Hockey can be a super random sport sometimes. This is one of those moments.

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They’re Back: Capitals Beat Devils 5-3


Photo credit: Patrick Smith

Greetings, fans! After five and a half months away, fishing, muddin’, and engagin’, the Washington Capitals returned to Verizon Center to start a new season with nervous anticipation.

The team laid out the red carpet carpet before the game, showcasing the team’s finest knit ties and undercuts. Afterwards, however, there was hockey to play. On ice. For real.

The Capitals got off to a slow start, going almost five minutes without a shot attempt early in the first period. Then Evgeny Kuznetsov hooked somebody. Uh oh. Naturally, Jason Chimera and Justin Williams immediately blew right past the Devils defense for a short-handed tick-tack-toe. Then, just two minutes and 28 seconds later, the unthinkable. Brooks Orpik, who missed all of the preseason with a wrist injury, scored. It was his first as a Capital and it came on a one-timer.

The Caps, though, like to disappear after they score. Maybe they go play with their ferrets. I don’t know. Something dumb probably. Anyway, because the Capitals played with their ferrets the Devils scored twice in under three minutes, first Adam Henrique and then Eric Gelinas. Then nothing happened for 25 minutes.

That was, until, Alex Ovechkin happened. The captain went end to end, blowing past John Moore before flipping a delicious, crisp and refreshing wrist shot top shelf on New Jersey netminder Keith Kinkaid. Marcus Johansson added another. Oh, and then Matt Niskanen got himself an empty netter. But wait, the Devils came back with one of their own. Shower of goals! Caps beat Devils 5-3!

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Matt Niskanen: 2014-15 Season Review

Photo by Amanda Bowen

Fresh off signing a seven-year, $40.25-million deal, Matt Niskanen’s boxcar stats were due for some regression in 2014-15. In 2013-14, he had a career high in PP ice time and PDO, both of which were likely to drop in Washington. Both did and, predictably, his offensive production regressed. Yet, Niskanen’s first year in Washington was solid. But it also left me wanting more.

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Swedish bruisers. (Photo credit: Len Redkoles)

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.”

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Breaking Down the Rangers’ Third Goal in Game Two


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.

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Matt Niskanen is usually a pretty steady player who doesn’t look for big hits. But when he does look to lower the boom, boy is it brutal.

Late in the second period of game six, former Capital Mikhail Grabovski tried to carry the puck behind Braden Holtby‘s net. Instead, he was crushed with a beautiful shoulder-to-shoulder hit by Niskanen.

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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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Photo: Alex Brandon

10:45 AM Update: 12 hours later, the NHL has finally credited Kuznetsov with the goal.

Original Post: (Before you read this, know that the NHL is still crediting Matt Niskanen with the OTGWG, which is incorrect.)

If you ever wanted to understand how far Evgeny Kuznetsov has come as a hockey player, his game-winning goal against the Devils– and the seconds before that– are all you need to see.

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Looking at Shots From the Blue Line

Greg Fiume

Photo: Greg Fiume

One of the biggest differences between the Caps under Barry Trotz and the Caps under Adam Oates is the role of defensemen in offense. In February, Alex Prewitt described that role like this:

Blue-liners in Coach Barry Trotz’s system hold the freedom to pinch inside the offensive zone, collapsing onto pucks along the boards to keep possessions alive, but they also are asked to do their fair share of long-range flinging.

Last week, I looked at how badly the Caps’ forwards other than Alex Ovechkin struggle to generate shot attempts. But with Prewitt’s insight on the role of defenseman in Trotz’s system in mind, here’s a look at shot generation from the Caps defensemen, from a bit of a different angle.

There’s a glossary at the bottom, so be sure to check that out if the chart doesn’t make sense. We’re going to look at what percent of the overall shot attempts by Caps defenders each regular blue liner takes, as well as how effective each defensemen is at getting his individual shot attempts through and getting them on net.

While we use shot attempts as a proxy for meaningful puck possession, this doesn’t mean that all shot attempts are of equal value during game play. Generally, an unblocked shot attempt is preferred to one that is blocked, and a shot on goal is preferred to a shot attempt that goes wide. With that in mind, here’s a look at the six Caps defenders who have a sample size worth looking at.

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What Will it Cost to Re-Sign Mike Green?


Photo: Greg Fiume

Last night, Ian wrote about pending UFA Mike Green’s desire to stay with the Caps until death or retirement do them part. Already this season, I’ve looked at what it could cost to re-sign Marcus Johansson and how much Braden Holtby is worth, both of whom will be RFA after the season. Green’s case is a bit different, as he is set to hit unrestricted free agency come July 1st.

Some have pointed to Johnny Boychuck‘s 7-year, $42-million extension with the Islanders as a floor of where Green’s negotiations should begin. It’s a decent comp, but I’m going to dig a little deeper to look for salary comps for Green.

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