It was a good season to be a Jay Beagle fan, which we are. We just watched him wrap up the best season of his career, plus he got a new cell phone. Beagle was so good, he might have just played himself out of a contract.
p.s. I vow to use no dog puns in this whole article.
In early 2007, Jay Beagle was a member of the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, a team he signed with after college. As an undrafted forward playing third-tier professional hockey in middle America, Beagle had little shot at making the NHL. He skated in 26 games for the Steelheads, mostly in the postseason, picking up 13 points. During their Kelly Cup-winning playoff run, the Steelheads matched up against the Las Vegas Wranglers. Steve Richmond, currently the Capitals’ Director of Player Development, happened to be in attendance for those games in Vegas. He liked what he saw, and Beagle received an offer to join Washington’s annual development camp over the summer.
“I was ecstatic,” Beagle said. “It was a chance that I didn’t really think I’d ever get.”
Last week, Eric Fehr met the media to update them on the injury that has keep him out of the lineup for most of the playoffs. After two minutes of optimism and indirect answers, the scrum was finished. The day’s routine necessity had been completed. As the rest of the media shuffled away from Fehr’s locker, I made an offhand comment that the F-16 was getting ready for flight.
“There are some bad nicknames out there,” he told me. “Of all the nicknames to have, that’s a pretty cool one.”
I asked what he thought of his other nickname, Fehrsie.
“See, that’s the thing: I hate those nicknames,” he said. “Anybody with a last name with a –y on the end would probably be the worst one. Spelling it –ie doesn’t change anything. You need to be creative. As a group we’ve tried to be more creative with guys. We tried to change it up a little bit.”
Inadvertently, I had just stumbled on a massive scoop. Over the next 10 minutes, Fehr revealed the other hidden nicknames of the Capitals locker room. Some you might know– others you don’t.
For six years, Jay Beagle had the same flip phone. For Beags, it represented the core of his personality: simple, concise, and rugged. Beagle is not like Alex Ovechkin. He does not need to wear two pairs of competing pants or a Mercedes that has an illegal tint and no front plates. Instead, Beagle turns up to Kettler in a Chevy pickup. He wears camo hunting shirts. He wins faceoffs. Sometimes, usually accidentally, he scores a goal.
But in October, Beagle gave up on part of that life. “Flipper,” as his flip phone was known, died. In its, place, he got an iPhone. For years, Beagle looked down upon a hyper-connected life. But these days, he’s a father. On the road for much of the year, Beagle wanted to be able to watch his son, who was born last summer, grow up through pictures and videos taken by his wife and videochat with them using FaceTime. So he got an iPhone. He doesn’t know which model.
Over the past season, we’ve seen Marcus Johansson go from a talented set-up man into the Caps third leading goal scorer. Andre Burakovsky has gone from an 19-year-old babyfaced rookie into, for a while, the team’s top-line right wing. In the past two weeks, those two have added more facets to their game. In the 2015 playoffs, Johansson and Burakovsky have become physical forces on the ice. But instead of going for needless checks that only put them out of position as so many players do, Marcus and Andre pick their spots, using their bodies to bump opponents off the puck or maintain possession.
“You never want to approach a game looking for hits,” Brooks Orpik, who was third in the league in that stat during the regular season, told me Wednesday. “If you do that you’re gonna be out of position.”
“We can’t try to be a skill team all the time,” he added. “If you are a big team, you have to use that to your advantage.”
After Beagle takes a beautiful backhanded pass from the Burracuda, he fires a shot from the slot. Lundqvist stops it, but the rabid Beagle stays dogged on the puck and fetches his own rebound. Then he shoots from behind the net and like magic– it goes in!
At 12:40 p.m. on Saturday, Jay Beagle won the opening faceoff of game two of Metropolitan Division Final against the New York Rangers. Instead of controlling the puck, however, the Capitals allowed the Rangers to set up for a rush out their defensive zone. As the Rangers took the puck up the ice, Washington’s top forward and defensive lines jumped on the ice. Brooks Orpik didn’t do so fast enough. Jesper Fast fed the puck to Chris Kreider in front. Thirty-eight seconds into the game, Washington was down one-nil. By the end of the first period, New York had a two-goal lead. The Caps had been outshot 15-4, completely outmatched for the first 20 minutes of play.
“I think we had a great start,” defenseman Marc Staal told reporters at the team hotel on Sunday.
But instead of sitting on their lead as they did in game two, the Rangers only plan to press more on Monday.
“It’s one thing to stay patient,” Staal said. “I think it’s another thing to stay aggressive.”
With 14 minutes left in game two, the Rangers’ Derick Brassard found himself all alone in front of Braden Holtby. With Matt Niskanen and Jay Beagle in the rear view, Brassard scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Here’s a view of Brassard all alone, just before the goal. Niskanen (blue arrow) and Beagle (black arrow), look like they’ve completely blown their assignments on this goal, meanwhile John Carlson (red arrow) is hanging out up by the blue line.
(Note the color assignment of the arrows, they’ll be used throughout.)
But, if the entire sequence leading up to this play is taken into account, it becomes hard to find any fault with Niskanen on this goal.
The hockey gods just gave the Capitals the biggest gift ever and they could not convert. As John Carlson dumped the puck into the corner, instead of going behind the net, the puck richoeted right into the left circle where Jay Beagle was standing. Beagle put the puck on his forehand and pumped a shot on net, but Halak somehow made the save.