Matt Niskanen: A Case Study in Context

Matt_Niskanen

Matt Niskanen, late of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is one of the marquee defensemen expected to go to free agency tomorrow. New Caps beat writer Alex Prewitt covered the buzz around Niskanen in the Post this morning.

A move to Washington would keep Niskanen with his old defensive coach, Todd Reirden, who coached the blueliner in Pittsburgh and can speak knowledgeably about the player to the Caps front office. And at a glance, Niskanen looks like a very strong player.

Let’s check out ExtraSkater.com, which is the best site on the internet next to the Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator. Last year with Pittsburgh, Niskanen saw 53.4 percent of shot attempts belong to his team during 5v5– a number 7.3 percent better than when he was off the ice. In 2012-13, he had a 51.2 percent shot-attempt percentage, a 3.6 percent improvement compared to when he was on the bench.

That looks fantastic, but hold on a second.

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erat

This is an image of Martin Erat, a professional hockey player, after scoring a “goal.”

Capitals pariah Martin Erat was shipped out of townat his request– at the trade deadline. Disappointing everyone with his performance in Washington since the Filip Forsberg trade in April of 2013, Erat never really found a spot in the Caps lineup. (Or maybe he just got limited ice time, weaker linemates, and a rigid coach who didn’t exploit his talents, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Erat scored just one goal in 2013-14 as a Capital– an empty netter right before the Olympic break. If you count own goals, make it two. Oof.

So what did we think would happen once he got out of town? Of course he would score. Of. Freaking. Course. That’s just freaking priceless.

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The Comeback Caps beat Coyotes 3-2 in Rego!

Carolyn Kaster

Photo: Carolyn Kaster

The Washington Capitals wrapped up a week of tremendously unimpressive hockey with a stunning comeback win over the Phoenix Coyotes.

It started off great with Alex Ovechkin generating four shots in the game’s first six minutes, but the Caps couldn’t sustain the pressure, giving the Coyotes the puck and plenty of opportunity to pepper first-time Capitals Jaroslav Halak in goal. Down two goals with ten minutes to go, the Caps summoned up some magic they hadn’t used since last week: even-strength scoar.

Brandon McMillan struck first, catching Keith Yandle’s stretch pass while the Caps were making a line change. Radim Vrbata made it 2-0 with a power play goal that dwibblwed between Halak’s pads.

But then! Karl Alzner tallied goal number two of the season thanks to a feed from Eric Fehr, and then Brooks Laich tied it up thirty seconds later. Life back in Verizon Center, and then everyone’s head exploded as Backstrom gave Troy Brouwer a layup to put the Caps up from the Ovi spot.

This stupid team. This stupid, lovely team.

Caps beat Coyotes 3-2.

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Ovi and Ribs Norm Hall

Photo: Norm Hall

The Washington Capitals had won four in a row going into Saturday night, including a stirring comeback against a strong Wild team on Thursday. Playing the Coyotes, however, the Caps wasted a stunning second period, ending their board-certified, USDA-approved Winning Streak with a shootout loss.

Shane Doan scored a lay up on a loose puck during a first period power play. Troy Brouwer caught a very stretchy stretch pass from Mike Green and roofed it to tie the game early in the second. On the very next power play, John Carlson released a one-timer from high in the slot to give the Caps the lead.

After a looooooong span of special teams in the second period, the game finally returned to five-on-five. Joel Ward promptly scored a no-angle goal to make it 3-1 and utterly demoralize the Coyotes.

The Yotes came back in the third as Lauri Korpikoski dove to get one though Neuvirth’s five hole, and Shane Doan tied the score on a power play in regulation’s final two minutes.

Shootout bullets! Again! Every game!

  • Vermette beat Neuvy glove side.
  • Grabo didn’t even get a shot off.
  • Boedker had some speed and roofed it backhand.
  • Alex Ovechkin missed wide. Balls.

Coyotes beat Caps 4-3 (shootout).

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Trade: Antoine Vermette to Phoenix

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Columbus Blue Jackets have traded center Antoine Vermette to the Phoenix Coyotes for goalie Curtis McElhinney, a 2012 second-round and a 2013 fifth-round draft pick.

Vermette has a cap hit of $3,750,000 and had been projected as a possible option for the Caps themselves, likely because he has a pulse and the letter “C” in his player bio, but we’d remind you that there is certainly another center on the Blue Jackets that seems to be very much up for grabs. Vermette will instead now be providing center depth to a team filling holes for the postseason, while Columbus will presumably gain some breathing room in net from the acquisition of McBackup McElhinney.

We don’t want to jump to conclusions, but this may be an indication that the  Blue Jackets aren’t going to try to make a run for the playoffs this year.

Caps Turn Tide, Total Freakout Temporarily Put Off

Haven’t seen many of these lately. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

"Nick, Dennis, you do know I like my job, right?" (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

Lauri Korpikoski picked up the puck at center-ice after being awarded a penalty shot and skated in on Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun. With a quick flick of the wrist the puck was in the back of the net, and the Caps down 2-0. Bruce Boudreau — possibly fighting for his coaching life — turned his back is disgust and slammed into the plexiglass to his left with fervor. It was a new low this year for the Caps, who were coming off a horrendous 7-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night and in the mist of the skid that saw them lose six of seven and four straight. But after hitting rock bottom, the Caps finally got back up — with a lot of luck and maybe a little help from a certain red balloon.

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RMNB Presents the Rally Balloon T-Shirt

Capitals Rally Balloon

RMNB’s New Rally Balloon T-Shirt. Click here to view all colors and sizes.

LaBarbera swipes at the Rally Balloon. (Photo credit: Ann Heisenfelt)

The Rally Balloon. It turned a struggling team– who had lost four straight, with one star benched and another under scrutiny, with an embattled head coach and a bunch of grumpy fans– into winners.

When the Capitals were down 2-1 in the second period, an unassuming red balloon floated out from the crowd. It hovered ominously twenty feet over Jason LaBarbera’s head. The annoyed Coyotes goaltender swiped at the ‘loon before knocking it up in the air with his stick. No biggie, right?

The Capitals promptly scored three inspired goals and defeated Phoenix 4-3.

First star of the game? Among fans it’s the #RallyBalloon. There’s now a RallyBalloon Twitter account, a rollicking Rally Balloon hashtag, and now our Rally Balloon T-Shirt.

Check ‘em out here.

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#RallyBalloon! Caps beat Coyotes 4-3

After a disastrous road trip, the Washington Capitals hoped to snap their four-game losing streak by walloping the Phoenix Coyotes. It wasn’t a wallop truly, but let’s just be thankful for the win.

John Carlson’s turnover on the power play set up Radim Vrbata for a shorthanded breakaway and the game’s first goal. Lauri Korpikoski converted the penalty shot he earned from another shorthanded breakaway. John Carlson deflected off a Coyote to get the Caps on the board.

Then a red balloon floated eerily above the ice like an angel of mercy.

Cody Eakin scored the second goal of his career with another flukey deflection, and we were tied. Early in the third, Nick Backstrom scored the kind of greasy goal you could lubricate an engine with– 3-2. On a 5-on-3, Brooks Laich scored, screened by Troy Brouwer, to snap the Capitals’ power play drought. Korpokoski got an ugly rebound to keep it interesting. Caps beat Coyotes 4-3.

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Phoenix Coyotes Pregame: Howl!

The Pre-Game: Oh Lordy, we hate being wrong. Especially if it involves Canada. What happened Saturday was nothing short of a national pantsing of the Caps on the equivalent of Canada’s national holiday (that admittedly comes once a week, and with lots of beer). We suspected it would be a high-scoring affair, but completely misread in which direction. Blah blah they were disconnected blither blather they weren’t moving their feet twiddle twaddle they weren’t chasing the pucks and so forth. Not my job to pick over Saturday night’s turkey carcass; others have done that far better. Let others pile on our Mustardy Coach. We’re looking forward to what’s being cooked up tonight.

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Caps Fall to Coyotes, 3-2, on Valentine’s Day

Coyotes beat Caps, 3-2

Photo credit: Norm Hall

We’re reaching a key point in the season, as Capitals veteran winger Mike Knuble said after the loss to the Kings, “This road-trip could be great or it could be an absolute embarrassment.”

It seems like all year we’ve been waiting for Washington to just snap out of it and return to last season’s form. But at the start of their matchup with Phoenix, the Caps were fewer points away from being out of playoff position then they were of taking the number one spot in the east.

“If they’re waiting for some switch to magically appear, it’s not going to happen,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said after Saturday’s flop.

It’s time to wake up. And the Capitals certainly didn’t do that Monday night.

The first period was rather uneventful. Aside from an early power play, the Caps had limited scoring opportunities, registering just one even strength shot in the frame. But then in the second, the Caps decided to #CRASHTHENET, as Marcus Johansson used the patented bank it off Martin Hanzal’s foot move, putting Washington on top. However, Hanzal quickly redeemed himself, scoring just 49 seconds later, going five-hole on Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth. With less than two and a half minutes left in the period, Ray Whitney gave the ‘Yotes a 2-1 lead when his wrist-shot hit the back of the net. In the third period, Vernon Fiddler would push the Coyotes advantage to two when converted on a 2-on-1. Matt Bradley, however, would answer right back, cutting the lead to one under a minute later, getting a shot past Phoenix ‘keeper Ilya Bryzgalov. But that would be it for Washington. Coyotes beat Caps, 3-2.

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