When the Washington Capitals traded Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta last year, an upset and cranky me commented on my own website,”Horrible trade. I’m embarrassed to be a Caps fan today.” To the two people who downvoted me, I will accept your apologies via email, tweet, and/or public groveling.
I didn’t hate the trade because the Caps were trading Forsberg (though I have the utmost confidence he will be a productive player in the NHL). I hated the trade because of the timing and philosophy behind it. The Capitals, worried about losing Mike Ribeiro to free agency, acquired another aging and expensive player. They loaded up for a playoff push despite being pretty dang far away from Stanley Cup contention– and in the process they gave away seven years of a talented young player who just a month ago was named MVP of the World Junior Championships.
A year later, we’re back at the crossroads. General Manager George McPhee — as well as Ted Leonsis and the rest of the organization — have some tough decisions to make about the team’s philosophy moving forward. The Caps are the sixth worst team in the league in the standings, three of their players have publicly requested trades, their defense is holey, and their offense lacks chemistry. But they also have a bevy of talented, young players knocking on the door for roster spots or waiting for bigger roles: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Riley Barber, and Philipp Grubauer.
So are the Caps rebuilding, retooling, or loading up?
Whatever they decide, these next few weeks will be pivotal for the Capitals. They must make trades ahead of the March 5th deadline. But here’s one deal they better not make: trading for Buffalo’s Ryan Miller.
The Buffalo Sabres are a disastrously bad hockey team. Twice in two weeks, though, they’ve shut down the Washington Capitals, holding them to just two goals total. Each time, the Caps generated plenty of offensive opportunities. Ryan Miller, however, stood in the way. In those games, Miller has stopped 77 of 79 shots against.
“I try to stay pretty calm in the the net,” Miller said when I asked him about containing Washington’s talented forwards. “Sometimes the mindset is to challenge those guys and they just pass around you.”
The Sabres pitiful play is well documented. Sunday’s win was their first one the road since November 5, an 11 game losing streak. A lot has changed since then. They fired their GM, Darcy Regier, and coach, Ron Rolston. Under new bench boss Ted Nolan, they are — at least — no longer historically bad. Buffalo’s record now stands at a sterling 13-26-5.
“It’s already gotten too far, but it’s something the guys can feel good about,” Miller said of the streak. “I think tonight was a good opportunity to reset.”
Special thanks to Gary Bettman for letting the guys out of the Quiet Room long enough for us to snap this pic. Enlarge. (Photo illustration by Ian Oland)
The stars of the All-Star Game were a little less bright this year. Some of the familiar faces that fans expect were absent for reasons that are becoming all too familiar in the modern NHL: head injury. Approximately 85 head injuries have been reported this year, meaning that nearly ten percent of all active players have been injured. 28 of 30 teams have reported at least one head injury, while some franchises have dealt with as many six or seven. With star center Nicklas Backstromnow sitting out due to concussion, the issue has hit close to home for Caps fans.
After the Capitals’ somewhat easy 4-1 victory over the Eastern Conference’s best team Wednesday, Nicklas Backstrom spoke to Versus’ Pierre McGuire. In explaining the team’s troubles this year, Backstrom said, “I think we haven’t been working hard enough. Everybody has to commit and do their job, and that’s what we haven’t been doing.”
It’s hard to express optimism that the Caps have finally turned the corner, if they can’t string a couple of solid victories together, and — you know — actually turn the corner. Would they bring the energy again in their second match-up in three games against the Buffalo Sabres, a team who has given the Caps fits all year?
On February 20, 2011, In Game Recap, By Chris Gordon
“Perry, we did it! We actually score on power play!” (Photo credit: Rick Stewart)
After going 1-4 in their last five games — all against Western Conference foes — the Caps headed back to the friendly confines of the east coast on Sunday, hoping to right the ship versus Buffalo. Facing a hungry Sabres team in a nationally televised matchup, Washington was certainly up to the task.
The first period may have been scoreless but it certainly wasn’t uneventful. The Capitals managed 16 shots but Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was fantastic, making big saves throughout the frame. Washington also had four power play chances in the period, including over a minute and a half on the two man advantage. However, the Caps PP continued their struggles, failing to convert as Miller remained strong.
Mathieu Perreault would finally break Miller’s streak in the second stanza. After an odd bounce in the corner, the puck kicked out to the front of the net. Perreault took advantage, putting the Caps up 1-0. However, after Brooks Laich was called for goalie interference, the Sabres would head to the power play. At 8:20 Jason Pominville converted on the man advantage, getting the puck past a screened Semyon Varlamov to knot the score at one.
Midway through the third, former Cap Shaone Morrisonn was whistled for interference, once again putting Washington on the power play. But this time, it actually worked. Alex Ovechkin skated the puck into zone before firing a shot on Miller who made the stop. However, the biscuit went to waiting Perreault. With a little help from Marcus Johansson — whose deflection awarded him the marker — Perreault put the puck in the back of net, giving the Capitals the lead. Buffalo attempted a rally but Varlamov stayed strong. Caps beat Sabres, 2-1.
On November 16, 2010, In Guest Post, By Russian Machine Never Breaks
Braden Holtby heeds the direction of Bruce Boudreau during Caps practice at HSBC Arena.
[Ed. note - Was it oversight, kismet, or charity? Regardless, Buffalo-based Caps fan and RMNB reader, Stephanie Carosa, got to watch what should have been a closed practice on Saturday. She shares that story and her recollections from the miserable game with the Sabres below.]
I live in Buffalo, so I have only two chances to see the Capitals in my own city. Every time they come it’s a big deal to me, and Saturday night was no exception. I was determined to make it a full day of hockey, so I planned on going to practice in the morning and the game at night.
The Sabres’ morning skates at HSBC Arena are open to the public, and you can often catch a glimpse of players on the visiting team hanging around. I got there early so I could grab a seat behind the Caps bench. Even though the Caps were foremost on my mind, I was excited to see Ryan Miller on the ice after being sidelined for almost two weeks due to injury. Towards the end of practice, I caught a quick glimpse of Chimera in the tunnel. *Gasp! First Caps sighting of the day!* A few minutes later, John Erskine appeared *Gasp! Two Caps!*, and then Harry Neale (the Sabres and former Hockey Night in Canada color guy who is known for his, er, quick wit?) came out and joked around with him for a bit.
On November 13, 2010, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Former Capital Mike Grier was honored before the game for playing in his 1,000th career game tonight. (Photo credit: Bill Wippert)
Sigh. Thomas Vanek scores the OTGWG. (Photo credit: Rick Stewart)
Without Ryan Miller, the Buffalo Sabres are not really daunting foes. The well-haired goalie had been convalescing with a hip injury for the last handful of games and returned to the Washington Capitals’ distinct displeasure. But with a stiff upper lip, the Caps entered the fray in nigh-Canada. Sort of.
Karl Alzner opened the game with a laser through traffic that found a wide swathe of net behind Ryan Miller. The second period was an unbridled embarrassment. The Sabres scored twice (a well-screened bomb by Montador and a fluke by Vanek). For their part the Capitals simply refused to play offense of any kind, offering only four shots across the middle frame. To qualify that, Jason Chimera spent four minutes in the box for a cross check that might have been overblown a bit, and Tomas Fleischmann also caught a double minor for a freak high sticking that carried no aggression.
Nicklas Backstrom allowed 7 minutes to escape the third period before equalizing with a high swat. Ten minutes later, a suspicious high sticking call earned Backy a double minor (the Caps’ third of the game). The Capitals survived another backbreaking penalty kill all the way into overtime. Things look liked they were headed towards the shootout until Thomas Vanek suckered Carlson and Holtby in sequence to score a sharp-looking OTGWG. Bummer, I know, but at least the Caps take a point home. Sabres beat Caps 3-2 (OT).
Jay Mohr, star of something, hosted the NHL Awards in Las Vegas tonight. We watched with bated breath as three beloved players vied for recognition from the league’s notables. Alex Ovechkin was up for the Lindsay (née Pearson) and the Hart, Mike Green for the Norris, and Jose Theodore for the Masterton. Beyond the winners and loser, there’s some mighty important breaking news announced tonight, and we’ll tackle it all past the jump.