Guy Boucher plots to kill 007 (Photo credit: Scott Cunningham/Getty Image)

Craig Brownstein of PuckBuddys writes for Russian Machine. You shall follow them on Twitter.

Banging out preview for Monday night’s game against the Bolts required us to go through some repressed playoff memories. Bear with us for some much needed catharsis; we’re still fragile.

Late last April, we embarked on a grand tour of European capitals just as Game 5 with the filthy Rangers was wrapping up. We were glued to the Blackberry as our readied for take off. Just before wheels up, word came through that the Caps bested the Rags, 3-1. We began our adventure by causing quite the raucous in the first class cabin with fanboy squeals, high-fives, and RED streaks of Russian curses– guaranteeing a date with aviation authorities upon landing across the Atlantic.

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Fancystats Crash the ESPN Mock Draft

Anze Kopitar

Anze Kopitar celebrates a goal last year against the Blackhawks. (Photo credit: Harry How)

Editor’s note: You can win a 1-year subscription to ESPN Insider and a $25 gift certificate to Front Page VA by guessing Neil’s first two draft picks tonight. Check out the details on our Facebook page.

As part of ESPN.com’s NHL family, I was invited to participate in their fantasy hockey draft this past Tuesday. Just me and guys like Craig Custance, John Buccigross, and Scott Cullen.

No pressure.

Victoria Matiash has already given a bird’s eye view of the draft, but I thought I would run through my thought process on various picks and give you some ideas for your fantasy draft. Plus, you can see how I do for the season because we are making the results public.

Here were the ground rules for the draft:

Participants included, in original order, Craig Custance, Tristan Cockcroft, Tim Kavanagh, John Buccigross, Pierre Becquey, Michael Hume, Victoria Matiash, Neil Greenberg, Sean Allen and Scott Cullen. Categories include goals, assists, power-play points, plus/minus, penalty minutes, shots on goal and average time on ice for skaters and wins, save percentage and goals-against average for goaltenders. Slots to fill include nine forwards, five defensemen, one “utility” skater, two goaltenders and a five-man bench.

My philosophy was simple: grab young, healthy, talented players with upside. Let others worry if Patrick Kane would be healthy or if Sergei Kostitsyn can once again score 20 goals on less than 100 shots.

I had the eight pick. With my editor Mike Hume drafting before me (he knows which players I fancy) and Cullen having back-to-back picks behind me I knew I had to make strategic decisions.

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Nail Yakupov: Why Caps Fans Should Root for the Avs to Tank

Nail Yakupov

When George McPhee traded Semyon Varlamov to Colorado in early July, not only did he gain the roster flexibility to sign Vezina-hopeful Tomas Vokoun to a discounted one-year pact, he also netted two valuable assets from the Avalanche: a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and a second-round selection in either 2012 or 2013.

In a year’s time, Colorado could seriously regret this deal. Why? With two injury-prone goalies in Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and an offense that has few proven scorers, the Avalanche could fall into the lottery or possibly even finish dead-last in the West. That would give the Capitals a chance to pick in the top five for the first time in five years (they nabbed Karl Alzner fifth overall in 2007). It also presents McPhee and company with a shot at bringing a new Russian superstar to DC. His name: Nail Yakupov.

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Alex Ovechkin Signs Six-Year Deal with Bauer

Ovi sports his new gear. Click to enlarge. (Photo credit: Bauer)

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

The world’s most famous hockey player has got some new gear. After dropping CCM over the summer, Alex Ovechkin unveiled a new six-year sponsorship with rival manufacturer Bauer, whose equipment Ovi used for the first three years of his career. This is Ovechkin’s second new sponsorship of the week after news of his long-term deal with superpower Nike for “lifestyle” and “performance” products surfaced on Thursday night.

“I think that CCM treat me well,” Ovechkin told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “They help me a lot and without that project I can’t score 65 goals. But in that kind of moment and that kind of situation right now, I feel that Bauer is company who I’m looking forward to work with. I played with this stick a couple years ago and I like it.”

The move doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. With Ovi’s ditching CCM — and therefore their parent company Reebok — that left Bauer as the only company with the cash to pickup a superstar endorsement.

The move was also teased on Bauer’s Web site over the holiday weekend, with their home page sporting a picture of skates with the Great Eight’s trademark yellow laces and the banner “This year will be different.”

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Photo credit: John McDonnell

Five years ago to the day, Jeff Halpern signed the first big-time contract of his career, a four-year, $8 million pact with the Dallas Stars. The contract took Halpern, who had just completed the most prolific two year stretch of his career (90 points in 149 games), away from his hometown team, and left Washington without a captain.

When Mike Luit, Halpern’s agent, addressed the signing with the Washington Post’s Tarik El-Bashir, he said, “It took Jeff a very long time to come to this decision. He said to me, ‘No matter which way I go, when I sign a contract, I’m going to feel sick.’”

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The Face of the Enemy Revealed: Tampa Bay Lightning

Get ready for 4+ games of Steve Downie, Steven Stamkos, and Dwayne Roloson – the man who shut us out twice during the regular season and is approximately 4,000 years old. How are you feeling, Caps fans? Can we take them? What’s your prediction?

Neuvirth lets in the game's only goal

The game’s only goal. Whatever. (Photo credit: Alan Diaz)

The Capitals will face the Rangers -- who won 5-2 Saturday -- in the first round of the playoffs. (Photo credit: Jonathan Klein)

The Capitals will face the Rangers -- who won 5-2 Saturday -- in the first round of the playoffs. (Photo credit: Jonathan Klein)

The game that impacted the Capitals the most Saturday night didn’t involve Washington at all. In fact, it took place 13 hours away from them in Raleigh, North Carolina.

With the New York Rangers beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Saturday afternoon, the Carolina Hurricanes had to get the victory Saturday night to tie New York at 93 standings points. By virtue of holding the tie-breaker Carolina would pick-up the eighth and final playoff spot, getting themselves a date with the Caps.
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Big-Game Braden Leads Caps Over Lightning, 2-1 (SO)

Braden Holtby celebrates the shootout win

Braden Holtby celebrates after stoning Lecavalier in the shootout. (Photo credit: Scott Audette)

Alex Ovechkin celebrates with his teammates after scoring the game's decisive goal. (Photo credit: Mike Carlson)

Alex Ovechkin celebrates with his teammates after scoring the game's decisive goal. (Photo credit: Mike Carlson)

The first sign of trouble came when a wicked shot by Tampa Bay center Nate Thompson struck Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth in the helmet mere seconds into the game.

The helmet snaps broke. His colorful mask fell off and skidded to the boards. Neuvirth doubled over, apparently unable to make the ringing in his head stop. He allowed a soft power play goal and departed after the first period, forcing the Washington Capitals goalie carousel to turn to third-stringer Braden Holtby in a divisional showdown with a hard-hitting playoff atmosphere.

Capitals fans have been trying to figure out which one of Washington’s three baby-faced goalies is the future of the franchise all year long. Holtby tried to stake his claim with a brilliant 21-save effort in a pivotal 2-1 shootout win over the Lightning. The Capitals now lead the Lightning by two points in the Southeast Division.

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Bolts beat Caps 1-0 (OT), Goalies’ Stats Say Thanks

hendricks versus downie

Matt Hendricks beats up Steve Downie blindfolded. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

The Washington Capitals hoped the Winter Classic buzz wouldn’t interfere with their hometown appointment with Southeast rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. With both teams sitting atop the division, the stakes were high, even if the game lacked the theatrics of Saturday’s Hustle at Heinz.

Unfortunately, the Caps couldn’t set off any offensive fireworks. After a sleepy first period, the red team started mounting a real effort, but they never beat 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson, just acquired from the Islanders. In overtime, it was another vet, Martin St. Louis, who finally put a puck past Semyon Varlamov, a tasty rebound off Vincent Lacavalier. At least we got one standings point. Bolts beat Caps 1-0 (OT).

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Semin Snatches the Hat: Caps beat Bolts 6-3

Alex Semin recorded his second hat trick of the year against the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning.

Puck commemorating Steve Kolbe's 1000th game as the radio voice of the Capitals

Puck commemorating Steve Kolbe's 1000th game as the radio voice of the Capitals. (Photo credit: Wes Johnson)

Alex Semin’s raspberry of hatful determination. (Photo credit: Nick Wass)

You know that video game where you fight Dr. Wily, and you think you’ve got him beat, but then he gets some kind of high-tech armor with lasers and rockets and WiFi and megagigabytes. Turns out Wily is way harder when he’s all upgraded. Well, here comes the Tampa Bay Cyber-Lightning, Mark II. Our southeast conference rivals gave the Washington Capitals a hard time last year, and they only got better over the summer.

For naught.

The Capitals, led by curio Alex Semin, had a slow start. As if predestined, they surrendered the first goal of the night to Tampa’s Teddy Purcell. Tom Poti and Mike Knuble each notched goals in the second. The third period found Ryan Malone tying the game on the power play, almost taunting the Capitals to step it up. And step it up they did. Alex Semin recorded back-to-back goals with matching assists from line partners Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Steven Stamkos returned fire with a frighteningly smart goal, but Ovechkin would strike soon after. An empty net goal in the final half minute earned Semin the hat trick and finalized the question. A crushing win by the home team, their sixth in a row: Caps beat Bolts 6-3.

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