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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Winning Ugly: Chimera Pushes Caps Past Jackets, 4-3

Jason Chimera OTGWG

(Photo credit: Luis M. Alvarez)

Risking dropping their second straight game to a sub-par team, the Washington Capitals were rescued by none other than Jason Chimera, a healthy scratch just a game ago.

For Chimera it was sweet redemption and “especially nice” that it came against his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Despite the win, victory wasn’t easy for Washington with sloppy play plaguing the Caps throughout the night.

“We did not do a very good job tonight,” veteran center Jason Arnott said. “There were a lot of bouncing pucks, a lot of nonchalant plays that we don’t normally make … We have to clean up our own zone, it starts tomorrow with the video, and try to correct it and come up with a better effort to back our goaltender up.”

Head Coach Bruce Boudreau seemed to agree Arnott’s view that the Capitals must play better in front of young netminder Michal Neuvirth.

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Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich celebrate goal

Photo credit: Rob Carr

Not all goals are created equal. A team scoring first has almost twice the win percentage of a team that trails first, while scoring an empty net goal almost always means the game was out of reach. But what about all the goals scored in between? Of all those goals that a player scores, how many contribute to victories and how vitally do they contribute?

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PLAYOFFS! Caps Top Flyers, 5-4! (SO)

Semin wins it

#GoodSasha (Photo credit: Paul Bereswill)

Awwwww! Photo credit: Matt Slocum

Awwwww! Photo credit: Matt Slocum

The Washington Capitals are in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, don’t start panicking. The Caps of this year are different. They play postseason-style defensive hockey. (Well, let’s just forget about the D tonight.) Washington has their swagger back too. They’re just one point off the top spot in the East and are firing on all cylinders as April awaits.

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring at 7:52 after his wrist shot from between the circles snuck under Flyer goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s shoulder. Weak goal. Then with under three minutes left in the first period, ol’ man Mike Knuble chipped in Marcus Johansson’s pass from behind the net to push the Caps lead to multiple goals. Spongebob never saw it. Weak goal.

Under 1:30 into the second stanza, Dennis Wideman fired a shot from the point the found twine after Bobrovsky failed to react in time. Weak goal. New ‘keeper. At 8:05 Kris Versteeg got himself an easter egg. Number 10 in orange and black racked up his 19th of the year after his off-target pass hit Wideman’s skate. With just over 30 seconds left in the frame Claude Giroux inched Philadelphia ever closer, one-timing Andreas Nodl’s perfect pass past Neuvirth. The Czech netminder never even moved on the shot after biting on Nodl’s excellent fake. The Flyers would then tie the game 10:02 in the third period when the Capitals got Jeff Schultz’d. Mr. Nasty’s outlet pass was deflected by Giroux and Nodl slapped it home. Daniel Briere would then score the Flyers’ fourth unanswered tally, saavily tipping a a Kimmo Timonen shot from the point home. 4-3, Fly Guys. Panic!!!1 Luckily for you guys, Swedes are good at hockey. Johansson would tie the game up on a perfect shot from the point with 3:19 left. What does that mean? Overtime.

In the extra period, there would be chances a plenty, but neither team would convert. You know what lies next: The Gimmick.

Ville Leino: goal. Matt Hendricks: fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, leg lift, fake, fake, fake, backhand and GOAL! Giroux: miss. Backstrom: GOAL! Briere: Goal. Up next, The Enigma. GOAL WSH #28 SEMIN, Backhand, Off. Zone, 7 ft. Playoffs, here we come! Caps top Flyers, 5-4 (SO)

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Carlson Looks Right at Home as Caps Blank Devils, 3-0

Neuvirth Save

Michal Neuvirth make a save on the bewildered $100 million dollar man (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett).

Veteran winger Mike Knuble netted two goals while registering one assist on the night. Photo credit: Andy Marlin

Veteran winger Mike Knuble netted two goals while registering one assist on the night. Photo credit: Andy Marlin

It’s easy to forget about John Carlson.

The rookie Washington Capitals defenseman logs 20 minutes a night, rarely makes stone-headed blunders and chips in the occasional pressure on transition.

Yet as the Caps nudge ever closer to clinching a fourth straight Southeast Division championship, Carlson’s rock-solid contributions are becoming increasingly harder to ignore.

The New Jersey native had two assists, logged almost 23 minutes of ice time and played nearly flawless hockey in a 3-0 shutout win of the New Jersey Devils. The win tied the Capitals for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Flyers and made an improbable New Jersey playoff bid seem even more unlikely.

Despite moving into third-place on the all-time Washington Capitals points list for rookies, Carlson was not named one of the three stars of the night. Yet his sharp work while joining the attack led to two goals, and his steadiness in the back helped the brilliant Michal Neuvirth register his fourth shutout and third since February 4.

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Caps Wear Green to Honor St. Patrick’s Day

Green Jerseys (8 of 15)

For the second time in ten days, the Washington Capitals took the ice for pre-game warm-ups in some unusual duds. The occasion for Sunday’s sweaters? St. Patrick’s Day.  However, the holiday isn’t until March 17, falling three full days after the Caps wore these uni’s. On top of that, Washington, D.C. isn’t exactly known for its Irish heritage. Nevertheless, the jersey were auctioned off during the game with a portion of the funds going to charity. Take a look at the rest of my photographs of these rather, um, interesting jerseys after the jump.
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Capitals celebrate Mike Knuble's OTGWG

GROUP HUG! (Photo credit: Rob Carr)

Jason Chimera brings the intensity in a second period fight with Brent Seabrook. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)

Jason Chimera brings the intensity in a second period fight with Brent Seabrook. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)

In dramatic fashion, in front of a national television audience  and a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Cardiac Caps were once again back at work as Washington pushed their winning streak to eight. Less than one month ago it would have been hard to imagine any of this happening. Nevertheless, the Caps are now just a single point out of first-place in the Eastern Conference.

“Guys have a bit of a swagger right now, back to the way things were,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Blackhawks opened the scoring less than five minutes into the contest. After receiving a feed from Marian Hossa, Nick Leddy put the puck past Holtby. Just under two and a half minutes later, however, Boyd Gordon would knot the game at one. After picking up an errant pass by the ‘Hawks power play, Gordon raced down the wing before firing a slapper past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford for the shortie. Late in the first frame, after John Erskine drew a holding penalty, Washington headed to their recently anemic power play. This time, however, it would be different. New Cap Jason Arnott fired a bullet from the point that found twine, giving Washington their first lead of the game.

Three minutes into the second period, Chicago would tie the game at two when Holtby gave Tomas Kopecky a little too much daylight. Kopecky seized the opportunity, banking the puck off ‘keeper’s back from behind the goal-line. In the waining moments of the stanza, things got physical when Chicago’s Brent Seabrook delivered a hard check behind the net to Jason Chimera. Everyone favorite fire-footed, stone-handed forward took exception to Seabrook, challenging him to a duel. Seabrook appeared to come out with the win in the bout but it was Chimera got the take-down.

“Chimmer, I thought, he was a factor. He did not get a star or anything, but I thought he was a real big factor in the game,” said Chimera’s teammate Brooks Laich. “He was the one that sort of instigated that little rhubarb there. I think he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off. So I think he had a very good night.”

Six and half in to the final frame, the aforementioned Laich put home Matt Hendricks’ (or more accurately Eric Fehr’s) feed from the corner to put the Caps on top. Washington appeared to be in control until Marcus Johansson was called for hooking at 18:10. “I thought it was a pretty chintzy call,” said Boudreau. On the ensuing Blackhawks power play, Jonathan Toews converted on a mad scrum in front of the net, as the puck bounced in off Holtby’s skate.

In overtime, the Capitals missed numerous chances until, finally, Mike Knuble — with a little help from Johansson — came to the rescue. Ballgame over. Caps top ‘Hawks, 4-3.

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