evgeny-kuznetsov-batya

Photo: Ian Oland

When it comes to handing out cool nicknames to their teammates, we think hockey players are second to none. The current crop of Capitals are certainly doing their fair share of creative nicknaming. When the NHL mic’d up Tom Wilson for a first round game against the Islanders, we learned that Alex Ovechkin’s moniker is Destroyer – or at least that’s what Willy Baby calls him. And who can forget the “Big Cheese” Joel Ward; I mean, how can it possibly get any cooler than Big Cheese!?

In my opinion, it just did, courtesy of the two Caps players, who, as The Washington Post recently discovered, developed a strong and somewhat surprising friendship during the course of this season: Russian rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov and grizzled American veteran Brooks Orpik.

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KreiderFrankFranklinIIGameTwo

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II

At 12:40 p.m. on Saturday, Jay Beagle won the opening faceoff of game two of Metropolitan Division Final against the New York Rangers. Instead of controlling the puck, however, the Capitals allowed the Rangers to set up for a rush out their defensive zone. As the Rangers took the puck up the ice, Washington’s top forward and defensive lines jumped on the ice. Brooks Orpik didn’t do so fast enough. Jesper Fast fed the puck to Chris Kreider in front. Thirty-eight seconds into the game, Washington was down one-nil. By the end of the first period, New York had a two-goal lead. The Caps had been outshot 15-4, completely outmatched for the first 20 minutes of play.

“I think we had a great start,” defenseman Marc Staal told reporters at the team hotel on Sunday.

But instead of sitting on their lead as they did in game two, the Rangers only plan to press more on Monday.

“It’s one thing to stay patient,” Staal said. “I think it’s another thing to stay aggressive.”

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tavares-hit

Photo: Bruce Bennett

On Saturday, the Capitals gave up two goals at even strength (and a garbage empty-netter) in game six, pushing the series to what is likely to be a hurl-inducing game seven on Monday. Usually giving up two goals is a good omen (especially for the talented Capitals), but during this wacky series, in five of the six games the losing team has scored only one goal.

That means that tiny mistakes are magnified. It also means that if you’re focusing on the wrong things– like settling a score or going out of your way to throw a big body check– the open ice you’re surrendering could make the difference between winning and losing, especially against a fast Islanders team.

Two of the Capitals’ leaders made tiny mistakes that turned into back-breaking goals in game six. Let’s review.

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Brooks Orpik Hit with Beer Cup After Caps Win (Video)

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You’re supposed to wait until you’re in the dressing room to start crushing beers, but I like Brooks Orpik’s enthusiasm here.

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Warning: This post could be upsetting for some.

There was a scary moment late in the first period. Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik took an errant John Carlson skate blade to the face after Carlson fell down in the slot. Carlson’s left skate blade appeared to strike Orpik in the right cheek and mouth area. Orpik left the ice under his own power, running straight down the tunnel for the Caps locker room.

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ChimeraFall

Photo credit: Alex Brandon

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Washington Capitals were confident. With a new coach this year, they had turned into a crisp, well-structured team, generally controlling the puck and therefore the play. They finished the season tied for the eighth highest point total in the league.

“In the past we were maybe sort of a rush team,” forward Brooks Laich, a veteran of the light ’em up Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals of 2010, said. “I don’t think we’re as high flying, high octane offense as we once were, but I think we’re a lot more difficult to play against this way. It should bode well for a sustained playoff run.”

“We’re gonna be ready,” Laich concluded.

They weren’t.

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Photo: Monumental Network

On Monday, Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik missed practice for a pretty darn good reason. His wife Erin was going into labor with the couple’s first child.

Even though they left in the morning, Erin didn’t deliver until later that day. John Carlson and Karl Alzner brought their teammate lunch and dinner. Then, finally, tiny Harlow Lilly Orpik was born.

Harlow’s hard-working 34-year-old father would eventually get some sleep, or at least a 30-minute nap, before he left to join his teammates on the ice for practice.

According to NBC Washington’s Dianna Russini, Orpik did so while wearing the hospital bracelet he was tagged with the day before.

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Looking at Shots From the Blue Line

Greg Fiume

Photo: Greg Fiume

One of the biggest differences between the Caps under Barry Trotz and the Caps under Adam Oates is the role of defensemen in offense. In February, Alex Prewitt described that role like this:

Blue-liners in Coach Barry Trotz’s system hold the freedom to pinch inside the offensive zone, collapsing onto pucks along the boards to keep possessions alive, but they also are asked to do their fair share of long-range flinging.

Last week, I looked at how badly the Caps’ forwards other than Alex Ovechkin struggle to generate shot attempts. But with Prewitt’s insight on the role of defenseman in Trotz’s system in mind, here’s a look at shot generation from the Caps defensemen, from a bit of a different angle.

There’s a glossary at the bottom, so be sure to check that out if the chart doesn’t make sense. We’re going to look at what percent of the overall shot attempts by Caps defenders each regular blue liner takes, as well as how effective each defensemen is at getting his individual shot attempts through and getting them on net.

While we use shot attempts as a proxy for meaningful puck possession, this doesn’t mean that all shot attempts are of equal value during game play. Generally, an unblocked shot attempt is preferred to one that is blocked, and a shot on goal is preferred to a shot attempt that goes wide. With that in mind, here’s a look at the six Caps defenders who have a sample size worth looking at.

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#Caps win! #FistBumps #CapsWild

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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.

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Alex Ovechkin can score a million different ways. Tonight he gave us a greasy goal. Brooks Orpik gathered a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and sent a shot on net. The Russian machine turned his skates, put his blade to puck, and deflected it past the Sergei Bobrovski, who is back on the force for the first time since January.

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