JoelWardWings

The third line celebrates Chimera's goal.

The third line celebrates Chimera’s goal. (Photo: Greg Fiume)

Photo: Patrick McDermott

After Alex Ovechkin the Capitals goal scoring list takes a dip. Coming into Sunday’s game, Ovi had 38 goals. Joel Ward, the second-leading scorer, had 15. Ward continues to do his part. The 33-year-old added three more points to a remarkable season, scoring twice and assisting once in Washington’s 5-4 6-5 victory over Detroit.

“Since last year we’ve asked him to play more involved,” Caps coach Adam Oates said after the game. “He’s a good hockey player. He can’t just come to the rink and be complacent that ‘Oh, I’m gonna play third-line minutes and do the job.’ No. We need production. We need you to help the other guys out. … We need you to be a goal scoring threat.”

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Alex Ovechkin: “I Was Today Worst Player”

OvechkinJackets

Photo: Greg Bartram

After winning two straight games against weak teams, the Capitals returned to their losing ways on Thursday with a 5-2 defeat to Columbus. That means we’re in for another edition of Depressing Postgame Quotes.

Alex Ovechkin, in particular, took a hit against the Blue Jackets. The league’s leading scorer was on the ice for all five Columbus goals, with Ovi’s critics salivating at his minus-five.

“I was today bad out there,” Ovechkin told reporters after the game. “Blame on me. It’s not about Jojo, Carly, or Holts. I can’t play like that.”

“I feel bad for my team because I have to lead by example, but today I was worst guy,” the captain added.

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Photo: Kyle Mace

Twenty-two year old prospect Michael Latta was a throw-in during last year’s blockbuster Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade, but in his brief time with the Washington Capitals he has shown a lot of promise. He may yet prove to be the gem of that deal on the Caps’ end.

While playing on the fourth line with Tom Wilson earlier this season, Latta exhibited a sandpaper-like quality to his game. His talent for irritation drew six power plays for the Caps (getting whistled only three times himself) and put opposing players off their games night after night.

Latta is an accomplished fighter as well , dropping his gloves 85 times since beginning his career in juniors in 2007-08. He’s also contributed a big goal to the scoresheet, recording his first NHL goal against the Detroit Red Wings and giving the world the glorious #LattaFace in the process.

Recently, I spoke to Latta, now in Hershey, about his season to date.

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Grubauer

Grubauer's vacant locker at Kettler (Photo: Chris Gordon)

Grubauer’s vacant locker at Kettler (Photo: Chris Gordon)

Photo: Mike Carlson

For nearly two months, the Capitals have had a logjam in net. Called up in place of the injured Michal Neuvirth at the end of November, Philipp Grubauer became Washington’s number one netminder. A veteran of just two NHL games before this season, Grubauer posted the seventh highest save percentage in the league (.926), along with a record of 6-4-5 and a goals against average of 2.38.

Desperate for points, Caps head coach Adam Oates stuck with him, with Grubauer starting 14 of 20 games. Grubauer, though, came back to earth. The morning after being pulled for the second straight game — Washington’s fifth loss in a row — Grubauer was not on the ice for the day’s practice. The Caps quickly announced that he had been sent down to Hershey.

“We lost that spark in a sense,” Oates said of Grubauer’s recent losses. He didn’t blame the young German for them though.

“Three goalies is not a good situation,” Oates continued. “It’s a little dysfunctional for everybody, but it’s a situation that, unfortunately, just happened.”

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Capitals Searching for Answers After Fifth Straight Loss

BackstromBattle

Photo: Scott Levy

For the second game in a row, the Capitals got blown out. The same things were to blame for Friday’s 5-1 defeat to Columbus and Sunday’s 4-1 loss to New York: dumb penalties and turnovers. What’s troubling, though, it’s that the players and the coaching staff recognized this after Friday’s loss. However, the mistakes only got worse against the Rangers. Washington has now lost five straight games.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters after the game before ticking off the team’s shortfalls. “They didn’t really have to earn it.”

“We’re fighting an uphill battle,” he continued.

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Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn

The Caps need points. They didn’t get them tonight. After a moral victory against the Penguins, Washington dropped Friday’s game against Columbus in pathetic fashion. Despite picking up two points in the process, the Caps have lost four straight games. With six of the next seven games on the road, the upcoming stretch won’t get easier.

“It’s very frustrating,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters after the loss. “You just can’t let a game get away and be that easy. You just can’t. It’s not right.”

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Caps Get Chances, But Not Goals, Against Sharks

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates has been searching for five-on-five production all season. While Alex Ovechkin has thrived, other members of top six have been less consistent. After the first period on Tuesday, Oates had a new iteration for the first two lines: Eric Fehr-Nicklas Backstrom-Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich-Mikahil Grabovksi-Alex Ovechkin.

“We haven’t scored a lot of goals the last couple games and he’s looking for a spark,” Laich told me of Oates’s change. “Our line had a couple of good chances.”

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CalleJohansson

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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Miller

Photo: Patrick McDermott

The Buffalo Sabres are a disastrously bad hockey team. Twice in two weeks, though, they’ve shut down the Washington Capitals, holding them to just two goals total. Each time, the Caps generated plenty of offensive opportunities. Ryan Miller, however, stood in the way. In those games, Miller has stopped 77 of 79 shots against.

“I try to stay pretty calm in the the net,” Miller said when I asked him about containing Washington’s talented forwards. “Sometimes the mindset is to challenge those guys and they just pass around you.”

The Sabres pitiful play is well documented. Sunday’s win was their first one the road since November 5, an 11 game losing streak. A lot has changed since then. They fired their GM, Darcy Regier, and coach, Ron Rolston. Under new bench boss Ted Nolan, they are — at least — no longer historically bad. Buffalo’s record now stands at a sterling 13-26-5.

“It’s already gotten too far, but it’s something the guys can feel good about,” Miller said of the streak. “I think tonight was a good opportunity to reset.”

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Neuvirth salutes the crowd after being named the first star of the night. (Photo: Rob Carr)

Michal Neuvirth had been left behind in the Capitals goalie controversy. While Braden Holtby has struggled to find playing time, Neuvy hadn’t suited up for a game since November 29, when he got hurt stepping on the ice for warmups. Eventually, Neuvirth’s agent requested a trade. The status quo, though, continued. Philipp Grubauer got the starts, Holtby sat on the bench, and Neuvy watched from the press box. With little notice, Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave the Czech netminder a chance Friday.

“I was nervous as hell,” Neuvirth said of his thoughts before the game. “I was probably as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me ‘Just do what you do and try to be good.’”

“First time I step on the ice for warmup, I was feeling pretty good and confident,” he added.

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