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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Capitals During Wartime: Our Misery is Their Trending Topic

[Ed. note: This is fifth installment of Capitals During Wartime, a series about Washington’s struggles before the 2012 trade deadline. Read previous entries about coaching, negativity, road performance, and centers.]

Everyone has the moment when you realize that the Caps are in serious trouble. You know when mine was, because that’s when I started this Capitals During Wartime series. For Ian, it was Monday night, when he finally admitted to me how worried he was. For the rest of the Internet and the broader hockey community, that moment is right now.

This article documents The Week from Hell, a litany of depressing and infuriating stories about your Washington Capitals. Because we need a single, coherent record of what exactly it was like when things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

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Capitals During Wartime: Bruce vs. Dale

[Ed. note: Capitals During Wartime is a series analyzing Washington’s struggles before the 2012 trade deadline. We’ve discussed weakness at center, a poor road record, and negativity among fans so far.] 

In the latest edition of Capitals During Wartime, I mused about how and why we discuss the negative stuff going on with Capitals right now. Concluding, in short, that our foremost responsibility is to the Truth, and not just Good Feelings, I promised not to shy away from D.C.’s ongoing hockey bummers– but also not to drench that analysis in hyperbole.

This article is a statistical rundown of the Washington Capitals through 54 games for the purpose comparing the tenures of Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter head to head. But I will not be offering any commentary. My voice is limited to the selection of statistics below. Any conclusions you make or narratives you perceive are your own. I have included traditional stats, some advanced stats, and some individual curiosities that we’ve discussed recently on the site.

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Capitals During Wartime: Road-Weary

[Ed. note: this is the second article in our series about the Capitals’ struggles leading up to the trade deadline. The first Capitals During Wartime post addressed the team’s problems with the center position.]

At the end of All-Star Break, the Washington Capitals sit in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference and 1st in the Southeast Division, but their prospects for the postseason are not secure. The Southeast has two challengers– the Florida Panthers (with whom the Caps are virtually tied) and the Winnipeg Jets. Plus, the Capitals have a tough schedule down the stretch– including some tough games on the road. When Neil Greenberg at the Washington Post looked at the Caps’ remaining schedule, he was not encouraged.

That’s because the road is where the Capitals have had most of their troubles this season. The team’s home record of 18-6-1 is fourth best in the league, but away they are just 8-13-2, a dismal 25th. One spectacularly bad road game in Buffalo on November 26th probably cost Coach Boudreau his job. The power play and penalty kill perform vastly better in Verizon Center than they do when away. With 18 away games remaining, the Capitals will have to do better on the road if they want to make the playoffs.

The article looks at the Caps’ troubles away from D.C. from several angles: possession, shooting, special teams, and Alex Ovechkin. And because it’s interesting, I’m comparing Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter too. Uh oh.

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Rene Bourque Guest Stars in Mike Tyson Punch-Out

On January 3rd, Rene Bourque — then of the Calgary Flames — elbowed Nicklas Backstrom in the jaw. The reckless play resulted in both a concussion for Backstrom and a Shanaban for Bourque. Capitals players thought the elbow was a cheap shot, but they failed to exact retribution. Sigh.

“It’s one of those things where it kind of sucks because we’re not able to play (the Calgary Flames) again this year,” Troy Brouwer told reporters after the game.

Troy is in luck. Bourque was traded Montreal last week. And look at that! The Caps play the Habs… tonight!

DING! DING! DING!

Inspired by my favorite NES video game of all-time — Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out — here’s how we think tonight will play out for Bourque.

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Vokoun isn’t sure when this hug is going to end. (Via carrotbazooka.tumblr.com)

Coming into tonight’s game, the Capitals have won six straight at home. During that stretch, they’ve outscored their opponents 19-7 and have never trailed. Their recent dominance in front of their home fans has put the Caps back into contention for *gasp* — not only a playoff spot — but the Southeast Division lead as well. In fact, with a win tonight, the Capitals overtake world-beating Florida.

After a scoreless first period, Brooks Laich Alex Semin started the scoring off in the second period with a high, short-side blast by Cam Ward. 2:46 later, Jussi Jokienen knocked in a pinballing puck on the power play. Dmitry SCOARlov scored his first NHL goal in the third period. And that, my friends, would be the game-winner. Caps beat Canes 2-1.

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