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Photo: Chris Gordon

On Monday, the Washington Capitals held Breakdown Day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. For two hours, Caps players filed out of the locker room and conducted exit interviews with the media. Because of the whole no playoffs thing, there were a lot of long faces.

There’s about three hours of interview video to surf though on Monumental Network. Because I hate myself and care only about you, dear reader, I’ve transcribed all the key quotes. And because this is RMNB, I also pointed out the fashion choices. Sadly, there was no crazy hair this year.

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Off to the Golf Course: Caps Breakdown Day in Photos

Breakdown Day (6 of 12)

NHL plus-minus spokesman and hair model Alex Ovechkin speaks for the final time this year. (Photos by Chris Gordon)

Monday was an odd day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. We entered the day expecting to Adam Oates and George McPhee shed some light of their respective fates — or at least try to defend their time here.

Instead, we got an awkward stand-off with reporters. Within minutes of a spokesman announcing that McPhee would not be meeting the media, the general manager walked out to an area clearly visible to reporters. He chose to hold court with Connor Carrick in front of the entire Capitals press corps before reiterating that he would not speak today.

McPhee’s job — if he doesn’t leave of his own volition — is now in the hands Caps owner Ted Leonsis, who has never fired a general manager.

There were, however, other things that happened at Kettler on Monday: Jay Beagle got asked what he thought of Jay Beagle centering Alex Ovechkin, Dustin Penner ignored reporters to play with his phone, and Brooks Laich said that he really, really, really believes he’s healthy again.

Below, take a look at some of my photos from the day.

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Photo: Bob DeChiara

When we last caught up with Connor Carrick, the diminutive first-year pro was oozing confidence after a successful 2012-13 campaign with the Plymouth Whalers. Carrick, an intelligent and motivated student of the game, continued to play out of his mind during Caps’ training camp in the fall and unexpectedly made the team as a 19-year-old.

Since then, Carrick, who scored his first NHL goal on a breakaway in his second NHL game (and also got pied), has been challenged in every way. Three games into his NHL career, Carrick dealt with the disappointment of being sent down to the American Hockey League. A few months later, he left the Bears and flew to Sweden to be a leader on Team USA’s World Junior Championship team. That’s three different coaches in three months for a teenage defenseman.

Once he returned to the states, Carrick was recalled to Washington to play 27 games for the Capitals through March. During that time, Carrick was paired with veteran John Erskine (who has been injured much of the year) on the third pairing. They struggled together and at times, Carrick looked overmatched. Though his footwork, fundamentals, and decision-making improved during that time, Carrick has felt the pressure of not succeeding and producing immediately.

On Saturday, after Caps practice ended, I caught up with Carrick in the locker room and asked him about his season so far. He seemed to have a lot of things on his mind, knowing he was not playing his game but remaining optimistic and realistic for the future.

“The biggest thing in success is not just being in the lineup,” a determined Carrick said to me. “Making the team is one thing, making the team better is another, and that’s kind of that next step. I’m hoping to take it as soon as possible.”

Here is the full transcript of our chat.

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Photo: Rob Carr

We’ve assumed for so long that the problem with the Caps is lack of defensive depth. I’d wager 90% of everything written about the Caps and Wednesday’s trade deadline states that the team lacks a solid, number-four, right-shooting defenseman. It’s been pretty obvious that filling that one spot would help fill the ranks of Washington’s defense.

That makes a lot of sense. Since October, the Caps defense had essentially been Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and any other three guys.

But I’m not so sure anymore. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if the Caps wouldn’t be able to succeed merely by upgrading their bottom pairing– namely John Erskine and Connor Carrick.

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Photo: @AdamVingan

Last week I solicited Sochi predictions from the non-Olympians on the Washington Capitals. It was apparent that the Caps locker room was united. Almost every player was Canadian.

“Canada all the way,” Brooks Laich told me then. “Canada’s going to lay a beat down.”

That’s why this morning, I was not surprised to see that some of John Carlson‘s teammates messed with his locker ahead of the Team USA/Canada game today. Above Carlson’s gear, there was a piece of tape that read “GO CANADA” with a maple leaf drawn to the side.

That’s great, but the story doesn’t end there.

Defenseman Connor Carrick, who recently represented the U.S. in the World Junior Championships, noticed what was going on, ripped the tape off, and threw it in the trash.

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Washington Capitals Prospect Rankings: Winter 2014

Chandler Stephenson has been one of the most impressive Caps prospects this season (Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The first half of the 2013-14 season has been mostly positive for Washington Capitals prospects. Unknowns like Andre Burakovsky and Chandler Stephenson have shown real NHL potential, while the elder statesmen of the pool like Nate Schmidt and Patrick Wey, both coming off tremendous college careers, have made steps up the Caps’ depth chart.

However, top two Caps prospects will wish their first half was better: Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injuries have limited his action and Tom Wilson has had a hard time gaining a meaningful role with the big club.

The feel-good story of the season so far has been Stephenson, who had been bugged by injuries in the past, but is now thriving in a veteran role as an offensive go-to guy for his team. I’ve got more on these stories and our full top-20 ranking below. Continue Reading

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The third line celebrates Chimera's goal.

The third line celebrates Chimera’s goal. (Photo: Greg Fiume)

Photo: Patrick McDermott

After Alex Ovechkin the Capitals goal scoring list takes a dip. Coming into Sunday’s game, Ovi had 38 goals. Joel Ward, the second-leading scorer, had 15. Ward continues to do his part. The 33-year-old added three more points to a remarkable season, scoring twice and assisting once in Washington’s 5-4 6-5 victory over Detroit.

“Since last year we’ve asked him to play more involved,” Caps coach Adam Oates said after the game. “He’s a good hockey player. He can’t just come to the rink and be complacent that ‘Oh, I’m gonna play third-line minutes and do the job.’ No. We need production. We need you to help the other guys out. … We need you to be a goal scoring threat.”

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Standings Free Fall: Devils Top Caps 2-1

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Ugh. (Photo: Andy Marlin)

Just like Alex Ovechkin, ya boy Peter was out with an injury tonight. Undisclosed for those asking. I’m nursing the flu. We’re sort of like the Caps of Caps blogs right now.

Embarking on five game road trip with their dads in tow, the Caps headed to newly Cory Booker-less Newark for date with the Devils. Allowing the fewest shots per game in the NHL and featuring the blue-hot Cory Schneider, New Jersey didn’t look like great opponent to get Washington’s hapless offense going. They weren’t. Yep, it’s gonna be one of those again.

As usual these days, the game got off to a horrid start. Five minutes in, Dmitry Orlov made another silly mistake, fumbling the puck in the Caps offensive zone. Steven Gionta and Ryan Carter went the other way on the odd-man break. Shockingly, Mike Green did not misplay the 2-on-1. It wasn’t enough. The puck snuck past Michal Neuvirth off the blade of Gionta.

Early in the second, Adam Henrique put the Devs up by two with Orlov in the box for holding. Jaromir Jagr made the play, fabulously skating through the Capitals defense before feeding the puck in front for his second assist of the game. Facing this Capitals offense, it looked like that was all New Jersey needed.

Jason Chimera, however, had other ideas. Midway through the third, he deflected a John Erskine shot from the point for his third goal in seven games. It wasn’t enough though.

Seven in a row. Devils top Caps 2-1.

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Sidney Crosby Welcomes Connor Carrick to the NHL (GIF)

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Check out Carrick’s grimace.

When I get frustrated, I try to leave the situation before I do something stupid. I go outside, I gather my thoughts, I try to compose myself.

World-class hockey player Sidney Crosby doesn’t have that luxury. He’s trapped in a 200′ x 85′ plexiglass case of emotion. Or maybe he really is an enabled and entitled goon who enjoys temper tantrums, complaining, and cheap shots. Whatever it is, Crosby lashed out again on Wednesday night. This time he took his aggression out on poor li’l Connor Carrick.

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Johansson (red) laughs during the preseason Capitals Alumni Game. (Photo: Chris Gordon)

The Washington Capitals’ defense allows the second most shots per game in the NHL. They’ve put perhaps their best defensive prospect, Dmitry Orlov, through recall-scratch-repeat hell. Now that Orlov is finally playing, he’s paired with a guy who has a similar skill set, Mike Green.

Then there’s the frequent shuffling of the Caps blue line deck. Due to injuries, on-ice struggles, waiver pickups, and call-ups from the minors, Washington has used twelve different defenseman this season. Just about every blue liner in the organization has gotten a shot as part of the 2013-14 Caps D corps.

As we head towards the stretch run, the Caps seemed to have settled on a lineup for now: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, Dmitry OrlovJohn Erskine, and Connor Carrick. Though Washington’s defense has been its biggest flaw, its recent improvement may also their best chance at making — and succeeding — in the playoffs.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with assistant coach Calle Johansson, the man who runs the Caps’ blue line, and asked him about some of his decisions, including some of the positives from this season.

The full transcript is below.

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