9 Days Out: At Least It’s Not Football or Baseball

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The Nationals, picked by some to win the World Series, have had a disappointing season. The Orioles are all-but-eliminated from the postseason. Robert Griffin III is 0 and 3. The Ravens’ winning record masks big concerns on defense and offense alike. And let’s not even talk about DC United.

But in 9 days the Capitals will be back. And they will be good. So let’s just get through this next week, K?

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10 Days Out: Party?

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It’s Saturday in Washington, DC. Everyone except me did the Caps Convention thing today: picking up merch, getting signatures, checking out Troy Brouwer’s shorts, nerding out with Wes, or talking trash with the new host of Caps Red Line, Mr. Alan May. From our humble little corner of the internet, Rachel, Chris, and Ian were in attendance, covering the event, and hobnobbing with the likes of you. By all reports, it was a blast.

Which reminds me: we have not thrown a party in a while. It’s been over a year. That is unacceptable. So today, ten days before the start of the new season, we hereby promise to throw a party. But it’s kind of like the Winter Classic: we’re not saying where, and we’re not saying when. We’ll figure that out soon enough. For now, rest assured: #RMNBParty6 will be a thing.

Keep on us about it though.

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12 Days Out: Gr8 Expectations for Alex Ovechkin

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Alex Ovechkin won the Hart and Richard Trophies last season. He was pretty great– particularly on the power play. Looking forward to the 2013-14 season, there’s good reason to lower our expectations for him, but let’s not carried away.

First, we must acknowledge that Ovi excelled last year due to a superb-but-unsustainable Washington power play unit as well as his own red-hot shooting. Neil established long ago that Ovechkin is a streaky shooter, and Ovi’s shot percentage at the tail end of the season was one of the hottest streaks of his entire career– as evidenced by the blue line below, a 40-game moving average of Ovi’s shooting over his career.

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It’s unavoidable for that percentage to back off, but take heart. Ovechin’s raw shot totals (in red above) are finally rebounding after a decline that started in 09-10 and bottomed out during the doldrums of Hunter Hockey. If Adam Oates can continue to reinvigorate Alex Ovechkin’s game– particularly at even-strength– and maybe lighten his load with a Grabovski-anchored second line, Ovi just might do something great.

Not like 50-goals great, but still, ya know, great.

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joe B

Last night’s Baltimore Hockey Classic was fun. Alex Ovechkin shattered glass just by looking at it, Braden Holtby chillaxed, and decapod crustaceans of the infraorder Brachyura attacked the ice. But the big treat for me– aside from, ya know, Caps hockey– was the return of Joe B’s suits.

As the world’s foremost academician on the topic of Joe Beninati’s gameday clothing, Tuesday night was like discovering an ancient tome of heretofore unknown wisdom. And to think: we’ve got like 80 more of these on the way.

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14 Days Out: Grabovski!

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After a bit of a delay securing a work visa, presumptive second-line center Mikhail Grabovski has finally joined the Capitals in Arlington. If you’re looking for a reason to get excited about the Caps in 2013-14,  he’s a good place to start.

Get this: he’s a forward from the former Soviet Union. He dipped out on his first team when he wasn’t having fun. He drives puck possession like a maniac. He’s blamed for poor playoff performance. He’s basically Alex Semin 2.0.

We’ve already been through the ringer with the guy. We wanted him badly at 2C in July, though we didn’t think it would happen. Then, it happened, and there was much rejoicing. Then we rambled on about how big of an upgrade he was (and we agreed it is “Grabo” with one B.) Then some folks did the “rah rah Ribeiro” thing, and we were having none of it. Then we took a guy to task for improper use of #fancystats. Then we learned Grabo had a no-trade clause. Then human rain cloud Neil Greenberg said Grabo was bueno, and we knew it was legit.

George McPhee did good.

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Joel Rechlicz Scores Shootout Goal– No, Really

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Artists’ rendition by Peter H. Age 29. (Click to embiggen)

Joel Rechlicz has played 26 games at the NHL level and come away with a career total of one point: an assist. He’s not now nor has he ever been a goal scorer. Which explains the reaction of Caps radio man John Walton when Rechlicz was tapped to take the fourth shootout attempt of Monday’s exhibition game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Oh my goodness.”

 

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15 Days Out: Coach Swap!

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As one of the few competent Canadian teams in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks have been watched with rapt attention the last few years. Coach Alain Vigneault had optimized the Sedin twins as much as possible to squeeze every last creepy-twin point out of ‘em, but still the team repeatedly disappointed in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, in New York, John Tortorella encouraged an egalitarian, block-all-of-the-pucks philosophy that yielded decent results. But after four and a half seasons without a Cup (page me when you hit 38), “decent” results weren’t enough, and Torts’ caustic media persona was no longer welcome in Manhattan.

So they swapped! Tortorella is the new coach of the Vancouver Canucks, and Alain Vigneault is the new coach of the New York Rangers. The personality stories alone would make the move worth it, but this season should also bring us some new data about how coaching does or does not drive a team’s performance. Personally, I think NYR got the far better side of the deal.

Plus, Torts is now like 3 time zones away. Water-bottle squirting yutz.

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Stan Galiev’s Breakout Game

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Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick

Washington Capitals prospect Stan Galiev entered last season as a high-rated prospect, a talented Russian forward with lots of promise. After winning multiple championships with the St. John Sea Dogs and dominating the QMJHL, Galiev was rated #29 on Hockey Prospectus Top 100 Prospects list for the 2012-13 season.

Unfortunately, when Galiev first played for the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, he looked lost at times. He struggled on defense, not surprising considering how easy things came for him in juniors. The game was just a little bit too quick for him.

Galiev, however, finished on an upswing after a demotion to the ECHL’s Reading Royals, scoring 47 points in 46 games (including this sick goal). He also scored 11 points in 13 playoff games to help Reading win the 2012-13 championship. Over the summer, Galiev trained with renowned fitness guru Steve Saunders in Amish country along with Dmitry Orlov and Semyon Varlamov. Instead of sulking, a determined Galiev worked even harder.

Because of that hard work, Galiev was arguably the team’s best player in Washington’s first preseason game of the year Saturday. Less than one week into training camp, Galiev might have turned a corner in his development.

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16 Days Out: The Honeymoon is Over in Pittsburgh

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Our friends at the Pensblog wrote an interesting item last week about how the five-year post-championship grace period is already over for their Penguins. If that’s true, it’s gonna be an interesting season for Pittsburgh, as we find out exactly how traumatized that team has become following two epic flameouts in the postseason. It’ll be like a funhouse mirror for Caps fans.

Marc-Andre Fleury had an .883 save percentage in last season’s playoffs and has not peeked above .900 since 08-09. The team chose to bone up its roster at the trade deadline by getting older and slower. Dan Bylsma, all of a sudden on the hot seat, received from Ray Shero a vote of support slash kiss of death. The team fared very poorly when Crosby and Malkin were off the ice, and those marquee players– now 26 and 27– are nearing inevitable declines as they enter their late 20s.

This isn’t me saying the Pens are doomed– they’re not the Maple Leafs or anything. They’re just gonna be a fun team to watch as they work their way through the kind of issues that can derail a team. Then again, maybe Beau Bennett will put up 30 goals and everything will be hunky dory.

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17 Days Out: Bailamos!

“Bailamos” is about to begin its third season as our official goal celebration song. Let the ruythtyrhthnmn take you over. First person to put this video in the comments of each winning game recap is an extra special person.

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