On Thursday, the Capitals gathered at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to discuss another season that ended prematurely. The players were more visibly emotional than in years past at the annual end-of-season confab with reporters, promising Stanley Cups to the fans and articulating their frustrations with plenty of “failures” and “sucks.”
The news, however, came in the form of injuries revealed publicly for the first time. Karl Alzner’s ailment was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Referred to by Braden Holtby as the team’s most important player, Alzner missed most of the final game with a torn groin. He played just two shifts early in the second period before being pulled from the game.
“I know that the first four games of the series, I was just out there filling a spot, Alzner said. “I was out there and I was not hurting the team I don’t think, but I also wasn’t helping in winning in the game. That’s when you know you can still do things, but once I’m getting beat up the ice trying to chase a guy and not able to at least stay in battles, that’s when you know it’s time.”
Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle played great in Game One of the Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The fourth liner skated 15 minutes and 17 seconds, topping Washington’s third line in TOI. He and partners Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson were hard on the forecheck, forcing turnovers and tiring out Pittsburgh’s forwards. Beagle also won 63 percent of his faceoffs, including some key ones against Evgeni Malkin, whom he bested 75 percent of the time.
After the game, Beagle and I exchanged our usual fist bump for a job well done, but no one in the locker room wanted to ask him about about his performance. Instead, Beagle’s adventures with Kris Letang’s stick, which got stuck between his helmet and visor, was the topic du jour for the national media assembled at Verizon Center.
“I definitely knew there was a stick in my visor,” Beagle said. “I just couldn’t believe that it was stuck. I tried to pull it a couple times just so I could continue with the play, but it wouldn’t come out. Then I figured I might as well get to the bench, I’m useless right now. I can’t see a thing.”
At first, it all went according to plan. The house lights went down at exactly 7 PM. The arena lit up in a sea of orange and white lights glimmering off commemorative wristbands. A tribute to the recently deceased Ed Snider, who founded the Flyers in 1967 and had owned the team ever since, played on the big screen. All of Wells Fargo Center, from the seating bowl to the benches to the press box, applauded a great owner. Then Kate Smith and Lauren Hart sang their trademark “God Bless America” duet. Within a minute of puck drop, the Flyers had the first goal, wildly sliding into the boards in celebration. The roar from the fans was booming. This was their night for their owner.
“Ed was a dynamic visionary who turned Philadelphia into one of the great hockey towns in the world,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said before the game in a heartfelt press conference. “He believed in excellence — and in this team, the Flyers.”
The Capitals penalty kill was the second-best unit in the league during the regular season, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. Yet on special teams, it was overshadowed by the power play, which finished fifth. While the PK doesn’t provide between-the-legs passes or booming one-timers, it has kept the Capitals in control of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington’s penalty kill is a perfect eight for eight. Going back to the last five games of the regular season, the opponents’ power plays have been stopped 21 times in a row. Despite outshooting the Capitals 61-54 overall in the first two games, the Flyers have scored just one goal. Washington has six, including three power-play goals, good for a 2-0 series lead.
“We got our butts on the line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s Game Two loss.
Jay Beagle scored his fourth career playoff goal, icing the game for the Caps late in the third period. Beags drove the center lane and nailed the top corner of the net like a 50-goal scorer, but I need to point out two crucial plays before that goal happened.
With everything locked up and only days to wait until their first round playoff matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals experienced injury scares at the worst time of the season.
First, Jay Beagle went down after blocking a shot with his left ankle during Saturday’s win over St. Louis. Beagle was scratched for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, necessitating an emergency recall of Hershey forward Zach Sill. Beagle, however, is set to play Thursday night. Jason Chimera is expected be in the lineup as well after leaving practice for a few minutes the day before because his “mom called.”