ChimeraGoal

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Woo! (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)

For the last four seasons, the Capitals had been on a steady decline. During their Bruce Boudreau era runs for Presidents’ Trophy, they were D.C.’s team. For fans since the 70’s and young transplants in suits, Rocking the Red was all the rage.

In 2011, the team started going downhill. Boudreau was fired, with three coaches taking his place since then. Meanwhile, the Nationals got good. The Caps were no longer fashionable. The hockey wasn’t the same either. Instead of exciting run-and-gun matches, the Caps played overly defensive games and then, under Adam Oates, just plain bad ones, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Despite claiming a sellout every night, Verizon Center was littered with empty purple seats.

But with Washington’s comeback victory in game two, the spark was lit. On Thursday, the Phone Booth was red, proud, and loud. The Caps dominated, beating the Islanders 5-1 and taking a 3-2 series lead.

“We love this,” Karl Alzner, who scored Thursday, told me. “The fact that we see everybody getting excited for it and feeling good about our team and about our chance at winning some games, that’s what’s exciting for us.”

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latta-kiss

Karl Alzner just scored his second goal of the series. Who is this man?!

The goal was made possible by a great Andre Burakovsky breakout and a great Jay Beagle carry-in. As the puck got loose in the slot, Troy Brouwer shot it at the Islanders net. Brouwer dug the puck out of Jaro Halak’s pads before hitting Alzner, who was streaking to the net.

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alzner-goal

It might have felt the same, but it was nothing like 2010 except in the most superficial way: the Caps couldn’t score.

With a possession lead but in a two-goal hole, the Caps grew increasingly desperate in the second. Eventually the shots started getting on net, but none could be that damned Jaro Halak. And then, with a real offensive-zone presence, Mike Green executed a perfect pass to Karl Alzner. With Troy Brouwer’s big ass up front, Alzner hit the back of the net for the second time of his playoff career.

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ovechkin-my-man

Photo: Alex Prewitt

After Tuesday’s practice, NHL.com beat writer Katie Brown noticed Karl Alzner and John Carlson wearing new playoff hats. Overlaid on a silhouette of Abe Lincoln (with a hole in its head*) read the text My Man. Naturally, no one really understood the significance of the phrase or what it was doing on a team-prepared hat. Sure, the Abe Lincoln silhouette was a nod to the Caps’ post-victory Honest Abe award. But what about the phrase?

Brown made Alzner spill the beans.

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Photo: Dave Reginek

The Washington Capitals beat one of the best possession teams in the league on Sunday, but not before weathering a last-minute onslaught by the Detroit Red Wings. That onslaught included six shot attempts – five of which were blocked by Washington defenders.

Karl Alzner literally saved the game himself, diving in front of a Riley Sheahan shot with 15.8 seconds remaining. Teemu Pulkkinen’s point shot ricocheted off Matt Niskanen’s skate to a wide-open Sheahan at the left circle. With Holtby facing the other direction, Alzner sacrificed his body – much like Tom Wilson did a few minutes earlier – and blocked the attempt with an awkward double-leg slide.

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AlznerGoal

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

On Thursday night, Adam Oates was back behind the bench at Verizon Center for the first time since being fired at the end of last season. Much has changed since then. On this night, the Capitals were playing with sticks that were familiar to them and their coach was not giving his players the cold shoulder. But the most important change, at least on this night, came on defense. Oates instituted a defense system that required blueliners to give up the puck almost immediately after gaining it. This led to forced passes and a myriad of odd-man breaks against. It turned former Norris Trophy nominees like Mike Green into subject of ridicule. The Capitals defense, on the whole, was very bad.

This year, however, things are different. In offseason, new general manager Brian MacLellan added some much needed balance to the Capitals by signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to big money deals. New coach Barry Trotz has also freed up its defensemen, allowing them to carry the puck when necessary. This has led to a resurgence for Green, who has 39 points this season. Other blueliners have also chipped in. Through 73 games, Karl Alzner had more than doubled his career high in goals and surpassed his career high in assists.

Against the Devils, Alzner added his fifth goal of the year in a decidedly un-Oatesian way.

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alzner-ronald-mcdonald

Karl Alzner just scored his fifth goal of the season and the 12th goal of his career.

The goal came in the first period against the New Jersey Devils (Roy Rogers alert). Alzner joined the attack, which I hope Devils coach Adam Oates hated, and hit the back of the net from below the circles.

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karl-alzner-words-with-friends

So great. (Photo: @annasleong)

Washington Capitals defensemen/bros-in-real-life Karl Alzner and John Carlson signed autographs for Caps fans in Silver Spring Thursday night. The event was held by Sport Chevrolet, that car dealership they did commercials for this season.

In these types of settings, athletes can be asked to sign some silly items. Example: reader Eric presented Alzner with a printed-out Words With Friends screenshot. Eric had pwned Alzner on the mobile game earlier in the year and wanted to immortalize the victory.

Instead of open-hand slapping the fan, which is what I would have done, Alzner obliged. He’s so nice. He’s really, really nice. Nicer than I.

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GreenEaston

There it is. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

At the start of the 2008 NHL season, Mike Green came to camp with just 15 sticks. They were Easton Stealth CNTs. At the time, Green said his sticks had been discontinued for “a while.” He would be getting no more. Over the course of that season, Green posted unbelievable numbers for a defensemen, scoring 31 goals. Looking at the goal leaderboard for that season, Green is just below some of the most high flying scorers in the league: Malkin, Toews, and Crosby to name a few.

At one point Green scored a stunning 10 times in eight straight games. The goals during the streak all came off the same Easton, which Green said was the best stick he’s ever played with. Reluctantly, he agreed to donate it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“You can only be superstitious for so long,” Green said.

Green’s moment of reckoning came on May 2, 2009. Playing in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Green broke his last surviving Stealth CNT.

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karl-alzner-eye

Sunday’s game between the St Louis Blues and Washington Capitals has been surprisingly physical. Big hits punctuated the first period, including one that caused an injury to Shattenkirk, but this dirty boarding by David Backes on Karl Alzner was the worst yet.

It’s pretty simple in its dirtiness. Alzner skated to the puck at the boards. Backes lined up and hit him right in the numbers, smearing Alzner’s face into the glass.

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