Because Hockey Night In Canada loves us, they recorded the Capitals pre-game routine in the hallway just outside the locker room. It is ridiculous and therefore I must show you.
Photo: Patrick McDermott
The Capitals were up 4-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning with just over nine minutes to play. The game looked well in hand. Then Dmitry Orlov attempted to flip a puck out of the defensive zone. Instead, it was battled down by Anton Stralman past the blueline. Stralman then reentered the zone. The play looked, at game speed, to be clearly offside. The Capitals benched roared at the linesmen. Nevertheless, play went on. A few seconds later, Tampa had a goal, the start of an impressive third period that could have cost the Capitals the game.
“I thought it was, but I mean I can’t see that,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. “You usually have plays like that just blown down.”
The Caps clearly expected it would be. Jason Chimera, Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, Trevis (?) Chorney, and Orlov all stopped for a second. In the meantime, the Bolts set up in the offensive zone and Brian Boyle one-timed a puck past Holtby.
Photo: Geoff Burke
For the last few years, when you think of Alex Ovechkin, or even the Capitals, you are drawn to their savage power play. Since Adam Oates took over, it has been at the top of the league, ranked first in last season, second in 2013-14, and first in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Ovechkin is the heavy artillery. Last season, Alex Ovechkin accounted for 42 percent of the Washington Capitals’ power play goals. From 2012-14 seasons, Ovi was responsible for nearly four tenths of the man advantage tallies. Year after year, he fired shot after shot from the same spot. There was little change in the result: a whole bunch of goals.
This year, however, something has been different. Through 20 games this season, Ovechkin had just one power play marker. The numbers tell a pretty clear story: Ovechkin just isn’t getting as many shots attempts on the man advantage.
But Friday night, Ovechkin was peppering Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilvskiy on Washington’s first power play. His first five shots went wide or were saved. His sixth attempt in under two minutes hit the back of the net, set up by a brilliant pass from Jason Chimera. It marked Ovechkin’s third power play goal of the season.
Photo: Geoff Burke
The NHL has a conundrum on their hands. This season, NHL coaches were given the right to challenge a referee’s call on the ice to try and eliminate controversial goals. The intent was to fortify the integrity of the game. Instead the opposite is happening.
Artwork: Rachel Cohen
Barry Trotz rules and Adam Oates drools. We all know this. But sometimes, and by sometimes I mean as often as you can, it’s important to stop and smell the roses. We’re all set to expire sometime, so why not appreciate what we have while we’re here?
Today, we’re appreciating Trotz and just how much better he is than the last guy.
Photo: Jeff Vinnick
It’s been clear for awhile that Evgeny Kuznetsov has the potential to be a great player. In 2004, Dave Bidini featured a 12-year-old Kuznetsov in a documentary about Russian hockey. Once Kuznetsov joined the the KHL, he dominated with Traktor Chelyabinsk, his hometown team.
Now Kuznetsov is in the NHL. With the opportunity to center two skill forwards, and after a lot of hard work, he is finally breaking out. On Thursday he recorded the game-winning assist in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over Vancouver. He is currently averaging a point per game and has four assists in his last two games.
Early on Friday morning, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz couldn’t stop gushing about how much progress the 23-year-old has made since last season.
Photo by Amanda Bowen
Last season, I took a look at the Caps’ breakout under Barry Trotz. In that post, I looked at how the Caps generally breakout of their defensive zone, both when the breakout is contested by their opponent and uncontested.
In that article, I briefly touched upon the variations to a team’s breakout.
Teams generally have multiple approaches to their breakout. Hockey is a fluid game; there are variations and contingencies in every game. Those variations depend on how the opponent might disrupt the breakout or where teammates are positioned when their team gets possession.
This season, the Caps first line has debuted a variation to the breakout that I don’t recall seeing last season. The new twist is the Caps overloading the left side of the ice when breaking out of their zone.
While the variations may have been unintentional, more a split second reaction than a pre-planned set play, the Caps have created dangerous chances when they’ve used this variation of their breakout this season.
Photo: Geoff Burke
Early in the summer, the Caps revealed that Nicklas Backstrom had hip surgery. Despite leading the league in assists, it was an issue that plagued Backstrom all season long. Without the Swede, we assumed the Caps first line would struggle. Over the first two games, especially after Alex Ovechkin was scratched on Tuesday, the line couldn’t find its voice. However, against the Blackhawks, the trio of Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and TJ Oshie was an offensive force. Members of the line contributed two goals and five points on Thursday, leading the Caps to a 4-1 victory. Now head coach Barry Trotz may keep them together even after Backstrom returns.
“They’ve got some chemistry,” Trotz said after the game. “I think what happens with a line is it needs some time to talk things out. I think that there’s a mutual respect. I think that they’re just learning each other.”
Barry Trotz loves slogans and inspirational phrases. The locker room at Verizon Center is filled with them, including some that take up five lines. Last year’s team motto of “Feed the Right Wolf” didn’t quite get the Capitals pumped up enough to win a Stanley Cup. Refreshingly, though, Trotz didn’t seek massive changes after that loss. He knows the Capitals are a good team that could win a championship. That’s why this year’s slogan is “Stick to the Script,” a brainchild of Caps video coach Brett Leonhardt.
“For us to come in this year and say, ‘Okay, it didn’t work last year, we didn’t win the Stanley Cup, so let’s go in a different path,’ that’s absolutely the wrong thing,” Trotz told The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg. “I can see the horizon. I know where I’m going. And because I see the horizon and I didn’t get there last year, I’m going to turn left?”
To drill the idea into the players, Trotz had them watch a short video written by Leonhardt and narrated by former Capital Mike Knuble. On Saturday night before the season opener at Verizon Center, that video was revealed to roaring fans.