Must-Win Game… Lost: Panthers beat Caps 4-2

Photo credit: Alan Diaz

The Washington Capitals have three dates with the Florida Panthers in February, and these games will determine their chances for a postseason. This one was a so-called “four-point game”, and the Capitals came up tragically short.

After a scoreless first period, Mikael Samuelsson faked a hardaround and then fired a shot to Neuvirth’s far side– hitting the post then net. It was a fluke-y, no-look shot from almost 90 feet out, but it caught Neuvirth being lazy, and that’s what matters. Brooks Laich tied it up with a feisty top-shelfer from the crease during 4-on-4 play. Samuelsson got his second of the night with the go-ahead goal on a third period power play. After a long adjudication, Stephen Weiss was awarded a goal that had been washed out at first.

John Carlson made it a one-goal game with a leisurely slapper from the high slot, but Shawn Matthias grabbed an empty netter a few moments later. Panthers beat Caps 4-2.

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Why Alex Ovechkin Throwing Gang Signs is a Good Thing

Photo credit: Michael Martin

For those of you who stayed up late Saturday with the hopes of getting an up-close-and-personal look at #AvsFailWatch, sorry. The Capitals are scuffling. The team has mustered only one goal in each of the past three games (1-2-0), they have failed to win more than two straight games since starting the season 7-0, and they have an unimpressive 4-5-0 record since Dale Hunter was hired as coach. 31 games into the season, the Caps are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and would not qualify for the playoffs if they started today. Bummer city.

While it’s easy to fret about all the unmet expectations this season, there are also some positive changes going on– though you might have to get out a magnifying glass to see them.

First, the Capitals are giving up nearly one less goal per game under Hunter (3.27 GAA with Bruce, 2.55 with Dale). Five-on-five, the Capitals are finally subscribing to more of a chip-and-chase system and are trying to be a tougher team to compete against. “Unfortunately, it’s a really hard way to play,” Tomas Vokoun recently explained to CSN’s Chuck Gormley. “But it’s the only way you can win a Stanley Cup. And the sooner we learn it as a team the better off we’re going to be.”

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Black Friday: Rangers beat Caps 6-3

Photo credit: Mitchell Layton

With two wins in their rear view, the Washington Capitals hoped to end their homestand by beating up the New York Rangers, whom they ousted from the playoffs last Spring. Instead, flubs on friendly ice foiled the Caps.

With John Carlson utterly smoked, Jeff Schultz had to deal with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik, who scored. Artem Anisimov potted on the power play to give the Rangers a two-goal lead. Eh, make it 3-0: Marcus Johansson got a little cute on the breakout, turning over the puck so that Ruslan Fedotenko could have an easy layup. Alex Ovechkin massacred someone on the boards leading to a turnover that gave Troy Brouwer a goal scored from inches out. On the power play, John Carlson released a weaponized slap shot to make it 3-2. Michal Neuvirth’s glove was a bit clumsy, and Brian Boyle converted the rebound. On a 2-on-1, Ryan Callahan set up Brad Richards for an easy redirect– 5-2. Alex Ovechkin finally recorded a home-ice goal, beating a small platoon of Rangers to do so. Fedotenko made it 6-3, and we stopped caring. Rags beat Caps 6-3.

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Chimmer with the game-winner. Now, let’s go eat a Turkey dinner. (Photo credit: Evan Vucci)

Two nights ago, Alex Semin was banished to the press box, a healthy scratch for the first time since his rookie year.

Five minutes and twenty-three seconds into the first period, redemption was his. Sasha Minor took Alex Ovechkin’s wizardly backhand feed and fired a rocket past Ondrej Pavelec on the 2-on-1 to open the scoring. The mustachioed Andrew Ladd got one back for the Jets, however, when he and Nik Antropov worked their on 2-on-1 magic. But, before I could even finish swearing — 12 seconds later in other words — Brooks Laich set up Jason Chimera at the top of the crease to once again give the home team the lead. Keeping with the back-and-forthiness, Kyle Wellwood tied the game up for Winnipeg again just three minutes later. Birthday boy Nicky Backstrom, though, didn’t let that stand when early in the second frame he whacked one five-hole on Pavelec to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. But the Jets didn’t run out of fuel there when, with eight minutes left in the third, Bryan Little wristed one past Tomas Vokoun to tie it for the gazillionth time. To overtime we went, and that’s where Chimmer shined once again — with an awesome celebration to boot. Ballgame. Caps beat Jets, 4-3.

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Leafs beat Caps 7-1, Bruce Boudreau Stuck at 199 Wins

Photo credit: Abelimages

Hockey Night in Canada. The Washington Capitals hoped to earn Bruce Boudreau’s 200th NHL win against his old team. Did. Not. Happen.

An embarrassingly bad turnover from Jeff Schultz led to Tim Connolly’s goal. Brooks Laich took a drop pass from Chimera to even it up. Matt Frattin recorded his first NHL goal late in the first period. Early in the second, Tyler Bozak scored a powerplay goal from in traffic. Bozak then gave Phil Kessel a blind pass that became one gorgeous tally. Vokoun out, Neuvirth in. Joffrey Baratheon-Lannister-Lupul scored a PPG to make it 5-1. Then someone did something and it was 6-1. Then, Jeez Louise, David Steckel scored shorthanded. Leafs beats Caps 7-1.

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Capitals offensive stud Jeff Schultz may be, you know, Canadian but that didn’t stop him from participating in a “dramatic reading” of the Declaration of Independence on Monday, the Fourth of July.

RMNB reader Laura Keivel — who was nice enough to email us photos of the event — explains.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov poses with George McPhee and Ross Mahoney (Photo: Bruce Bennett)

Each off-season I catch up on my reading. I alternate between a Bill James’ Abstract (I have 1984-1989 to get through); something music related (currently Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, And Social Change and Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces); and one or two hockey books– including the new one called The Art of Scouting, which “delves into the secretive world of hockey prospecting.”

After only eleven pages, I got struck by what the authors claim is the consensus of a successful draft, summarized by Mike Futa, co-director of amateur scouting for the Los Angeles Kings:

“It’s the only job where you can be right 15 percent of the time and be ruled a Hall of Famer for success, You are going to be wrong 85 or 80 percent of the time, and if you hit on 2.5 home runs every Draft, you are par with some of the best scouts ever.”

Two NHLers out of seven players drafted, assuming no trades are made, seems like a low bar, so I decided to see how the George McPhee era has done in regards to scouting.

McPhee joined the Capitals in 1997, so the first draft we can attribute to him is in 1998. Since it takes about five years for a prospect to develop, we will look at his draft record from 1998-2006. Let’s consider a prospect a success if he has played in at least 200 games at the NHL level. That gives him five years of 40 games played to qualify.

Spoiler: The results are not great.

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Balls. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

It’s been awhile since you’ve added a tally to your wins list, eh?

The Washington Capitals hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning to another night of hockey in the old Verizon Center barn. And it pretty much went just like the first one.

During a late first-period powerplay, Vincent Lecavalier deflated the crowd with a high dart to the back of the net. Brooks Laich crashed the net to tie it up, but Martin St. Louis’s deflection off Mike Green’s skate gave Tampa a 2-1 lead. With Neuvirth pulled, the Capitals fought the Battle of Roloson’s Crease to victory– with Captain Alex Ovechkin pitching in the puck from zero distance. In the biggest overtime of the season, the Caps started strong. But Teddy Purcell fed Vinny Lecavalier a puck right in front of Michal Neuvirth. Game over. Bolts beat Caps 3-2 (OT), but here’s the real kick in the teeth:

Bolts lead the series 2-0.

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Mike Knuble scores in the shootout

Neuvy celebrates with his teammates after coming up victorious in the shootout. (Photo credit: Graig Abel)

Neuvy celebrates with his teammates after coming up victorious in the shootout. (Photo credit: Graig Abel)

What can’t Knuble do? (Photo credit: Graig Abel)

In their first game of the final back-to-back of the season, the Capitals found themselves in Air Canada Centre to face the surging Toronto Maple Leafs. Since the All-Star break, the Leafs have gone a ridiculous and improbable 18-7-5, riding mid-season call-up James Reimer’s (Oops, sorry!) Optimus Reim‘s incredible goaltending back into playoff contention.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, their chances of still making the playoffs were about as likely as Jason Chimera having a 50 goal season: less than one percent. To stave off mathematical elimination for one more night, they had to have either a regulation or overtime win against DC and a loss from Buffalo.

“They have to have every point,” winger Brooks Laich explained to the media after the Capitals pre-game skate. “They have to have every point in regulation the next three games and then hope for the best. This is an elimination game for the Leafs and they’re going to show us their absolute best.

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Ovechkin celebration

Just another night at the office for Ovechkin: a goal, two assists and the invention of a new dance. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

NHL referee Bill McCreary is honored with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Melissa, along with Vice President and Caps General Manger George McPhee of the Washington Capitals before officiating his final NHL game

Referee Bill McCreary is honored with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Melissa, along with Vice President and Caps General Manger George McPhee before officiating his final NHL game. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

On Fan Appreciation Day, the Capitals certainly rewarded their supporters. In front of 18,398 deafening fans — good for the Caps’ 100th consecutive sellout — Washington pulled out a thrilling overtime victory, moving into the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps struck first and early when just 37 seconds in John Carlson fired a wrist shot that Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth failed to collect. The red-hot Mike Knuble then did his usual dirty work in the crease to net the opening tally.

Washington jumped out to a two goal lead at 4:41 when Alexander Semin — who was on the ice for eight chances for and three against — scored a similar goal to Knuble’s, tapping in Nicklas Backstrom’s rebound behind Enroth. PANIC!!!1 Timeout Buffalo.

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