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.
On March 26, 2015, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
The Capitals hadn’t played a game since the late 80s (okay, Saturday), so they looked rested and dialed-in for most of Thursday’s home game against Adam Oates and the New Jersey Devils. Then the third period happened, wherein the Capitals played a prevent defense, which is about as effective as the rhythm method is at birth control.
Inconceivably, Karl Alzner scored first, wandering deep in the offensive zone, where Oates did think him naughty for being there. Eric Fehr doubled down in the second period because he’s terrific, but then Travis “Pat” Zajac cashed in on one of the Caps’ many power-play turnovers. The Caps surrendered the possession game in the third period and relied way too much on Braden Holtby. Steve Bernier tied it up in the final thirty seconds to force overtime, but who cares– Matt Niskanen fired the niscannon to get the OTGWG. (Or maybe Kuznetsov tipped it? Doesn’t matter. CAPS WIN!)
Tom Wilson‘s been his normal wrecking ball self tonight. Early in the game, he was ushered to the box along with Mark Fraser after both players committed roughing minors. The resulting 4-on-4 hockey led to a Karl Alzner goal.
Later in the period, Wilson laid out Eric Gelinas in the neutral zone. Gelinas’s airborne body then slammed into Brooks Laich. Ouch. I’m getting whiplash just looking at this.
Karl Alzner just scored his fifth goal of the season and the 12th goal of his career.
The goal came in the first period against the New Jersey Devils (Roy Rogers alert). Alzner joined the attack, which I hope Devils coach Adam Oates hated, and hit the back of the net from below the circles.
The Devils, lacking a head coach but sporting Adam Oates behind the bench, will come to town tonight. So a Caps team looking to solidify their playoff position really ought to grab these two points. Remember earlier this season when Ovi scored an amazing goal against the Devils and then gave his stick to my nephew? That was cool.
The action starts at 7 PM on CSN. The Caps only have two more 7 PM starts after tonight.
Every season it’s the same. It begins, invariably, with a euphoric burst of optimism that somehow, this year, this season, everything is going to work out. The team will be saved and we’ll all rejoice. Their journey will have come to an end, and the world will be a better place.
Sure, there will be lots of scrapes along the way. While the team that has sustained us for multiple seasons now will lose several beloved but under-performing members, the core players will remain. We’ll have some feels about saying goodbye to a few, but we’ll also pick up a few new members along the way. And, at least at the start, they’ll have a lot of promise.
But one thing never changes. Disaster, often from an unexpected source, will find a way to enter the narrative– you can be sure of that. And when it does, it will look and feel awful…perhaps even fatal.
Yet everyone will dig deep, deeper perhaps than they thought they could, and we’ll survive to fight again. We may not have found the promised land yet, but there’s always next season. What’s important is moving forward. Pressing on. It’s essential. It feels, in fact, like life or death.
Of course, I’m talking about The Walking Dead. What did you think I was going on about?
Ever since the NHL came back from the 2004-05 lockout, there has been a constant in Washington: Alex Ovechkin. And also those crazy fans who sat beside the Caps bench wearing 8’s on their heads. They’ve been shown on CSN Washington countless times during games. They are as much a fabric of the Caps fan experience as The Horn Guy, Goat, or the Brouwer Rangers.
I have some sad news to deliver. Thursday night will be the last time you see Max and Zach Wolpoff, The Crazy 8’s, in those seats during a regular season game. Time and higher education have become sad realities for the Wolpoffs.
Max will be leaving the area in the fall to attend Boston University to study communications. His goal is to one day take over the play-by-play duties from Doc Emrick or Joe Beninati. His older brother Zach, already a sophomore in college, is studying geography at Hofstra. Being relocated to New York has made attending games difficult the last two seasons.
“It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years– an entire decade,” Zach told me Tuesday. “Two presidents, an arena name change, a jersey change, two winter classic wins, three captains, five coaches, five division championships, two GMs, a countless number of players that I could probably name most of, and about 15 inches of hair.”
The brothers credit their Uncle Gregg as being the brain child behind the wearable 8’s.
Reps. John Katko, Pat Meehan, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer pose with Lawmakers teammate Peter Bondra after defeating the Lobbyists in the annual Congressional Hockey Challenge. (Photos by Chris Gordon)
When you hear that someone famous is a hockey fan, it has novelty, something not reserved for fans of baseball, basketball, and football. While we may be absorbed in the community, hockey is the smallest of all major professional sports in the United States. Many Americans have never watched it. Fewer have tried it. On Wednesday, however, it was featured at American’s center of power. In the afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman went to the Hill to meet with members of Congressional Hockey Caucus and announce Thurgood Marshall scholarship recipients. In the evening, four of those congressmen played in the seventh annual Congressional Hockey Challenge. Representatives John Katko (R-NY), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), and Pat Meehan (R-PA) competed for the Lawmakers. They were joined on their team by former Capitals player Peter Bondra (RW-Slovakia) as well as administration officials, congressional staffers and Canadian Parliament member Gord Brown.