Photo credit: Rob Carr

If there was one moment that epitomized Tuesday’s game, it came in the waning moments of the second period. With the Capitals on the power play with chance to narrow the Sabres lead to one heading into the final intermission, Keith Aucoin chipped the puck along the boards to Alex Ovechkin, who was playing the point at the blueline. Ovi fumbled the slow moving puck, got out muscled by Jason Pominville and then stumbled to the ice. Pominville finished the sequence by deflating any hope there was on the Capitals bench when his shot hit the back of the net. Ovechkin smashed his stick against the goal post in frustration.

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Buffalo Sabres Pregame: Manifest Destiny

Craig of the PuckBuddys delivers this pregame and travelogue. Please follow @PuckBuddys on Twitter.

So it all comes down to this. A season full of mediocre and substandard Caps performances could very well hinge upon Tuesday night’s tilt against the Sabres. Or, as we like to call them, the godless and heathen Sabres. Tuesday night at Verizon is when we glance up into the rear-view mirror and see all those squandered games and lost opportunities receding into the distance. Had the Caps gotten their heads and asses wired together at any point between November and say, last Friday’s night’s OT loss to the Jets, we wouldn’t be on pins and needles headed into Tuesday evening, or in my particular case, on lithium and Maker’s Mark.

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Braden Holtby: King of March

Photo credit: Mitchell Layton

In March of 2011, a 22-year-old Saskatchewan native got called up to the Capitals after one of their netminders suffered an injury. Unproven and raw, he seemed at ease as he created a three-way goalie controversy on one of the league’s top teams. In March of 2012, a 23-year-old Saskatchewan native may be doing the same thing.

In his three games up with Washington after Tomas Vokoun went out with a groin injury, Braden Holtby has been stellar and ever improving as he turned a .889 save percentage in the first two months of the year in the AHL into a sparkling shutout performance in front of 18,506 fans (but who’s counting?) in one of his team’s biggest games of the year. With the Capitals fighting for every point as they try to squeak into the playoffs, head coach Dale Hunter may have no choice but to play the hot hand — even if the question was supposed to be settled when the Capitals traded away Michal Neuvirth’s competition before making the surprise signing of Vokoun in the summer.

“From my short stint in pro hockey you realize things change really quickly,” Holtby told reporters after the game. “I was ready, that’s what I’ve been working towards in Hershey all year. I’m trying to make good call-ups count.”

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Dirty Goals: Caps beat Wings 5-3

Photo: Dave Reginek

What a game. If the Washington Capitals could play the Detroit Red Wings 82 times a year, we’d be happy campers. After that tremendous 7-1 thrashing back in October, the Caps’ fortunes shifted dramatically. But here we are again– late in the campaign– and the Caps have that spark. If only they could keep it glowing for a full hour of hockey.

Marcus Johansson delivered a perfect pass to Alex Ovechkin, who fired a perfect one-timer from the perfect spot. Mike Knuble made it 2-0 by finishing off a smart passing sequence with Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault. Ovechkin got another by skating around the trainwreck in front of Jimmy Howard and wristing it. Kyle Quincey got one back in the second period with a long bomb that rang iron, but Keith Aucoin nullified with a spin-o-rama made possible by Alex Semin.

Just half a minute into the third, Todd Bertuzzi beat Holtby’s slow glove hand to give Detroit some life. Danny Cleary crashed Holtby’s net to make it 4-3, and things got tense. Jason Chimera defused it with an empty netter. Caps beat Wings 5-3.

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Ian and I have made a new bet. We’re gonna share the details with you because a) it’s timely considering Knuble is a scratch again, and b) last time I didn’t pay up so this is like leverage.

The Bet: Peter bets Ian that Mike Knuble will last longer with the Caps than Dale Hunter.

The Stakes: $22 (USD) and one (1) lunch at Chick-fil-A.

The actual text of the bet is after the jump. I really think Ian is going down this time.

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Photo credit: Jana Chytilova

Way back on November 26, 2008, Karl Alzner made his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals against the Atlanta Thrashers. Since then he’s played 198 career games in the NHL. Until this season, he’s had one coach, one defensive partner, and a virtual lock on the playoffs.

This season has been different. Bruce Boudreau was fired and Capitals legend Dale Hunter was brought in to lead the team. Hunter has installed a new system and switched up the defensive pairings — removing Alzner away from one of his best friends on the team, John Carlson. The playoffs are no longer a certainty. With fifteen games to go, the Capitals are three points out of the 8th and final playoff spot and may miss the post-season for the first time in five years.

On Saturday, I caught up with Alzner and we spoke about the new system, the switching of partners, and what Dale Hunter’s really like behind closed doors.

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Photo credit: Rod Lamkey Jr.

George McPhee has not seen a season this tumultuous since the events that led up to the acquisition of Alex Ovechkin back in 2004. He’s dismissed a coach and watched his team fall from the top of the standings to a precarious spot on the proverbial bubble.

Now, as the Washington Capitals prepare for one last playoffs push, McPhee has the challenge of managing assets at all stages of their careers. That includes 37-year-old Roman Hamrlik, who was signed over the offseason to a two-year, $7 million deal, and 39-year old Mike Knuble, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end — both of whom have been scratched from recent games.

McPhee’s attitude towards his veteran players, however, is anything but cynical. In his 14 years as general manager of the Capitals, McPhee, whose nickname is The Undertaker, has revealed something of a softer side.

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[Ed. note: Capitals During Wartime has illuminated struggles in Washington leading up to the trade deadline. Read previous installments: Centerless, Road-weary, Negativity, Bruce vs. Dale, and Trending topics.]

By this time Monday, Capitals general manager George McPhee will have already made whatever moves he has deemed wise for the future of his club. With all the prognostication and educated guessing about trade scenarios going around, I have decided not to add any noise to an already muffled signal.

Instead, we conclude this series with a look at two Capitals players who will loom large on Monday in one way or another. Those players are Mike Knuble and Tomas Vokoun.

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Video: The Hit That Supposedly Injured Alex Ovechkin

It’s difficult to pick out just one low point of Washington’s 5-0 blowout loss to Carolina on Monday, but if there’s any sight guaranteed to make a Caps fan’s heart sink, it’s Alex Ovechkin limping to the locker room.

There was a great deal of confusion as to what actually happened that night, but Dale Hunter set the record straight Wednesday morning — Ovechkin is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

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Canes beat Caps 5-0

You thought you’ve been through the hard times already, right? Wrong.

The Washington Capitals’ pathetic bumbling against the Carolina Hurricanes was their worst performance that I’ve had the dubious honor of documenting. This was the kind of game that costs people their jobs. Or at least it should.

No goal summary for you. Hurricanes beat Caps.

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