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Photo: Rob Carr

It’s been just over a week since the Washington Capitals traded Michal Neuvirth to Buffalo for Jaroslav Halak. Halak, a veteran of eight NHL seasons, is already the Caps de facto starter, sporting an above average .924 save percentage and leading the Caps to three wins in five starts.

While Halak’s play has been calming on the ice, the gear he’s been wearing has been anything but. He looks like a man without a country. Unlike Neuvirth, who has been wearing his Caps-colored mask with Buffalo, Halak has opted to wear one plainest goalie masks ever seen in the NHL. His bucket, painted a bright pearly white, has only one design feature: red painted bars covering his face.

On Saturday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, I spoke with the Slovakian netminder about his unusual gear and if or when we’ll ever see him with a Caps mask.

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Photo: Mark Buckner

(Photo: Mark Buckner)

Coming into the 2014 NHL trade deadline, some fans feared Caps general manager George McPhee would make a drastic move in the hopes of securing a playoff spot. Instead, he made three reasonable ones. The Caps got better this year without harming themselves in the future.

The biggest deal was the final one, with the Caps sending Michal Neuvirth and the newly acquired Rostislav Klesla to the Buffalo Sabres for Caps killer Jaroslav Halak and a third-round pick.

“I think we start with Neuvirth, and he wasn’t happy being a number two,” McPhee told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “We tried to accommodate him. We brought in an experienced guy. I think it’s an upgrade on the tandem which is what we wanted to accomplish.”

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Photo: Bruce Bennett

In late-breaking blockbuster, the Capitals have acquired notorious Caps-killing goaltender Jaroslav Halak for Michal Neuvirth.

Halak earns $3.75M as a UFA until the end of the season. He was acquired by Buffalo for Ryan Miller last week. Halak’s lifetime save percentage is .917. His playoff save percentage against Alex Semin is 1.00.

Neuvirth began his pro career with the Caps organization. He sports a .910 career save percentage and earns $2.5M per season through 2015, when he’ll be a UFA.

The Capitals have also given a 6th round magic bean to Buffalo. Actually, the Caps have been given a third round pick. Even better.

UPDATE: R. Klesla is now a Buffalo Sabre too. Even more of a salary dump!

This is big. Goodbye, Neuvy.

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Blues beat Caps 2-1, Dale Hunter’s Debut as Coach

 Photo credit: Nick Wass

Photo credit: Nick Wass

Dale Hunter hoped to lead the Washington Capitals to victory in his first game as head coach. He’d have to go through Jaroslav Halak to get there, but more importantly he’d have to get a flagging Capitals offense moving.

Alex Ovechkin threaded the needle, setting up Nick Backstrom to record the first goal of the game. T.J. Oshie cleaned up a Alex Steen’s slapshot to tie the score at 1-1. Matt D’Agostini caught a lucky bounce and wrapped it around to give St. Louis the lead. Despite a late-game flurry, it ended like that. Blues beat Caps 2-1.

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St. Louis Blues Pregame: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

Jamie Sabau

David Backes. (Photo credit: Jamie Sabau)

Doug Johnson of the PuckBuddys writes. Follow @PuckBuddys on Twitter.

The Unhappy and Unfunny Edition

The Pre-Game Practice

So. Anything happen over your holiday weekend?

Oof. Coach Juggles was jiggled out of the Caps hierarchy sometime late last week, so go the reports. But those who wielded the ax only announced it Monday morning. As if on Sunday we didn’t suspect our Regent would be decapitated; or that on Monday, after the quartering, they would all just expect us to blandly melt back into the blah-blah of our desperate little lives.

There’s been plenty of blah online in the last 36 hours, and in general on the Caps bench this season. Fine. But do not number us, your humble PuckBuddys, as among those celebrating the call for Boudreau’s head.

It is the right of every sovereign to decapitate those they wish…or at least was, in Elizabeth’s days. But who are we kidding? Today, it’s the unquestioned right of every sovereign owner of an NHL franchise – your Majesty – to chop off the head of any servant they see fit. Assuming they can buy out their contract.

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Happy Hanukkah! Caps beat Blues 4-1

Semyon Varlamov: intense.

Varlamov takes on all comers. (Photo credit: Tom Gannam)

[Ed. note: Peter has a fever and is kind of loopy. Go easy on him.]

Jaroslav Halak gets scored on (Photo credit: Tom Gannam)

Halak defeated thanks to Brooks Laich. (Photo credit: Tom Gannam)

Tonight the Washington Capitals had their first chance to exact vengeance on Jaroslav Halak since he shut the Caps down in the playoffs. Now suiting up with the St. Louis Blues, Halak is the most foreboding embodiment of the Capitals’ postseason woes besides perhaps the Caps themselves. In an uneven effort, the Caps managed to exorcise- at least partially- those Halak-faced demons. But the big story was Semyon Varlamov, who padded his highlight reel with some improbable, firecracker saves.

Brooks Laich scored a PPG on the Caps second shot of the night, a high puck right up in Halak’s face. Boyd Gordon recorded his first tally of the year by Jedi-mind-tricking Halak to bobble the puck in himself for the second time this year. The Blues woke up with a screened spin-shot from Alexander Steen that Varly never saw coming. In the third period, Knuble and Backstrom swapped roles: near the paint, 19 converted the rebound off 22’s high-slot slapshot. In the final minute, with the Blues net abdicated, Alex Ovechkin gave Nick Backstrom the empty-net goal layup. Caps beat Blues 4-1.

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Trust us, the Russian Machine feels your pain. (Photo by Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Trust us, the Russian Machine feels your pain. (Photo by Harry E. Walker/MCT. Top by Nick Wass)

I was completely convinced that this year was going to be the year for the Washington Capitals. I thought they had the right mix of youthful, talented players and solid veteran leadership, I thought they had a defense just good enough to get them by and I thought that with unquestionably, two of the top ten best players in the world in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, this offense could make magic happen in the postseason and persevere through any hardship. Plus, if the Capitals were still following the same trajectory that Pittsburgh had followed since the lockout in 2004-05, it was actually predetermined, this year was going to be our year.

But sadly, our dreams of drinking champagne and other adult beverages from Lord Stanley’s Cup did not materialize. And now we’re left with another summer full of what-if’s and a bunch of regular season memories that seem to elicit more bewilderment than joy, more anger than hope.

I’ve tried to wrap my head around this season for a few days now, and I’ve come to a few solid conclusions. Why did the Washington Capitals lose to the eight-seeded team in the first round of the playoffs, a team in which they finished 33 points ahead of in the standings, after looking nearly unbeatable for three quarters of the season? Let’s just say, sometimes in the end, it’s not how talented you are, but how much you evolve your game to your competition that truly matters.

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Halak’d! Habs Beat Caps 4-1. Series Goes to 7.

Halak's Glove Unstoppable.

The Washington Capitals have forgotten how to score. Except for Eric Fehr’s half-forgotten memory of a goal in the third period, the high-scoring Caps were completely impotent in their pathetic 4-1 loss to the Canadiens. You can chalk it up to Jaroslav Halak’s herculean 53-save night, the brownian motion of the Caps’ powerplay, or the ire of hockey gods at my shaving– it doesn’t matter. The Caps were found wanting in every metric.

We usually dedicate the segment of the game recap to highlights, but I can recall none tonight. This game was a 60-minute parade of sadness: the white team buzzing about sending ineffectual lobs at the net for King Kong Halak to swat casually. While the hockey tastemakers may spend the night picking players worthy of scorn, we’re going to cast a wide net. The whole of the Capitals roster failed to play up to level of the Habs.

Boo freaking hoo.

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Wednesday Webhits: The Frost King’s Links Of The Week

This week we’ve got a great example of goalie analysis, the difference in salary a player can expect depending on whether he is a restricted or unrestricted free agent, what might explain the difference in predictability and parity between the NHL and other sports (namely, the NBA), and a nice profile of the Capitals.

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