Michael Latta Ribs Steve Oleksy About Birthday

We all had a sad when Steve Oleksy was sent down to Hershey a few weeks ago, but maybe we underestimated the entertainment value of his and Michael Latta‘s friendship. They’re both adept at the Twitter and they both love to joke around.

Yesterday was Oleksy’s 28th birthday, so naturally Latta did something special for his broseph.

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Washington Capitals Prospect Rankings: Winter 2014

Chandler Stephenson has been one of the most impressive Caps prospects this season (Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The first half of the 2013-14 season has been mostly positive for Washington Capitals prospects. Unknowns like Andre Burakovsky and Chandler Stephenson have shown real NHL potential, while the elder statesmen of the pool like Nate Schmidt and Patrick Wey, both coming off tremendous college careers, have made steps up the Caps’ depth chart.

However, top two Caps prospects will wish their first half was better: Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injuries have limited his action and Tom Wilson has had a hard time gaining a meaningful role with the big club.

The feel-good story of the season so far has been Stephenson, who had been bugged by injuries in the past, but is now thriving in a veteran role as an offensive go-to guy for his team. I’ve got more on these stories and our full top-20 ranking below. Continue Reading

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Photo: Kyle Mace

Twenty-two year old prospect Michael Latta was a throw-in during last year’s blockbuster Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade, but in his brief time with the Washington Capitals he has shown a lot of promise. He may yet prove to be the gem of that deal on the Caps’ end.

While playing on the fourth line with Tom Wilson earlier this season, Latta exhibited a sandpaper-like quality to his game. His talent for irritation drew six power plays for the Caps (getting whistled only three times himself) and put opposing players off their games night after night.

Latta is an accomplished fighter as well , dropping his gloves 85 times since beginning his career in juniors in 2007-08. He’s also contributed a big goal to the scoresheet, recording his first NHL goal against the Detroit Red Wings and giving the world the glorious #LattaFace in the process.

Recently, I spoke to Latta, now in Hershey, about his season to date.

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Photo credit: Alex Brandon

An hour before the Washington Capitals took on the Philadelphia Flyers, general manager George McPhee made a flurry of roster moves. John Erskine was moved off injured reserve and back on to the active roster, rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt was sent down to the Hershey Bears, and Michael Latta was recalled.

With Mikhail Grabovski out with the flu, Latta centered the Caps’ fourth line. He did so despite suiting up the night before in Hershey. Sunday was Latta’s fourth game in five days.

“I got called at 10 o’clock this morning,” Latta told CSN’s Al Koken. “I got on my horse, got in the car, got my gear at the rink, and headed up here.”

When asked if he was tired from playing the night before, Latta smiled and responded,”You always got a little adrenaline when you get called up here. So it’s okay definitely.”

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Holtby Overtime: Caps Top Isles 3-2 (OT)

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Ballgame. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

Like the Bond marathon on SyFy over the last few days, the Washington Capitals are a fickle thing. Lately, the Caps have mixed the sublime elegance of the Sean Connery era with the confusing stupor of the Timothy Dalton movies. More often than not, it’s been the latter.

Plainly, they didn’t deserve to win yesterday’s game. Only the godlike brilliance of Eric Fehr kept the Caps from a fifth straight loss. They did win, however, and got their tired asses on a plane to hell Long Island this morning. With Braden Holtby making his second start in as many days, the setup for this one didn’t look good.

Washington’s start, however, was better than we’ve come to expect. Though New York handily outshot them early, the Caps controlled possession. The teams traded chances, with no one converting. Hey, that’s better than being 3-0 after 20!

As usual, the Caps got it going in the second. The period was filling with odd-man breaks and open looks for Washington, with the fourth line converting midway through the frame. Martin Erat – yes, that one — made a nice play behind the net before setting up the puck for Tom Wilson, who fired it on net. Aaron Volpatti did the net crashing thing to put the Caps on the board.

In the third, though, the Isles got the goal back — and they did on a Caps power play. Four minutes into the period, local pariah Mike Green missed a pinch and Cal Clutterbuck took the puck the other way on a breakaway. Yeah, it was awful. Then, Thomas Vanek gave the Isles the lead with some whacking in front, to Braden’s dismay. With less than two minutes left, this one looked over. HOWEVER… Nicklas Backstrom was stone cold clutch, converting in front with the Caps down a man. In overtime, the big Russian — that would be Alex Ovechkin — did his thing. Boom. Crazy times. Caps top Isles 3-2 (OT).

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Festival of (Red) Lights: Sens Edge Caps 6-4

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

[Note: This recap is Chanukah-themed tonight. Why? Because there's literally no one on the Internet right now.]

Last week, there was only one way to describe the play of the Washington Capitals: shameful. After winning three straight, the Capitals allowed seven unanswered goals at Verizon Center, before showing some life late against Montreal. Saturday’s game, though, was markedly different. The Capitals still lost, but they put 50 shots on goal, Washington’s highest total since 2010. On the first night of Chanukah, the Caps looked to continue that output against the lowly Ottawa Senators. They did — at first.

It started with a sublime play by yelling person-cum-Jewish pun Michael Latta, who skated into the offensive zone, got tripped, and then pole vaulted over a Sens defender. The loose puck went to Eric Fehr, who unleashed a lovely wrist shot to put the Caps on the board. Ottawa tied it up less than a minute and a half  later, however, when Bobby Ryan tipped one past Braden Holtby on the man-advantage. However, Marcus Johansson whacked in a loose puck in front on the power play just 38 seconds after the Sens tally, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead. BUT WAIT! A mere 47 seconds later, Brooks Laich backhanded home a loose puck in front. Four goals in under five minutes. Whew!

The second period was all Sens. Chris Philips put them within one with a blast on the power play, before Colin Greening tied the game at three.

In the final frame Mika Zibanejad added another PP tally. Ugh. The game looked hopeless until John Carlson tied it late. Prepare to cry, though, because just over a minute later Zach Smith beat Mike Green and Nate Schmidt to win the ballgame. Ryan added an empty netter. Sad face. Vodka. Sens edge Caps 6-4

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Report: Martin Erat Wants Out Of Washington

Photo credit: Derek Leung/Getty Images

That didn’t take long: forward Martin Erat, acquired from Nashville at the 2013 trade deadline along with Michael Latta in exchange for top Capitals prospect Filip Forsberg, now says he wants to leave Washington.

Speaking with Czech news agency iDNES.cz and translated by our friend Lindsey Novak, Erat expresses dissatisfaction with the ice time he’s getting in Washington and seems eager to move on.

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Screaming Katy Perry meet Screaming Michael Latta.

Last night, as Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson lobbed a harmless shot on net, Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard gave up a huge rebound. The puck bounced off Howard’s right pad and ricocheted right onto Michael Latta‘s stick. It was a well-deserved gift from the hockey gods: Latta is working hard and crashing the net. The 22-year-old center knew what to do next: he lifted the puck on his backhand towards the right corner. Nylon meshing splashed. Goal! Tie game! Latta had scored his first NHL goal!

Latta skated towards the end boards and turned towards the Caps bench, his back to the glass. He let out the most primal of primal roars. Like a mama lion to the hyena getting too close to a newborn cub. If there were a Ghostbusters 3, the plot would be based off Latta’s scream. I’m pretty sure Katy Perry’s Roar was about this. The photo by Dave Reginek is epic; I can’t help but laugh.

Take a look at the sequence of photos. Stunning.

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“FNJSZDJSFSBF!!!”

Things didn’t look good for the Washington Capitals heading into the last 20 minutes of Friday’s game. Down 3-1, Washington’s lone goal had come from a Brooks Laich breakaway to open the scoring in the first period. But under 12 minutes later, however, the Caps tied it. First, Alex Ovechkin put the team within one, registering the 386th goal of his NHL career, assisted by his new/old linemates Marcus Johansson and Nick Backstrom.

Then — and most importantly — it was Michael Latta, the grinder-cum-Jay Beagle replacement. In his 10th NHL game, Mike backhanded home a fortunate rebound after a bomb from the point off the stick of John Carlson. First career goal for Latta. Tie game for Washington and an eventual win. The fourth liner promptly freaked the hell out.

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Latta poses with his milestone puck. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

The Washington Capitals have had a wealth of fourth line enforcers over the last decade: Stephen Peat, Donald Brashear, Matt Bradley, and even Matt Hendricks. But don’t lump center Michael Latta, the other guy in the Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade, into that category.

Over the first month of the season, Latta has been playing some of the most inspired hockey of his career. And it’s because he’s doing a little bit of everything well.

Latta is irritating to play against. I’d even call him a pest. He constantly runs his mouth on the ice (like Tom Wilson) and is a physical, hard-hitting player. He sometimes plays on the edge, delivering cheap shots behind the play, but rarely is a penalty called on him. Usually he draws retaliatory penalties from the guy he’s terrorizing. And if Latta’s challenged to fight, he can back it up.

None of that is too uncommon, but Latta also has some offensive talent. He had 38 points in 76 games between AHL Milwaukee and Hershey last year. This season, he has been Hershey’s second leading scorer before getting called up to the Capitals. He is blossoming as a player, translating the finishing ability he’s been developing in Hershey into his first NHL point: a beautiful assist on John Carlson’s goal.

When the Martin Erat trade happened last year at the trade deadline, many people (including me) criticized George McPhee for trading away the team’s second best prospect for an aging forward and a nobody. Latta is belying that descriptor, and he may yet have a long career in the NHL– just like Forsberg.

Take a look at Latta’s week and you’ll see why I’m excited.

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