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Photo: Patrick Smith

When the Washington Capitals gave up two straight breakaways to the Dallas Stars while on their own power play last night, I thought that was rock bottom.

Nope.

Rock bottom was Dustin Jeffrey‘s second period goal. The tally, which came 34 seconds after Ryan Whitney’s 2-on-0 goal on a botched Capitals line change, gave the Dallas Stars a 3-0 lead. It essentially ended the game.

The defense on the goal was atrocious. I’d waste my time or yours with a description. The screenshots and video say everything.

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Photo: Rob Carr

We’ve assumed for so long that the problem with the Caps is lack of defensive depth. I’d wager 90% of everything written about the Caps and Wednesday’s trade deadline states that the team lacks a solid, number-four, right-shooting defenseman. It’s been pretty obvious that filling that one spot would help fill the ranks of Washington’s defense.

That makes a lot of sense. Since October, the Caps defense had essentially been Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and any other three guys.

But I’m not so sure anymore. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if the Caps wouldn’t be able to succeed merely by upgrading their bottom pairing– namely John Erskine and Connor Carrick.

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Wednesday was the first day back for the Washington Capitals. Practice for all the non-Olympians went about how you expect. But after the players’ on-ice session concluded, Jay Beagle and John Erskine had some fun. The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera and CSN Washington’s The Gorm™ photographed the two driving around the zambonis.

Why? No idea, but it looks like they’re having fun.

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John Erskine’s Not-Good Weekend

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Photo: Alex Brandon

Despite his menacing stare and his even angrier-looking fists, there may be no nicer man in the Washington Capitals locker room than John Erskine. That’s why this is hard to write.

The 33-year-old Erskine, who was given a two-year $3.9 million extension from George McPhee last February, may be in the throes of his worst season ever as a pro.

The veteran defenseman — who is supposed to be a leader out on the ice — is an anchor on the Caps. His 47.2% puck possession is 3.6% worse than the team does without him. The only defensemen on the team with a lower possession scores are rookie Connor Carrick and the recently released Alexander Urbom. Erskine ranks 173rd out of the 230 defensemen with at least 25 games played when measured by corsi percentage.

Then there’s the goals. While Erskine is on the ice at even strength, 62% of the goals scored on the ice belong to the opponent. Big John also has a penalty differential of minus-9 (he’s taken nine more penalties than he’s drawn).

Then there’s the eye test, my personal favorite, which Erskine fails regularly.

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Standings Free Fall: Devils Top Caps 2-1

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Ugh. (Photo: Andy Marlin)

Just like Alex Ovechkin, ya boy Peter was out with an injury tonight. Undisclosed for those asking. I’m nursing the flu. We’re sort of like the Caps of Caps blogs right now.

Embarking on five game road trip with their dads in tow, the Caps headed to newly Cory Booker-less Newark for date with the Devils. Allowing the fewest shots per game in the NHL and featuring the blue-hot Cory Schneider, New Jersey didn’t look like great opponent to get Washington’s hapless offense going. They weren’t. Yep, it’s gonna be one of those again.

As usual these days, the game got off to a horrid start. Five minutes in, Dmitry Orlov made another silly mistake, fumbling the puck in the Caps offensive zone. Steven Gionta and Ryan Carter went the other way on the odd-man break. Shockingly, Mike Green did not misplay the 2-on-1. It wasn’t enough. The puck snuck past Michal Neuvirth off the blade of Gionta.

Early in the second, Adam Henrique put the Devs up by two with Orlov in the box for holding. Jaromir Jagr made the play, fabulously skating through the Capitals defense before feeding the puck in front for his second assist of the game. Facing this Capitals offense, it looked like that was all New Jersey needed.

Jason Chimera, however, had other ideas. Midway through the third, he deflected a John Erskine shot from the point for his third goal in seven games. It wasn’t enough though.

Seven in a row. Devils top Caps 2-1.

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Caps Host Annual Dads Trip (Photos)

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Braden Holtby poses with his dad Greg. (Photo credit: @CapitalsPR)

In the middle of a six game losing streak, the Caps are in a tough stretch, playing their next five games on the road. Being away from home, though, has it upsides. This weekend, Washington is hosting their annual mentors trip, with players allowed to bring one guest to New Jersey and Montreal. The group is made up mostly of dads, who will get to see what it’s like to be an NHL player for a few days.  Continue Reading

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Johansson (red) laughs during the preseason Capitals Alumni Game. (Photo: Chris Gordon)

The Washington Capitals’ defense allows the second most shots per game in the NHL. They’ve put perhaps their best defensive prospect, Dmitry Orlov, through recall-scratch-repeat hell. Now that Orlov is finally playing, he’s paired with a guy who has a similar skill set, Mike Green.

Then there’s the frequent shuffling of the Caps blue line deck. Due to injuries, on-ice struggles, waiver pickups, and call-ups from the minors, Washington has used twelve different defenseman this season. Just about every blue liner in the organization has gotten a shot as part of the 2013-14 Caps D corps.

As we head towards the stretch run, the Caps seemed to have settled on a lineup for now: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, Dmitry OrlovJohn Erskine, and Connor Carrick. Though Washington’s defense has been its biggest flaw, its recent improvement may also their best chance at making — and succeeding — in the playoffs.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with assistant coach Calle Johansson, the man who runs the Caps’ blue line, and asked him about some of his decisions, including some of the positives from this season.

The full transcript is below.

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

After John Erskine took a couple swings at Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf during a fracas early in the second period, Leafs’ fifth-line enforcer Colton Orr challenged Big John to a little do-si-do to stick up for his teammate.

Unwise.

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John Erskine Accidentally Punches Ref in Face (Video)

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Midway through the second period, Washington Capitals defenseman John Erskine had a dust-up with Dion Phaneuf after a stoppage in play. Erskine, who clearly wanted to fight, was held back by linesman Mark Shewchyk. Unfortunately for Shewchyk, a wayward Erskine fist didn’t quite reach Phaneuf’s face, landing instead on the linesman’s chin.

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Caps Auction Off Ugly Christmas Sweaters (Photos)

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The sweaters on sale. (All photos by Chris Gordon)

A couple weeks ago, the Washington Capitals released a magisterial Christmas video in which their players wore ridiculous outfits while pretending to provide musical accompaniment to Jingle Bells. Tonight, the team auctioned off the signed ugly sweaters worn Nicklas Backstrom, John Erskine, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, Aaron Volpatti, Joel Ward, and Tom Wilson in the video, with the profits benefiting Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic. Troy Brouwer owns the onesie he wore in the video, and according to Caps Community Relations, he refused to part with it. Instead, a signed stocking was offered instead. I imagine he’ll be wearing the onesie on Christmas day.

In the third period, it was announced by Caps PR that bidding raised $5,225 for charity. Way to go, guys.

Here are some photos of the #fashion on sale:

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