halak-not-playing

Photo: Alex Brandon

The Washington Capitals have less than a 5% chance of making the playoffs. Tonight, they take on the best team in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues, in what is practically an elimination game. They need everyone on board. Unfortunately, not everyone is on board.

Speaking with the press today in St. Louis, Adam Oates revealed Braden Holtby will be starting tonight. That wasn’t too surprising until Oates explained the reasoning behind the move. Jaroslav Halak had told the coaching staff he was uncomfortable playing against his former team.

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Photo: Geoff Burke

After one of the most successful West Coast road trips in franchise history, the Washington Capitals lost four straight games — three of which at home.  They’ve been outscored 16-9 during the losing streak. On April fools day, the Capitals, still in the thick of the Eastern Conference wildcard chase, played one of their most pathetic games of the year, a 5-0 blowout loss to the Dallas Stars.

It wasn’t so much that the Capitals lost, it was how listless they played considering the stakes.

When looking back at that game, it’s obvious this team is not focused. When the players hit the ice, they wilted under the adversity.

Consider warm-ups. Normally the starting goaltender leads the Caps out onto the ice. On that night, Russian rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov came out first with Ovi right behind him. A few seconds later, the rest of the team followed. According to 106.7 The Fan’s Sky Kerstein, “it looked like Ovi pranked Kuzya.”

I’ve got no idea if something silly like that has any effect on a team, but it doesn’t look good in hindsight. Even worse because it comes from the captain of the team.

During the actual game, the Capitals were a mess. They gave up two consecutive breakaways on a power play. They let the Stars score twice within 34 seconds, including a 2-on-0 breakaway by a 41-year-old. On Dallas’s fourth salvo of the night, Ovechkin quit on the play.

Head coach Adam Oates has faced difficult questions about his coaching style recently. Is that style still working? How does he motivates his players behind closed doors?

While the mainstream media has focused its attention on Oates’ honest comments about Ovechkin, there was much, much more to those interviews. Below is a summary of what I found most interesting.

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The Arguments For and Against Firing Adam Oates

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Photo: Alex Brandon

In Adam Oates’ fourth game as head coach for the Washington Capitals, he put Alex Ovechkin on the top line with Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle. We should have seen trouble coming then.

Later that season, the Capitals narrowly made the playoffs and got booted in the first round. In 2013-14, with a full preseason under his belt, Adam Oates has led the Capitals to their worst season in almost a decade. They’ve got less than a 1-in-10 chance of making the playoffs and an astronomically small chance of doing anything meaningful once they get there.

If you measure the Caps by their shot differential, Adam Oates’ team is closer to the fire-sale 2003-04 team than they are to the scoar-moar-goals heyday of 2008-09. On the other hand, Alex Ovechkin is likely to win yet another Rocket Richard Trophy and the Washington power play is the best in the league.

In this article, I will carefully measure both the arguments for and against the continued employment of Adam Oates as head coach of the Washington Capitals.

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About Those Birds at Verizon Center

verizon-center-birds

Ace photo by @WashCapsRock

On Saturday, I went to my first Washington Capitals game of the season because of the bet I lost to the Brouwer Rangers (I find it easier to cover games from home). While watching Troy Brouwer point and laugh at me in spandex was something I’ll never forget, the highlight of my day actually didn’t involve humans at all.

During the first period, as I sat in my perch (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in section 402, I noticed something through the visor of my motorcycle helmet: two fat birds frantically flying around Verizon Center looking for somewhere to land. You don’t get to see this kind of stuff on TV.

The birds swooped to and fro. Every few minutes they’d fly towards people in the crowd, making Caps fans scramble and hit the deck. While I focused on their escapades during the third period, I caught myself chanting bird! bird! bird! I also confused one of the birds for the puck after Alex Ovechkin chipped the biscuit into the air towards Jay Beagle. It almost helped me forget about the terrible game I was supposed to be watching. Almost.

Anyways, for whatever reason, the whole situation cracked me up (that’s an egg joke). Now I am filled with questions: How did these birds get into Verizon Center in the first place? Why are they still here now? (The first Verizon Center bird was spotted in December. It was skinny then.) Is Slapshot involved?

And what kind of birds are these?

Lucky for us, my future cousin-in-law Ian Gardner is the biggest bird nerd in the history of bird nerds. He’s currently at Penn State studying for his M.S. in Forest Resources, he has his B.S. in Wildlife Conservation from Juniata College, and he’s been involved in the Pennsylvania birdwatching community for the past 5 years. I sent him some photos of the birds and asked him for the low-down.

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Oleg Znarok Named Coach of Team Russia

Znarok and Gagarin Cup (Photo: Championat.com)

According to SovSport, Dynamo Moscow head coach Oleg Znarok has been named the new head coach of Team Russia. The news comes as no surprise; Znarok was pretty much the only candidate discussed in recent months. Ex-coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov failed to medal in Sochi, losing to Finland in the quarterfinals. Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored just one goal in the tournament, examplifying an overall disappointing performance by Team Russia’s stars.

Znarok has been a household name in Russian hockey since 2010, when his HC MVD Balashikha went on a Cinderella run to win the Western Conference only to lose in the finals to Zinetula Bilyaletdinov’s Ak Bars Kazan. After a successful season by the Moscow suburb team, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is related to both clubs, merged Dynamo Moscow and HC MVD into UHC Dynamo Moscow (where “U” stands for “United”). HC MVD’s coaching staff and top players moved to the storied Russian franchise. Success followed soon thereafter: Dynamo won the 2012 Gagarin Cup, and then another one, in 2013, holding off Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Traktor.

Despite being a native of Ust-Katav (Chelyabinsk Region, Russia) and an ethnic Russian, Znarok’s dual Latvian-German citizenship makes him the de jure first-ever foreign coach in Team Russia history. His assistant, Harijs Vitolins, who will also step in as head coach for Dynamo, is an ethnic Latvian.

I think the Znarok hire is a big mistake.

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I live in Frederick and work in Columbia, Maryland. That’s a 100-mile round trip every day. When I drove home from work on Monday night, my front left tire blew out as I entered the city. I coasted to the nearest Roy Rogers I could find, buried my sorrows under a starchy mound of Gold Rush Chicken sandwiches, and instagram’d a photo of my blown tire.

And I was barraged by Brooks Laich jokes.

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Okay, Maybe the Capitals Should Trade for Ryan Miller

We’ve been saying that it’d be unwise for the Washington Capitals to trade for Ryan Miller. Our reasoning wasn’t complicated: whatever extra goals Miller might save could be made up for cheaper by spending that money on skaters.

But lately I’ve been coming around. I have seen the error of my ways. I now see the appeal of trading for Miller. In fact, I think I’ve concocted the perfect transaction to make it happen.

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Sweden Handles Losing A Lot Better Than We Do (Photo)

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When the Washington Capitals are defeated in the playoffs, everyone in DC becomes miserably miserable. We leave cranky comments on stories, kvetch on talk radio, and demand someone be held accountable. I’m sure some of that stuff happens in Sweden too, but take a look at this photo taken in Stockholm on Sunday night.

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Ranking Capitals Olympians on the RMNB Putin-Weir Matrix

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Five Washington Capitals players participated in the Olympics and all of them had a miserable time. No one tore an MCL like John Tavares of the Islanders or got back surgery like Henrik Zetterberg of the Wings, but you can’t really say the Caps escaped Sochi unscathed. It was basically a ten-day pain parade that we’d all like to forget as soon as possible.

But not yet.

We need to understand it better first. We should map in our minds the unfettered misery of the Sochi Olympics. For reasons. To this end I have devised a two-dimensional matrix of sadness and badassness. Presenting the RMNB Putin-Weir matrix. (I’m really proud of this, so shut up.)

On one axis we have Sad Putin, the basic unit of human suffering. Based on the works of Viktor Frankl and Martin Buber, Sad Putin measures bad things like losing, losing real bad, getting eviscerated by the media, getting busted injecting black tar allergy medicine, and missing the birth of your child.

On the other axis we have Badass Weir, the basic unit of yolo. To rank on the Weir axis, one must outperform expectations, scoar a sick goal, buck the trends, and generally be a cool dude like Johnny Weir.

By combining these metrics, I hope to understand precisely how sucky the Sochi Olympics were. I don’t know why we’d want to do that, but we’re doing it.

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We’ve sometimes lobbed criticism at Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates, but one thing we can agree on is that his handling of Alex Ovechkin since being hired has been excellent.

Oates has reinvigorated the Caps captain, helping him to win the MVP the last season. Under Oates’ tutelage, Ovechkin has grown as a player and a scorer.

On Wednesday when asked about the mountains of criticism for Ovechkin after Russia failed to medal in their own Olympics, Oates — in my opinion — had one of his finest moments as a Capital.

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