Not Again: Rangers Slam Caps 4-1


Photo: Scott Levy

Coming into Friday night, the Caps had been playing well. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they nearly beat two of the league’s best teams. But then they played Columbus. It was a disaster, and a moment of reckoning.

After the game, the fan base — and the team — seemed to hit the panic button. People on Twitter smashed their keyboards, pointing out Washington’s glaring defensive holes and overreliance on the power play. None of that, however, is anything new. It’s not likely to change before playoff time either.

On Saturday, Adam Oates came up with wacky line combinations in hopes of righting Washington’s four game skid. It didn’t work.

The game got off to an awful start when Rick Nash picked off a silly defensive zone pass from Dmitry Orlov to put New York up just 70 seconds in. Fifteen minutes later, Nash was at it again. A lack of spatial awareness led to two hooking penalties on the Caps. On the ensuing 5-on-3, the former Blue Jacket floated a weak wrister through Phillip Grubauer’s legs. About a minute and a half later, Derek Stepan put the nail in Washington’s coffin with a shot though traffic. Braden Holtby came in, but the game was already over.

Ovechkin tried to give the Caps life with a 5-on-3 bullet early in the second, but Ryan Callahan put Washington back in their place just 86 seconds later. This was never a game anyway. Rangers slam Caps 4-1.

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Caps Get Chances, But Not Goals, Against Sharks


Photo credit: Rob Carr

Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates has been searching for five-on-five production all season. While Alex Ovechkin has thrived, other members of top six have been less consistent. After the first period on Tuesday, Oates had a new iteration for the first two lines: Eric Fehr-Nicklas Backstrom-Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich-Mikahil Grabovksi-Alex Ovechkin.

“We haven’t scored a lot of goals the last couple games and he’s looking for a spark,” Laich told me of Oates’s change. “Our line had a couple of good chances.”

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Photo credit: Chris O’Meara

For most of the year, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has skated on a line with super Swedes Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. While Nicky and Mojo are talented players, they are at times too timid to shoot the puck themselves. While Ovechkin leads the league in goals, his five-on-five output could still be better.

That may be why Adam Oates got all surly and switched up the lines three games ago. Ovechkin now skates with Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr, players who are a bit more aggressive. And that may be why, on Thursday night in Tampa, we saw a little more of Alex Ovechkin the playmaker.

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Adam Oates Looks for Scoring Balance With New Top-Six


Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

This season, Alex Ovechkin’s shot has been an unstoppable force of destruction. Ovi has registered 31 goals. His line’s scoring, however, has often been one-sided. Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin’s linemates for much of the season, have scored just six even-strength goals. When Ovi’s hitting the net, it’s not a problem. But if last year’s MVP hits some bad luck, as he did over the four games before last night, the line struggles. Ovechkin has just a single assist during five-on-five play.

“It’s not enough,” Oates said when I asked him about that stat. “It shows how much all three guys are important.”

For Thursday’s game against the Hurricanes, Oates switched up his lines, putting Ovechkin with Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski while placing Johansson and Backstrom with Brouwer.

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Photo credit: Geoff Burke

Eric Fehr is awesome. We know this and he probably does too. Capitals head coach Adam Oates, however, took some time to come around. After trying Fehr out at center, among many other spots in the lineup, Oates benched Fehr for much of November. Since his return to the lineup November 23rd against Toronto, Fehr has nine points and five goals. He’s settled into a steady spot in the top six alongside Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer.

“We don’t necessarily have one specific position,” Fehr told me of his linemates. “I think we move around well. We read off each other pretty well.”

Tonight, Fehr scored two more — sort of. It looked like he tallied a goal midway through the second period with the Caps on the power play. Fehr received a pass in the slot from Nicklas Backstrom — also red hot lately — before firing the puck on Rangers goalie Cam Talbot. The puck got by the rookie netminder initially and the refs ruled the play a goal. However, video review showed the puck never crossed the line.

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Washington Capitals forward Eric Fehr absorbed a scary hit a little more than halfway through a sleepy Caps-Panthers game. Florida’s Erik Gudbranson put a flying elbow into Eric Fehr’s head, sending Fehr reeling, then into the locker room.

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Take Troy Brouwer to #TheBank


Photo: @tbrouwer20

The struggles of Troy Brouwer have been a long-running subplot in our weekly stat snapshot series. With just two goals and one assist at 5-on-5, Brouwer’s production has been way below what had been expected for him, and his underlying stats have been among the lowest on the team. Indeed, the numbers have been quite unkind to Troy, and at times they have even endangered our friendship with the Brouwer Rangers.

But I think it’s all about to turn around.

As I discussed in Sunday’s snapshot, and as Y.B.J.P. mentioned on Thursday, Troy’s imminent rebound is thanks to his recent divorce from Brooks Laich.

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Fehr scores on Friday. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

Eric Fehr has rarely had an easy season in the NHL. Under Bruce Boudreau, the former 18th overall pick was often under-utilized, banished to the bottom-six or the press box. Late in his first stint with the Washington Capitals in 2011, Fehr suffered a serious shoulder injury, a problem that plagued him for nearly two years. Because of that, he struggled in his only season with his hometown Winnipeg Jets after being traded from Washington. Looking for a job after the NHL lockout, Caps general manager George McPhee decided to take another chance on Fehsie. The 28-year-old, for the most part, succeeded, notching 17 points in the shortened season.

Rather than settle in with a nice role on second or third line, however, Fehr was asked to try something he’s never done before: play center. He spent much of October at pivot, registering just one goal. The shift, Fehr admitted, was difficult. Playing in the middle requires you to be much more aware, along with increased defensive responsibilities and not having a set position on the ice. Fehr’s struggles were understandable. Playing center for the first time in not something you can adjust to in a few preseason games. After the experiment Fehr then spent two games on the first line in early November after Alex Ovechkin went down with an upper-body injury. He did well in that spot, picking up a few points that week.

“It’s a very unique season for me,” Fehr told me Friday night. “I knew coming there was a good chance I was going to play center, but it’s been a little bit different.”

Inexplicably, head coach Adam Oates then scratched him for the next nine games. He was allowed back in the lineup only when another player in the coach’s doghouse, Martin Erat, got sent to the press box after he requested a trade.

“He was ready to get back in and he’s provided a spark for us,” the coach said of Fehr. “He’s played good.”

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Eric Fehr Scores Goal Using Steve Oleksy’s Stick


Al Koken shows off Fehr’s sticks during the Wednesday’s CSN broadcast.

Eric Fehr has bounced around the lineup a lot this season, all the way from the first line to the press box. Another thing undergoing constant shuffling: his stick.

“I’m still looking around, still looking for the one that’s gonna work for me,” he told me Wednesday. “I’ve been working on a few things.”

What’s curious, though, is the specific stick Fehr settled on: when he scored his first goal since October 10 on Wednesday, the 28-year-old was using Steve Oleksy‘s stick. A power forward and a stay-at-home defenseman don’t have much in common, of course, but Fehr liked Oleksy’ stick after a cursory test of his teammates’ weapons.

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Festival of (Red) Lights: Sens Edge Caps 6-4


Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

[Note: This recap is Chanukah-themed tonight. Why? Because there’s literally no one on the Internet right now.]

Last week, there was only one way to describe the play of the Washington Capitals: shameful. After winning three straight, the Capitals allowed seven unanswered goals at Verizon Center, before showing some life late against Montreal. Saturday’s game, though, was markedly different. The Capitals still lost, but they put 50 shots on goal, Washington’s highest total since 2010. On the first night of Chanukah, the Caps looked to continue that output against the lowly Ottawa Senators. They did — at first.

It started with a sublime play by yelling person-cum-Jewish pun Michael Latta, who skated into the offensive zone, got tripped, and then pole vaulted over a Sens defender. The loose puck went to Eric Fehr, who unleashed a lovely wrist shot to put the Caps on the board. Ottawa tied it up less than a minute and a half  later, however, when Bobby Ryan tipped one past Braden Holtby on the man-advantage. However, Marcus Johansson whacked in a loose puck in front on the power play just 38 seconds after the Sens tally, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead. BUT WAIT! A mere 47 seconds later, Brooks Laich backhanded home a loose puck in front. Four goals in under five minutes. Whew!

The second period was all Sens. Chris Philips put them within one with a blast on the power play, before Colin Greening tied the game at three.

In the final frame Mika Zibanejad added another PP tally. Ugh. The game looked hopeless until John Carlson tied it late. Prepare to cry, though, because just over a minute later Zach Smith beat Mike Green and Nate Schmidt to win the ballgame. Ryan added an empty netter. Sad face. Vodka. Sens edge Caps 6-4

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