Senior Travis Boyd leads Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament (Photo: Brian Ekart)
With all six conference tournaments ending last Sunday, the field for the NCAA Tournament is set. This weekend, the top sixteen teams are divided in four single-elimination regional tournaments whose winners will face each in Frozen Four semifinals in Boston on April 9. The championship game will be played on April 11.
On Thursday night, Adam Oates was back behind the bench at Verizon Center for the first time since being fired at the end of last season. Much has changed since then. On this night, the Capitals were playing with sticks that were familiar to them and their coach was not giving his players the cold shoulder. But the most important change, at least on this night, came on defense. Oates instituted a defense system that required blueliners to give up the puck almost immediately after gaining it. This led to forced passes and a myriad of odd-man breaks against. It turned former Norris Trophy nominees like Mike Green into subject of ridicule. The Capitals defense, on the whole, was very bad.
This year, however, things are different. In offseason, new general manager Brian MacLellan added some much needed balance to the Capitals by signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to big money deals. New coach Barry Trotz has also freed up its defensemen, allowing them to carry the puck when necessary. This has led to a resurgence for Green, who has 39 points this season. Other blueliners have also chipped in. Through 73 games, Karl Alzner had more than doubled his career high in goals and surpassed his career high in assists.
Ovechkin and Beats By Dre hosted youth hockey players from Fort Dupont’s Ice Hockey Club for a practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Former Caps and current CSN Washington analysts Alan May and Brent Johnson joined in on the fun too.
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After every victory, Barry Trotz has a tradition. He stands outside the locker room and offers fist bumps to the players. All year, the Capitals have documented this on Instagram. I, a noted poopy pants, think this whole thing is contrived. Apparently Brooks Orpik agrees.
Watch as Orpik walks by and ignores his head coach after the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. Maybe Orpik’s most endearing moment of the season.
A few months ago, Bauer asked their followers to “show us your hardest shot by putting it on Instagram with the hashtag #MX3Russia. The winner gets to go to Washington to meet Alex Ovechkin.” Teeny tiny Maxim won with these two videos.
In Saturday’s 6-1 trouncing of the Sabres, Evgeny Kuznetsov caught my eye on a couple of goals. On the lone Sabres tally, Kuzy seemed confused on where he should be. On one Caps goal, Kuzy was instrumental in helping to end Brooks Laich’s long goal-less streak.
Before taking a look at the two plays, I’d caution against reaching grand conclusions on Kuznetsov’s game based off of any two plays, including these. But, Kuznetsov has been criticized for inconsistent play this season, and performances like the one detailed below are an example of what draws that criticism.
Here’s what Barry Trotz had to say about the rookie’s development this morning:
Jay Beagle is having a career-best season. With 10 goals and counting, he’s got more offensive flair than ever before. That offense has come with criticism– not for Beagle himself, who is a talented and beloved bottom-sixer, but for the coach(es) who deployed him on the top line with Alex Ovechkin.
I’ve written about the Caps zone entries on the power play twice this season (here and here). One of the main takeaways from those stories is that Marcus Johansson is crucial to the Caps PP zone entries. Often, he’ll receive a pass in neutral from Nick Backstrom and then carry the puck into the zone along the wall.
With all the sweating under those helmets, hockey players’ hair understandably gets a little crazy after practices and games. Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has found a way to hide this as best he can during interviews: hats.
On Sunday, Ovechkin added a beanie to his repertoire. After the Capitals’ 4-0 over Toronto, Ovechkin wore it all wrong.