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Photo: Jamie Sabau

This is going to be brutal, but it needs to be said.

The Washington Capitals are one of the worst teams in the league. This is the most frustrated I’ve been with a Capitals’ team since 2001-02, when that version of the Caps missed the playoffs despite acquiring Jaromir Jagr over the summer

I’d be more okay with the Capitals’ play this season — sometimes teams just don’t gel — if they were actually a bunch of terrible players playing terribly. But this team is loaded with a good core: a three-time MVP, one of the best centers in the game, three above-average defensemen, an above-average goaltender, and a bunch of intelligent veteran players. Unfortunately, the players in front of Braden Holtby either repeatedly make the same dumb mistakes, are too passive on defense, or are too careless with the puck.

There is no urgency with this team despite their difficult upcoming schedule and their recent seven-game losing streak. In the last two games, the Caps have given up nine goals against the Sabres and the Blue Jackets. Nine goals. Against the Buffalo freaking Sabres and the Columbus effing Blue Jackets.

Let’s review the Columbus goals. I want you to understand my pain.

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Photo: Kevin Hoffman

When the Washington Capitals traded Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta last year, an upset and cranky me commented on my own website,”Horrible trade. I’m embarrassed to be a Caps fan today.” To the two people who downvoted me, I will accept your apologies via email, tweet, and/or public groveling.

I didn’t hate the trade because the Caps were trading Forsberg (though I have the utmost confidence he will be a productive player in the NHL). I hated the trade because of the timing and philosophy behind it. The Capitals, worried about losing Mike Ribeiro to free agency, acquired another aging and expensive player. They loaded up for a playoff push despite being pretty dang far away from Stanley Cup contention– and in the process they gave away seven years of a talented young player who just a month ago was named MVP of the World Junior Championships.

A year later, we’re back at the crossroads. General Manager George McPhee — as well as Ted Leonsis and the rest of the organization — have some tough decisions to make about the team’s philosophy moving forward. The Caps are the sixth worst team in the league in the standings, three of their players have publicly requested trades, their defense is holey, and their offense lacks chemistry. But they also have a bevy of talented, young players knocking on the door for roster spots or waiting for bigger roles: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Riley Barber, and Philipp Grubauer.

So are the Caps rebuilding, retooling, or loading up?

Whatever they decide, these next few weeks will be pivotal for the Capitals. They must make trades ahead of the March 5th deadline. But here’s one deal they better not make: trading for Buffalo’s Ryan Miller.

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mike-green

Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn

The folks who were clamoring for more hockey coverage by Washington Post columnists are probably kicking themselves right now. Mike Wise’s Thursday night column, “It’s time for the Washington Capitals to move defenseman Mike Green,” is a jumble of ill-advised analysis culminating in that titular recommendation, which doesn’t make sense.

In his defense, Wise’s piece is charming, and he does a splendid job summarizing the Capitals woes. I don’t think anyone would disagree with his first sentence:

Something has to change.

But Wise’s choice of Thing What Needs Changing is totally capricious, and I hope no one in the Capitals front office takes it seriously.

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A Con Man Named Curtis and Other Stories from NYC

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You may have noticed Chris Gordon handled recap duties on Sunday night. That’s because I went up to New York City to watch the Rangers game with my friend John, who got me into hockey in the first place, and his new wife Kristi. We had a ball watching the Caps get utterly smoked for the fifth straight game at Madison Square Garden and I’m here to tell you about it.

It’s an epic tale of fans and frenemies, of con men and kids, of Jack Daniels and Coke. Time travel with me.

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Remembering Steve Oleksy’s Time in Washington

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Oleksy as a kid. (Photo credit: Steve Oleksy)

When you examine the Washington Capitals roster and pore over every player on defense, Steve Oleksy feels like a name that belongs. After signing with the organization as an unrestricted free agent in 2012, Oleksy worked his butt off in Hershey and earned a call-up to the Caps in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

During that year, it appeared that Oleksy, receiving 17:16 of ice time per game, solidified himself as a solid third pairing NHL defender. When Oleksy was playing, he tilted the ice in the Caps direction. Plus, he was a physical defender that would stick up for teammates and even chip in with some clutch offense. Did we mention he was physical?

Even after getting sporadic playing time this season under Adam Oates, Oleksy still has better possession stats than John Erskine and Connor Carrick. Yet, we’re here.

Monday morning, Renaud Lavoie of Journal de Montreal broke the news that Oleksy was placed on waivers. At 12pm tomorrow, Oleksy could be claimed by another NHL team and gone from the Caps organization forever. That would be a total bummer.

In his short time in DC, Oleksy has managed to become a fan favorite. He showed heart on the ice with humility and humor off of it.

Here are some of my favorite moments.

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In the first period, Washington Capitals fourth-line winger Tom Wilson did what he usually does: attempt to bring energy to the team with some physical play.

Unfortunately, the six-foot, four-inch rookie delivered another questionable hit — this time to Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain — and was given a two-minute minor for charging. The hit seemed like a less violent version of Wilson’s crushing check of Brayden Schenn from a month ago, which Brendan Shanahan later deemed a legal play.

Let’s take a look at what happened.

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mikhail-grabovski

Over the summer, general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates worked together to land arguably the most talented player on the free-agent market, Mikhail Grabovski.

Grabo, who was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs because they don’t understand teh corsis, signed a short, cap-friendly deal with Washington: one year for three million dollars. He did so, presumably, to maximize his value as a free agent heading into the 2014-15 season.

We knew all that coming in. Let me repeat: we knew this already. But, like finding a lost puppy in the woods and feeding him, it’s now hard to think of parting company from him. We want to keep Grabo forever and ever and dress him up in cute outfits.

Washington Capitals’ senior writer Mike Vogel broached the whole re-signing thing to Grabovski on Sunday. The Belarusian’s answer was telling.

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Crowdsourcing an Opinion on the Tom Wilson Hit

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Everyone’s got an opinion about Tom Wilson‘s hit on Brayden Schenn. While some might quote that old aphorism about how everyone has an opinion and a certain private part, I think it’s good to understand the variety of perspectives out there. By hearing each other out, we can learn and synthesize and think critically and become more tolerant of people with whom we don’t agree.

And then, maybe, we can all stop sending mean tweets to @russianmachine.

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Kuznetsov is unlikely to don red, white, and blue anytime soon. The Russian team that is. What did you think I meant? (Photo credit: Alexei Kudenko/RIA Novosti)

The Russian National Team has listed 33 players for its preliminary roster at the Channel One Cup, an annual international tournament for pro European players to be held in Sochi on December 19-22. In a surprise to many observers, including me, Evgeny Kuznetsov is not on the roster.

The young forward, a veteran of the World Juniors and World Championships with Sbornaya, seems to have fallen out of coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov‘s good graces. Even when Kuznetsov was playing well, Bilyaletdinov hadn’t hesitated to put Kuznetsov on a checking line. In the last 18 months, now that Kuznetsov is struggling, he seems to have lost his spot altogether.

Previously, Kuznetsov had explained that his decision to wait to come to the Capitals was to secure a spot on the Russian Olympic team this February. That decision is looking a bit less wise right now.

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Things We’re Thankful For

The Caps are a bunch of Turkeys! Get it???

Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators was awful. The Capitals are now barely about .500 and haven’t won a game in 11 days. But despite all that, we are filled with gratitude. The world isn’t so bleak as their W-L record or their Fenwick Close possession score.

Please join me while we take stock of the things we are lucky to have in our hockey lives. And then let’s eat!

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