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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

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.

Against the Devils, Alzner added his fifth goal of the year in a decidedly un-Oatesian way.

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In this week’s snapshot, Peter offered his assessment of the Caps’ chances this Spring in the playoffs:

However they looked in October and whatever hot streaks we’ve seen this season, the Capitals are not a championship team. (Or, if they are, we haven’t seen evidence of it lately.) They’re not bad like under Adam Oates (and for that I am grateful) but they’re not great. They’re just good. They’re a good team with a good coach.

Unless the bounces go bad or they draw a tough team, these Capitals should make it into the second round of the playoffs. No further.

I tend to agree with Peter. The Caps are a solid team. And while anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, I wouldn’t put any kind of money on this being the Caps’ year. They are a good team, but they are not currently a Cup-caliber team.

But, like I said, anything can happen once you’re in the playoffs. So let’s look at three reasons the Caps could win the Cup, beyond the fact that hockey, much like life, is often more random and unpredictable than we can comprehend. And then to be end on a downer, we’ll look at three reasons the Caps won’t win the Cup.

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Photo: @kuzy092

On Monday, Evgeny Kuznetsov did a Russian language interview with Sport FM radio host Vladimir Dekhtyarev. Kuznetsov gabbed about his season to date and explained what it has been like playing under Barry Trotz.

“His plan was easy to understand,” Kuznetsov said, as translated by Fedor Fedin. “It was hard though to do all the little things that he demands, everything, even what side to place the stick on. Nothing escapes his attention. He watches very carefully and it was tough to change early on.”

The interview even features a cameo by Dmitry Orlov who started talking while in the car. Check it out.

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#Caps win! #FistBumps #CapsWild

A video posted by Washington Capitals (@washingtoncaps) on

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.

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Every game, Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz jots his notes onto a notecard he keeps in his suit coat. As the Caps and Rangers left the ice for the first intermission on Wednesday, NBCSN showed a close-up shot of Trotz looking all philosophical-like, holding his top secret notes for all the world to see.

Let’s enhance!

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Angry Barry Trotz is Angry (GIF)

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With 2:16 left in the game, a tired Washington Capitals first-line iced the puck after a flurry of activity in front of Braden Holtby‘s net. Marcus Johansson‘s stick had been partially broken during the previous play so he asked to get a new twig before the face-off. Officials denied him.

To prove his stick was broken, Johansson bowed down and put his weight on it. It broke. The officials ushered him to the box for delay of game. They thought Johansson was trying to buy time for his tired teammates.

Barry Trotz exploded. He literally exploded.

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Photo credit: Christian Petersen

Coming into 2014-15, Jay Beagle had never scored more than four goals in a season. For a fourth line center, that’s fine. Under Barry Trotz, however, Beagle’s playing time has increased. When the Caps took the ice against the Leafs on Sunday, Beagle was slotted in the top-six alongside Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. By the end of the game, Beagle was the top-line right wing, a position he has occupied many times this season.

But here’s the rub: despite a career-high nine goals and 17 points for Beagle, he brings Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom down. I love Beagle. He’s a great face-off man, a solid fourth liner, and a fantastic guy. He is not, however, qualified to play on the first line. Analytics — and the singularly important eye test — back this up. Trotz disagrees though.

“Beagle’s like my lucky charm,” Trotz told reporters when asked about the rotating right-wing spot. “When I put him up there ,we score. I know you analytics guys don’t like his numbers, but we score and get back in the game. There’s reasons for that.”

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Photo: @SergeyKocharov

It was a slushy, dreary night in the District. But inside Verizon Center, there were many happy times. Alex Ovechkin nearly had a hat trick — hilariously falling over in the making of his first goal — as the Caps defeated shutout the Maple Leafs 4-0.

But the best moment came after the game, when Barry Trotz’s son Nolan, who has Down syndrome joined his dad for his postgame press conference.

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barry-trotz-interview

On Tuesday, Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz spoke to Sportsnet during their Hockey Central broadcast. In the interview Trotz gave an update on Mike Green’s future and shared his feelings on the coaching of Alex Ovechkin before last summer.

“I think there were some things that probably happened before I was here that led to certain things,” Trotz said, speaking in broad terms. “There was some bad advice given to Ovi at times in how they wanted him to play.”

“Ovi’s a guy that will do what you ask,” he continued. “He’s bluntly honest. It’s actually a strength, not a weakness.”

This year, Trotz has moved Ovechkin back to left wing and demanded more of him defensively. Ovechkin leads the league in goals, and the Capitals are challenging for the division lead.

“I made it pretty simple,” Trotz said. “When you have the puck do what you do. When you don’t have the puck, I want you to do what I want you to do. If you do that, you’ll have the puck more.”

The full transcription of his interview with Sportsnet is below.

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To celebrate the Washington Capitals 40th anniversary on Sunday night, CSN Washington unearthed amazing footage of Olie Kolzig getting drafted 26 years ago. The video shows Caps director of player personnel Jack Button selecting the mammoth goaltender from the WHL’s Tri-City Americans on June 17, 1989.

“And you know the Washington Capitals need a goalie,” current lead play-by-play man of HNIC Jim Hughson said way back then. “Obviously, they can’t think that Olie The Goalie, as he’s called with the Tri-City Americans, will step in and lead them to a championship right away, but the first goaltender comes from the Western Hockey League. He’s the eighth Western Leaguer taken in this draft. Olaf Kolzig to the Washington Capitals.”

Wow, those comments are perfect. Also perfect: the mullets.

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