Adam Oates Looks for Scoring Balance With New Top-Six

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

This season, Alex Ovechkin’s shot has been an unstoppable force of destruction. Ovi has registered 31 goals. His line’s scoring, however, has often been one-sided. Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin’s linemates for much of the season, have scored just six even-strength goals. When Ovi’s hitting the net, it’s not a problem. But if last year’s MVP hits some bad luck, as he did over the four games before last night, the line struggles. Ovechkin has just a single assist during five-on-five play.

“It’s not enough,” Oates said when I asked him about that stat. “It shows how much all three guys are important.”

For Thursday’s game against the Hurricanes, Oates switched up his lines, putting Ovechkin with Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski while placing Johansson and Backstrom with Brouwer.

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Steve Oleksy Scores Goal, Gets Really Excited

On December 8, Steve Oleksy scored his first goal in 273 days, after seven games as a healthy scratch. Now, 25 days later, he’s got another, a game-tying tally against the Carolina Hurricanes. It was a typical Oleksy goal: seemingly accidental.

“It’s a good feeling when you don’t get many,” Oleksy told me after the game. “That’s the way it goes. Especially at this level I’m not really known for the goal scoring touch from the blueline. You go through spells where you don’t pop any in. It’s important that you’re getting looks. I’ve had some good looks over the last couple games. It’s nice to finally have some go in.”

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Alex Ovechkin Criticizes Alex Ovechkin’s Plus-Minus

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Photo credit: Scott Levy

Earlier this week, former NHLer Marty McSorley took the hatchet out on Alex Ovechkin. Broadcasting for Sportsnet during Monday’s game in Ottawa, he criticized last year’s MVP for not playing defense and being bad during five-on-five, using Ovechkin’s poor plus-minus as an example. Ovi’s defenders were outraged, pointing out the unreliability of plus-minus as a statistic. However, one person seems to buy that criticism: Alex Ovechkin.

“I think we have great offense, but on the defensive side, if you look at my stats, I’m a minus-13 or minus-14,” Ovechkin told reporters after Thursday’s morning skate. “It’s kind of a situation where you want to be better.”

“Defensive side can win the game,” he added. “More responsibility in your zone is going to help your offense as well.”

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Photo: Marc DesRosiers

The Capitals absorbed two tough losses in the past two days. Alex Ovechkin, in the middle of his longest goal drought of season, seems frustrated. He took it out on the referees after Monday’s contest in Ottawa, which Washington lost 3-1.

“To be honest with you, tonight I think both teams play well, but four guys out there didn’t do their job,” he told reporters, indicating the officiating staff of Brad Meier, Jean Hebert, Mark Wheler, and Pierre Racicot. “I think the guys celebrate New Year’s too early right before the game.”

“It was embarrassing to see,” Ovechkin added.

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Philipp Grubauer Talks Don Cherry, VHS, and Olie Kolzig

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On Saturday, Ben R. got this German National Team jersey signed by Grubi.

On Saturday, Ben R. got this German National Team jersey signed by Grubi.

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

For the ninth time in 11 games, Philipp Grubauer will be in net for the Washington Capitals on Monday. Originally called up to fill space on the bench while Michal Neuvirth was out with an ankle injury, Grubi has surprisingly become the Capitals’ number one netminder. And he has the numbers to back it up. Since being called up at the end of November, Grubauer has a save percentage of .937. During that same span, Braden Holtby has a save percentage of just .863. Adam Oates continues to play the hot hand. Sunday night, news broke that Neuvy was fed up, with his agent requesting a trade.

Since Grubauer is seeing so much ice time, Ian and I wanted to get to know the 22-year-old German better. Here’s his conversation with RMNB from Saturday, with some questions from ya boys Chuck Gormley and Katie Carrera towards the very end.

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Brooks Laich is Out Again

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Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub

Here we go a again: after missing a month with a groin injury before returning Monday night, Brooks Laich is once again out.

“It’s disappointing because George and I met with him that morning and he said he felt 100 percent; contact, conditioning, everything,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters after the morning skate. “I think in his mind he did feel that way.”

“It’s been a long time of almosts,” Oates added.

Laich’s saga has been ongoing since he first injured his groin playing in Switzerland during last year’s lockout. He played in just nine games last season, with his return to the lineup constantly pushed back. It was reported that he had surgery to repair the issue, something Laich insisted wasn’t true. Nevertheless, the problem came back this year. Brooks claimed the injuries were similar, but not the same. But once again, a day-to-day aliment turned into uncertain timeframe. After playing 13:23 against Anaheim, Laich is back on the injured list.

“I’m kind of in a holding pattern,” the 30-year-old Laich said. “That’s really as much as I can divulge right now.”

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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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Bruce Boudreau’s Ducks Are Flying High

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

The Anaheim Ducks have the best record in the NHL. Their coach, Bruce Boudreau, seems to have fallen up when he was fired by the Washington Capitals in 2011. The team has won nine in row, led by offensive stars Ryan Getzlaf, number three in league in points, and Corey Perry, number three in the league in goals. They have a good chance to win their second Stanley Cup since 2007. Monday night, they extended their winning streak with a comeback victory in Boudreau’s, Bob Woods’s, and Mathieu Perreault’s return to Verizon Center.

“Nine in a row: that’s pretty cool,” Boudreau told reporters after the game. “They were trying hard for the guys that were in Washington.”

For Boudreau, it was a surreal experience, plucked from the AHL’s Hershey Bears to lead the Capitals in 2007. More than anyone save for Alex Ovechkin, Boudreau is responsible for putting hockey back on the map in Washington. Without him, the Capitals wouldn’t have had their 202nd consecutive sellout Monday night. Without him, the team wouldn’t become the talk of the NHL. Without him, there may not have been any banners.

“Four and a half years — the greatest years of my life,” Boudreau said. “They didn’t put me on the board! Oh well.”

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Jagr

Jagr talks to the media after the game. (Photo credit: Katie Brown)

Jagr talks to the media after the game. (Photo credit: Katie Brown)

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

On Saturday night, two of the greatest scorers of all time matched up. They’re similar players: elite snipers from Eastern Europe with innumerable fans but many critics. In 2001, the Washington Capitals gave Jaromir Jagr the largest contract in NHL history: seven years, $77 million. In 2008, the Washington Capitals gave Alex Ovechkin the largest contract in NHL history: 13 years, $124 million. For Caps fans, however, their feelings toward each are starkly different; they hate Jagr and they love Ovechkin.

In his latest return to Verizon Center, Jagr — like his hair — was majestic. He led the Devils comeback, scoring a goal and picking up two assists, including the primary on the game winner. All night, he faced boos from the 18,506 red-clad people, who haven’t forgotten his disastrous two and a half years in Washington.

“There was a couple ‘Zoo-by!” he joked, referring to linemate Dainius Zubrus. “Oh yeah, it was ‘Zooby!’

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Photo credit: Patrick Smith

The Washington Capitals 2013-14 season has been a roller coaster, but their big summer acquisition, Mikhail Grabovski, has been one of the team’s most reliable performers. The 29-year-old Belarussian has adjusted splendidly to his new team and is on pace to comfortably exceed his career-best season total of 58 points — all earned while centering just about every winger on the Capitals roster. Grabo has received accolades from coaches, teammates, and analysts alike– a significant turnaround from the disastrous end to his time with the Maple Leafs.

So, how is Misha settling in the new city, how does he get along with gracious host Alex Ovechkin, and, of course, what led to the conflict between him and his old coach? Those are just some of the questions Igor Tichonenko of the Russian Service of Voice of America asked Grabo a couple of weeks ago when they met up at KCI. They went for a ride in Grabo’s car — in spite of having roomed with his captain for a few months now, Grabo does not drive 250 km/hr (at least not with camera rolling). You can watch the whole interview, and just in case your Russian has gotten a tad rusty, you are welcome to cheat and follow along the translation below.

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