalties. Jay Beaglewants to sacrifice a cow. Well, Caps fans can only take action on the latter. And they did. In the parking lot of Kettler Capitals Iceplex following the club’s morning skate before Saturday’s game against the Panthers, rubber cows and goats had their noggins chopped off for a good cause. In the vein of a similar (and successful) plea to the heavens when the Nationals were in the dumps, Jenn Rubenstein of Arlington, Virginia led the ceremonial hacking while the Nats’ rubber chicken man Hugh Kaufman, who spearheaded the baseball version, joined in.
The Caps have gone through a ton of defenseman this season — Jack Hillen got hurt, John Erskine was suspended, and head coach Adam Oates has looked for any possible combination to get the Caps out of their slump.
Since January 22nd, that has meant going with Tomas Kundratek, a 23-year-old Czech acquired in a minor league trade a little over a year ago, sometimes at the cost of guys like Roman Hamrlik. Kundratek was called up from Hershey after putting up 26 points with the Bears and being in the top five in goals among AHL defensemen.
“I coached him a little in Hershey and liked him and liked what I saw,” said Oates. “I think he’s done a great job when he’s been here so far.”
In the far corner of the room, Braden Holtby sat at his locker and stared at the ground. As the rest of the team spoke to the media, Holtby remained there, stoic and still in full gear. He didn’t look up. Finally, fellow goaltender Michal Neuvirth came over and gave him a tap on the pads. After a few minutes, Holtby got up and walked out of the room.
The Caps had just been smacked by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Holtby gave up six goals on 26 shots. At one point in the game, it was five goals on 14 shots. After coming into the season as the team’s tentative starting netminder, he has a save percentage of just .862. His goals against average is 4.52. Nothing, it seems, is going right for the 23-year-old from Saskatchewan.
“There’s been better days,” Holtby told reporters after he reentered the locker room. “The puck seemed to go in again tonight. I feel like I’m doing some right things and obviously a couple things I’d like to change but just one of those nights.”