Not Again: Rangers Slam Caps 4-1

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Photo: Scott Levy

Coming into Friday night, the Caps had been playing well. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they nearly beat two of the league’s best teams. But then they played Columbus. It was a disaster, and a moment of reckoning.

After the game, the fan base — and the team — seemed to hit the panic button. People on Twitter smashed their keyboards, pointing out Washington’s glaring defensive holes and overreliance on the power play. None of that, however, is anything new. It’s not likely to change before playoff time either.

On Saturday, Adam Oates came up with wacky line combinations in hopes of righting Washington’s four game skid. It didn’t work.

The game got off to an awful start when Rick Nash picked off a silly defensive zone pass from Dmitry Orlov to put New York up just 70 seconds in. Fifteen minutes later, Nash was at it again. A lack of spatial awareness led to two hooking penalties on the Caps. On the ensuing 5-on-3, the former Blue Jacket floated a weak wrister through Phillip Grubauer’s legs. About a minute and a half later, Derek Stepan put the nail in Washington’s coffin with a shot though traffic. Braden Holtby came in, but the game was already over.

Ovechkin tried to give the Caps life with a 5-on-3 bullet early in the second, but Ryan Callahan put Washington back in their place just 86 seconds later. This was never a game anyway. Rangers slam Caps 4-1.

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Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn

The Caps need points. They didn’t get them tonight. After a moral victory against the Penguins, Washington dropped Friday’s game against Columbus in pathetic fashion. Despite picking up two points in the process, the Caps have lost four straight games. With six of the next seven games on the road, the upcoming stretch won’t get easier.

“It’s very frustrating,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters after the loss. “You just can’t let a game get away and be that easy. You just can’t. It’s not right.”

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Caps Get Chances, But Not Goals, Against Sharks

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates has been searching for five-on-five production all season. While Alex Ovechkin has thrived, other members of top six have been less consistent. After the first period on Tuesday, Oates had a new iteration for the first two lines: Eric Fehr-Nicklas Backstrom-Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich-Mikahil Grabovksi-Alex Ovechkin.

“We haven’t scored a lot of goals the last couple games and he’s looking for a spark,” Laich told me of Oates’s change. “Our line had a couple of good chances.”

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Neuvirth salutes the crowd after being named the first star of the night. (Photo: Rob Carr)

Michal Neuvirth had been left behind in the Capitals goalie controversy. While Braden Holtby has struggled to find playing time, Neuvy hadn’t suited up for a game since November 29, when he got hurt stepping on the ice for warmups. Eventually, Neuvirth’s agent requested a trade. The status quo, though, continued. Philipp Grubauer got the starts, Holtby sat on the bench, and Neuvy watched from the press box. With little notice, Capitals head coach Adam Oates finally gave the Czech netminder a chance Friday.

“I was nervous as hell,” Neuvirth said of his thoughts before the game. “I was probably as nervous as my first NHL game. My girlfriend told me ‘Just do what you do and try to be good.’”

“First time I step on the ice for warmup, I was feeling pretty good and confident,” he added.

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

In overtime, unless you’re a really bad hockey team or extremely good at shootous, you play to win the game. A minute and fifteen seconds into overtime, the Washington Capitals tried to do exactly that, making an aggressive play in the Carolina Hurricanes’ offensive zone to try and secure that one extra standings point.

They paid the price for it however, as Jeff Skinner scored his hat-trick game-winning goal on a jailbreak odd-man rush into the Capitals defensive zone.

Every Capital on the ice minus Philipp Grubuaer shares blame on the goal. Let’s take a look at the bad reads and bad decisions. (This is as close as we’ll ever get to a Justin Bourne Systems Analyst post.)

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USA Hockey 2014 Olympic Portraits

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

Over the summer, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson was invited to Team USA’s orientation camp held at the Caps’ practice facility in Ballston, Virginia. At that point in time, Carlson was a bit of an afterthought for the team: he was arguably there more to excite the hometown fans than actually challenge for a roster spot.

Four months later, Carlson, after taking advantage of more opportunity due to injuries on the Caps blue line, was named to Team USA’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The announcement was made on NBC after the Winter Classic.

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Brooks Laich is Out Again

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Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub

Here we go a again: after missing a month with a groin injury before returning Monday night, Brooks Laich is once again out.

“It’s disappointing because George and I met with him that morning and he said he felt 100 percent; contact, conditioning, everything,” head coach Adam Oates told reporters after the morning skate. “I think in his mind he did feel that way.”

“It’s been a long time of almosts,” Oates added.

Laich’s saga has been ongoing since he first injured his groin playing in Switzerland during last year’s lockout. He played in just nine games last season, with his return to the lineup constantly pushed back. It was reported that he had surgery to repair the issue, something Laich insisted wasn’t true. Nevertheless, the problem came back this year. Brooks claimed the injuries were similar, but not the same. But once again, a day-to-day aliment turned into uncertain timeframe. After playing 13:23 against Anaheim, Laich is back on the injured list.

“I’m kind of in a holding pattern,” the 30-year-old Laich said. “That’s really as much as I can divulge right now.”

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Just like Washington’s last visit to Philly, Tuesday’s Caps-Flyers game was ugly. While the matchup on November 1st took a turn for the worst after some Flyers shenanigans, this time it was all on the Caps — specifically Tom Wilson and his charge on Brayden Schenn in the second period. Wilson got a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his troubles. While I think the hit was unnecessary, Wilson never left his feet. If the hit occurred at open ice, it likely would have gone uncalled. Nevertheless, it didn’t. Wilson will be receiving a call from Brendan Shanahan and will probably be sent to the press box for a few games.

There’s a lot of condemnation for Wilson going around, but Adam Oates is having none of it. He’s sticking up for his player.

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Photo credit: Alex Brandon

If you’ve been watching Dmitry Orlov play as long as I have, you’d know that his previous stints with the Washington Capitals have only shown bits and pieces of who he could be as a player. Dima’s 60-game audition with the Caps in 2010-11 was okay. He scored three goals and tallied 19 points, but played a timid, defense-first game under Dale Hunter.

In 2011-12, Orlov suffered two gnarly concussions and was never the same that season.

But in 2012-13, after working his butt off with Semyon Varlamov over the summer in Amish country, Orlov has finally put it all together. Despite not making the team out of training camp, Dima forced multiple call-ups after leading the Bears in points. Now that he’s finally playing in Washington, Orlov is showing off both sides of his game, which should (hopefully) make him a regular for the rest of the season.

On Friday, Orlov had the team’s best possession numbers. Sunday against the Flyers, Orlov did it again, but this time also played a crucial role in a huge Caps comeback from down three goals.

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Photo credit: Robert Mayer

On Thursday, when word surfaced that Washington Capitals defenseman John Erskine was close to returning to game action, we all wondered what George McPhee would do to get Big John back on the roster. Would McPhee put favorite of the coaching staff, Alexander Urbom, on waivers? Would he send down he-of-unlimited-options, Nate Schmidt? Or would GMGM send Dmitry Orlov back to Hershey for a seventh time?

Against the Florida Panthers Friday night, Orlov tried to make the decision easy for the team’s management, playing perhaps the best game of his career. Orlov skated 20:04 overall and 2:42 in overtime, the most of any Caps defenseman in the frame. Oates also rewarded Orlov during the shootout, giving him an attempt in round eight.

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