World, Meet Evgeny Kuznetsov

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Photo: Rob Carr

There was a time when we doubted he’d ever show up, but, last March, Evgeny Kuznetsov finally came to the Caps. Three KHL seasons after George McPhee winked at a TSN camera and drafted the young Russian, Kuznetsov left his hometown team, Trakor Chelyabinsk, to live in Alex Ovechkin’s house in Arlington, Va., and play North American hockey. Thursday night was his coming out party.

After going scoreless in his first four career playoff games, Kuznetsov tallied two goals and an assist in game five. It wasn’t so much that he scored or recorded a team-high three points, it was the confidence that Kuznetsov oozed. We saw it on display all the time in the KHL– from his wacky celebrations, brash interviews, and constant production of highlight-reel plays– but that swagger hasn’t come easily this season. Kuznetsov had to learn a new position, center, and he had to learn how to be successful in a new, nuanced system under veteran head coach Barry Trotz. On top of that, the 22 year old had to learn a new culture and language.

On Thursday, those struggles and insecurities evaporated in front of 18,506 at Verizon Center. It was beautiful to watch.

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Photo: @WashCaps

Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals tied up their first-round playoff series with the New York Islanders on a thrilling overtime goal by Nicklas Backstrom. Or was it?

Upon replay of the goal, it appears the puck might have gone off of the Caps’ Joel Ward or maybe even the Islanders’ Johnny Boychuk.

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Photo credit: Chris Gordon

In recent years, as the Capitals began to falter and the Wizards and Nationals rose to playoff status, the crowds at Verizon Center slowly shrank. Though the team announced its 264th consecutive sellout after game two, there have often been large swatches of empty purple seats in the last few years.

Now, the Caps are back in the playoffs. They have a new coach, a new mentality, and are confident that they can finally bring a Stanley Cup to Washington.

With the resurgence of the team, the fans have come back. On this Friday night, the crowd brought back memories of late-game Sergei Fedorov goals and the hope and promise of the electric, run and gun Caps. At one point during game two, the decibel level reached 112. For a lot of the night, the numbers were over 100, nearly breaching the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s permissible noise level exposure limits.

The Rock the Red spirit is back and it’s pushing the Capitals forward. The team knows it. Here’s what they said after the game.

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For almost 60 minutes, the Washington Capitals looked in shambles as they faced the New York Islanders in game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The game was filled with bad decisions and sloppy mistakes. Washington has high hopes for this spring, but Wednesday’s performance put those dreams, at least for now, in doubt.

After the game, the locker room was filled with frustrated players, with many Capitals saying they lacked focus and threw away the fundamentals of hockey.

All that is a recipe for a hard practice full of yelling and skating the next day. Barry Trotz was asked Thursday if he considered doing that. His response was simple: “No.”

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Photo credit: Alex Brandon

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Washington Capitals were confident. With a new coach this year, they had turned into a crisp, well-structured team, generally controlling the puck and therefore the play. They finished the season tied for the eighth highest point total in the league.

“In the past we were maybe sort of a rush team,” forward Brooks Laich, a veteran of the light ’em up Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals of 2010, said. “I don’t think we’re as high flying, high octane offense as we once were, but I think we’re a lot more difficult to play against this way. It should bode well for a sustained playoff run.”

“We’re gonna be ready,” Laich concluded.

They weren’t.

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Photo: Alex Prewitt

After Tuesday’s practice, NHL.com beat writer Katie Brown noticed Karl Alzner and John Carlson wearing new playoff hats. Overlaid on a silhouette of Abe Lincoln (with a hole in its head*) read the text My Man. Naturally, no one really understood the significance of the phrase or what it was doing on a team-prepared hat. Sure, the Abe Lincoln silhouette was a nod to the Caps’ post-victory Honest Abe award. But what about the phrase?

Brown made Alzner spill the beans.

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Alex Ovechkin Bus Presentation

Photo: Monumental Network

On Wednesday afternoon, NHLPA’s Chris Lomon published an article entitled Teammates Talk On Alex Ovechkin. There’s lots of great stuff about how Ovi is one of the greatest players in the world. But I want to point you to my favorite quote from teammate Troy Brouwer.

“The one thing I would love the hockey world to know about Alex is that has the worst style ever,” Brouwer said of his captain. “He only has a few suits and he wears a tuxedo shirt with one of his suits.”

Oh, c’mon, Troy. There’s no way that’s tru…

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Photo: Patrick Smith

This is amazing.

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Photo: Monumental Network

Not only do the Washington Capitals have a talented team on the ice, they also sport a number of gifted people off of it. I mean, heck, PA Announcer Wes Johnson has been in a Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom, a John Waters movie, and a national TV commercial with Ray Lewis.

On Saturday, Caps anthem singer Bob McDonald will spread his wings in concert at AMP by Strathmore in Bethesda (doors 6:30, show 8pm). Tickets are still available as of right this moment, but you should get on it now, because I’m told they’re going fast.

The Master Sergeant has been singing at Capitals games since the 1992-93 season. As an active duty soldier, McDonald also sings in the U.S. Army Chorus. On New Year’s Day, he sung during the Winter Classic in the NHL’s best outdoor pre-game ceremony yet.

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Photo: Scott Cannon

A few weeks ago, Mike Green started playing with an old Easton Stealth CNT from his 30-goal season. Discontinued almost 10 years ago, Green found one of those sticks in his garage. Green started breaking out the stick in special situations, hoping to regain some of the offensive magic he had in the last decade. The CNT, he said, is the best stick he’s ever used. At the time, he had just one.

After I wrote about it, readers starting emailing RMNB to offer their old game-used Stealths that they had purchased or had been given by Green. Some are even signed. Since then, readers have slowly been resupplying Green with those old CNTs.

On Saturday, Green scored with one of those reader-provided sticks, his second goal since he started using the CNT again.

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