Sunday, December 27, 2015

Who is Washington's Biggest Rival?

With the Caps on top of the league and getting set for another attempt at a long playoff run, one team that must be on their minds is the New York Rangers. Fresh off a 7-3 dismantling of the Rags at Madison Square Garden, the Caps seem to be determined to vanquish their playoff demons once and for all. Playoff loss after playoff loss have helped to rekindle (and even enhance) a once-dormant rivalry between these two teams.

With that thought, who is Washington's biggest rival right now? The Rangers, who've knocked us out a few too many times recently? Is it the Penguins, the bane of the 90's Caps? Or is it someone else?

With the Caps playing more and more meaningful games later and later in the season, these and more rivalries are only going to continue to grow. Here is one Caps fan's ranking of their top 5 rivalries.

5. Boston Bruins
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

The Caps have dominated the Bruins recently, with Braden Holtby shutting them down every chance he gets. He shut them out all of last season and gave up one goal on a weird bounce earlier this year. Due to this, as well as the fact that they play in a different division, the rivalry has really weakened. However, it gets points for the physicality that both teams bring, the motivation the B's have to finally get the best of Holtby, and the fact that these are two of the best teams in the conference, and another playoff meeting may be imminent.

4. Philadelphia Flyers
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

This has been one of the most underrated rivalries since the Caps joined the league 40 years ago. The Caps and Flyers have had four playoff meetings in their history, most famously the one that ended with the above goal by Dale Hunter. That 1988 series was one of the best in franchise history. Recently, these two teams haven't played each other much in the playoffs (just the one meeting in 2008), but there is absolutely no love lost between them. We all remember the two line brawls in 2013-14. We all remember Wilson's hit on Schenn and Niskanen's duel with Scott Laughton. The physicality alone clinches the rivalry the fourth spot in the countdown.

3. New York Islanders
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

Before the Rangers this decade and before the Penguins in the 90's, the Islanders were the bane of Washington's existence, teaching the Caps exactly how to lose 7-game series in heartbreaking fashion. Everybody knows about the Easter Epic and Hunter's hit on Turgeon. More recently, we're all still basking a bit in the memory of Kuznetsov's goal above that won the Caps one of the most hard-fought series I have ever watched. Unfortunately, our first meeting this year won't be until January 7th, but if the preseason was any indication, the game as well as the season series will be physical, heart-pounding, and absolutely exhilarating. And if these two teams meet again in the playoffs, oh boy. This is quickly becoming one of the best and most exciting rivalries in the league.

2. New York Rangers
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

Washington's most-met playoff opponent, both all-time and in the OV era, is now the New York Rangers. After last year's heartbreaking Game 7 loss, the third straight seven-game series loss to the Rags, the Caps have shown that they have a thirst for revenge this year after their 7-3 dismantling of the struggling Manhattan squad. So why do the Rags rank second instead of first? For me, the answer is, quite simply, I don't hate enough of their players. Chris Kreider is an idiot, Derek Brassard is weird, and Marc Staal is washed-up and terrible, but other than them, who is there to hate? Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who play their hearts out to stop OV? Rick Nash, the 40-goal scorer who is almost as maligned as OV? And of course, Henrik Lundqvist, the bane of Caps fans, who has singlehandedly carried the Rags over the course of his 10-11 year career? The games are thrilling, suspenseful, and usually heartbreaking, but there simply isn't the level of hatred needed to rank this rivalry first.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

Pittsburgh, however, is a different story. It all started in the 90's with the successive years of playoff heartbreaks. Can anybody forget the Petr Nedved 4OT goal? That is in the pantheon of the Caps' disasters along with the Easter Epic, Tikkanen, Ward's high-stick, and Stepan. The rivalry is still going strong these days, despite the few playoff meetings between these two teams. And let me tell you, we may not meet in the playoffs, but I hate nearly everybody on that team (with the exception of Eric Fehr and Steven Oleksy, of course. Sniff). Sidney Crosby's a whining diva. Evgeni Malkin's an annoying idiot who is always the most dangerous player on Pittsburgh when we play. Kris Letang is a cheap-shotting diver. Chris Kunitz and David Perron are talentless goons who get free points from playing with Crosby. The list goes on and on, and there will probably never be a team I hate more than Pittsburgh.

So this is my ranking for the Caps' biggest rivals right now. What do you think? Do you have a different number one? Other teams in the Top 5? Let me know, and Let's Go Caps!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What This Year's Caps Must Remember from History

The Washington Capitals enter the 2015-16 season with extremely high expectations. With the signing of Justin Williams and the trade for TJ Oshie, the Caps enter the season with a great chance of building upon last year's seven game second round loss.

However, as all Caps fans know, potential means nothing when the playoffs come around. After 40 years of disappointment, I don't think there is a single Caps fan getting his hopes too high up.

With that in mind, let's look at some of the previous Caps teams who were in a similar situation to this year's team and see what happened to them.


The 1988-89 Caps were coming off of a Game 7 defeat in the second round of the 1988 playoffs against the New Jersey Devils. The 88-89 regular season was arguably the most successful in Caps history to that point, as the team won the division for the first time in franchise history and placed second in the conference. The team was strong both offensively and defensively, with two 40 goal scorers (Geoff Courtnall and Mike Ridley) and two 80 point scorers (same two) and a defense starring Rod Langway, Scott Stevens and Kevin Hatcher.

Despite the success in the regular season, the Caps were knocked out in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers, losing in six games. Needless to say, it was a huge disappointment.


Yeah, let's not even get into this one, OK? As if the seven game second round loss to Pittsburgh the year before wasn't painful enough.


The 2012 Caps survived Hunter Hockey, knocked out the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, and pushed the Eastern Conference first seed New York Rangers to seven games. The 2013 season started in the middle of January after the end of the lockout. The Caps were very optimistic about their chances considering they were still in the Southeast Division, had a new coach in Adam Oates, and had addressed their lack of forward depth by trading Cody Eakin and a pick for Mike Ribeiro and signing Wojtek Wolski.

Hmm... trading for one player and signing another player to fix a team weakness... wait a minute...

As we all know, despite stumbling out of the gate, a huge second half by Alex Ovechkin led the Caps into the playoffs, where they blew a 3-2 lead and lost, once again, in the first round, this time to the New York Rangers. Yet another disappointment.

In conclusion, this version of the Caps may be better than the 1988-89, 2009-10 and 2013 teams, but if we fans have learned anything from the franchise over the past 40 years, it's that anything can happen with this team. Hopefully, with one of the smartest coaches in franchise history, a deep offense, stellar goaltending, and a solid defense, this year's Caps team can rise above the others.

However, until they give us reasons for optimism, I don't think most of us fans are going to be expecting too much from them.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Take on the Washington Capitals' Mount Rushmore

A big source of discussion in the past few days has been centered around an article by John Bucigross on ESPN from Friday, where he (re-)named his Mount Rushmores for each NHL team (Link:

I disagree with the four guys he chose (Peter Bondra, Olaf Kolzig, Dale Hunter and OV), as do many Caps fans. But I need to talk the talk, so I'm going to name my Caps Mount Rushmore. Still, instead of throwing names out willy-nilly, it's important to dig deeper into history.

Firstly, what exactly does Mount Rushmore represent? The real Mount Rushmore has George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln. I wouldn't call these guys the four greatest Presidents in American history; I would without a doubt have Madison and especially FDR in the discussion. So Mount Rushmore isn't necessarily about the four greatest people on a team, but maybe something else entirely.

So what do these four guys have in common? For one, they all greatly influenced and expanded upon the role of the President in office. In addition, they all had very important contributions outside of their terms in President.

Based on this, I'd argue that a Mount Rushmore is more about the most influential and important players in team history, not just about the greats.

With this definition in mind, Rod Langway and Alex Ovechkin are locks. The former pretty much kept the Caps in DC, while OV completely changed the fate of the franchise.

After that, it gets murky. There are two spots left and four strong candidates for them: Hunter, Bondra, Kolzig and Nicklas Backstrom.

The least qualified person here is Backstrom. Although he's been as important as any of these other guys for the Caps, he hasn't been as influential as the others have.

The most qualified is Hunter. He was captain of the Caps for their only Stanley Cup run, scored one of the biggest goals in team history, and overall is one of the most well-liked guys ever.

That leaves Bondra and Kolzig for the last spot. Both of them are extremely popular in Caps lore and invested their entire lives into DC and the Caps.

So with influence pretty much even, we look at importance, and we come to another draw. I honestly see no way to differentiate between the two.

In the end, we unfortunately have to do exactly what I did not want to do: look at how great they were. In that sense, I will pick Bondra, who was a dangerous goal-scoring threat during the deadest of puck eras. Kolzig was also phenomenal, having won a Vezina trophy over Dominik Hasek, Patrik Roy, and Martin Brodeur, but in the end I have to give it to Bondra.

So, my Mount Rushmore is: Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin, Dale Hunter and Peter Bondra, with Olaf Kolzig a very, very difficult cut. Hope you guys agree, and if not, let me know who you'd choose. Until next time!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ranking Washington's Top Potential July 1st Targets

Tomorrow is July 1st, the first day of free agency. Last year the Caps made a huge splash, signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to huge contracts. Both signings worked wonders this year, as the Caps' defense was the best it had been in years.

This year the Caps have more holes to fill due to the likely departures of Eric Fehr and Joel Ward. Jay Beagle was re-signed yesterday to a 3 year, 5.25 million dollar contract, keeping the Caps' center depth relatively solid.

Where the Caps need more depth is on the wings. After Alex Ovechkin, there are no real difference-makers on the Caps. What the Caps need most is a first-line right wing or a good second-liner who can push Andre Burakovsky to the first line.

Once the Caps extend Braden Holtby (who I hope won't receive any offer-sheets) they should be set on both D and in goal. Here is my take on Washington's forward lines right now:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - xxxxxxx
Burakovsky - Kuznetsov - Brouwer
Johansson (assuming he re-signs) - Beagle - Wilson
Laich - Latta - Chimera
xxxxxxx - trade/signing

The Caps really need to fill one roster spot, but that (1RW) is an extremely tough hole. The Caps need an elite 1RW, and whether that can be found via a free agent signing or a trade, the Caps really need a dynamic player in that spot.

The Caps currently have $52,878,459 paid in the cap right now, assuming Phillipp Grubauer is Holtby's backup and Justin Peters is in Hershey. That means the Caps have $18,521,541 in cap space.

Assuming the Caps sign their RFA's to the following contracts:
Braden Holtby: 6 years @ 6.5 million per
Evgeny Kuznetsov: 3 years @ 3 million per
Marcus Johansson: 3 years @ 3.5 million per

That will leave $5,521,541 in cap space for the Caps to go after their 1RW. That being said, that isn't a hard and fast number, as the Caps could gain cap space by getting rid of Troy Brouwer or Brooks Laich and replacing one of them in the roster with Stan Galiev or Chris Brown.

With that said, here is my personal ranking of potential targets for the 1RW spot:

11. Martin St. Louis - UFA, 40 yo. Starting the list is the oldest player on it. St. Louis has been the bane of Washington's existence for most of his career, and after an underwhelming season last year he seems to be finally slowing down. Working in his favor are the facts that he'll be relatively cheap and has lots of experience. However, he's now on the wrong side of 40 and is unable to play top line or even top six minutes, which means Burakovsky will need to play on the first line.

10. Justin Williams - UFA, 33 yo. Many analysts see Williams as a great fit for the Caps, but personally I don't see it. The last time he scored 30 goals was 2006, and he hasn't hit 50 points since 2012. He would bring some good playoff experience, but he's on the wrong side of 30 and would command at least $4.5 mil, which I don't think he's worth.

9. T.J. Oshie - Trade, 28 yo. Oshie's name has been linked to the Caps as well, and while he's one of the younger players on this list and has a decent cap hit, just over $4 mil a year, he's only hit 20 goals and 60 points once in his career, so he wouldn't be a good fit on the top line. In addition, he's still under contract, which means we'd need to pry him out of St. Louis and may need to overpay. Not really worth it, in my opinion.

8. Michael Frolik - UFA, 27 yo. Frolik has really intrigued me as a potential signing. His offensive numbers leave something to be desired, but he shouldn't command a huge contract, something around 3.5-4 million AAV. In addition he is very strong defensively and would be fabulous on the PK. However, his lack of high-end potential knocks him down a bit on the list.

7. Patrick Sharp - Trade, 33 yo. Sharp has been the most discussed player on the list, and is probably the most likely target on the list. With the Blackhawks' cap crunch they really need to cut some salary, which means the Caps should be able to get him for pretty cheap in spite of his insanely high asking price. He is also one of the best players offensively on this list, but knocking him down is the fact that he will be 34 by the end of the year and has a cap hit of $5.9 million, meaning the Caps would need to trim salary elsewhere.

6. James van Riemsdyk - Trade, 26 yo. JVR is a personal favorite of mine because of his age and his scoring potential. He can be depended on to pot 20-30 goals and 50-60 points when he's healthy and he's on a very good contract, just a 4.25 million cap hit. However, the price required to get him would be astronomical considering how young he is and how important he is as a center of Toronto's rebuild. Although he would be a great fit on the first line, the high trade price may not make it worth it anyway.

5. Eric Fehr - UFA, 29 yo. Yes, you're reading the name right. I think Fehr would be an excellent fit on the first line if the Caps are able to re-sign him. He was very good in that spot at the beginning of last season, in my opinion. Working in his favor are the facts that he would not cost all that much and he would bring a Mike Knuble-esque net presence that would really help OV and Backy on the first line. Unfortunately, according to his agent he will not be returning to the Caps, but one can dream.

4. Brandon Saad - RFA, 22 yo. Before today, Saad would have been even higher on my list, but after being traded today to Columbus, the chances of him signing an offer sheet are highly unlikely. That being said, it may be worth it to offer something anyways, maybe around the lines of 5 x 5.5 mil, given his already strong scoring talent and his extremely young age. However, the extreme likelihood that Columbus will probably match anything within reason drops him down a little.

3. Radim Vrbata - Trade, 34 yo. Yes, Vrbata is on the wrong side of 30, and yes he comes with an expensive cap hit. However, unlike most of the other players on this list, Vrbata is a proven 30 goal scorer and is coming off a year where he was Vancouver's only all-star representative. Playing with Backstrom and Ovechkin could allow him to put up a career year, and he only has one year left on his contract, so it may be worth the risk.

2. Alex Semin - UFA (bought out), 31 yo. I nearly published this post at noon, and if I had Semin would not have been on this list at all. His being bought out by Carolina completely changes the outlook on him. Right now he has the lowest value possible, meaning that he could be had cheap. Plus, he may look as a DC homecoming as the perfect way to resurrect his career, and I don't see why he wouldn't love to play with OV and Backy again. Signing him to a short term deal in the $2-2.5 mil range could be worth it in the end.

1. Vladimir Tarasenko - RFA, 23 yo. At the top of the list is perhaps the most unattainable player on it. Tarasenko is coming off a season where he cemented himself as one of the top players in the NHL and was voted to the league's second all-star team. I fully expect St. Louis to match any and all offer sheets he signs, but if I'm the Caps I'd be more than willing to overpay for him. Plus, I think he'd relish the opportunity to play with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov in DC. I would be content offer sheeting him at somewhere around $7.5 mil AAV and trying to shed salary elsewhere if he signs and St. Louis doesn't match. If I'm the Caps, Tarasenko is my number one target for the 1RW spot.

These are my top potential targets for the Caps' open roster spot at 1RW. Here's hoping that the Caps can find themselves a difference maker at 1RW this offseason, or at the very least don't go Sweeney themselves like Boston. Enjoy Free Agency tomorrow, and as always, Go Caps!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Young Guns Moving On

Today's tale starts in the 2002 NHL Draft, when the Washington Capitals drafted Alexander Semin out of Russia. The Caps were a playoff-capable team led by stars such as Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig. After a disappointing 2001-02 season where they missed the playoffs, the Caps were ready to make it back into the playoffs. While the aging core was being knocked out of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Semin was playing in the KHL at the same time NHL scouts were discovering a 16 year old Russian kid named Alex Ovechkin.

Fast-forward two years, to the 2004 NHL Draft, after the firesale and beginning of the rebuild. After magically winning the lottery, the Caps drafted one of the most exciting prospects in recent memory in Ovechkin. It was the first of three first-round picks the Caps had. With the last of those, the Caps drafted defenseman Mike Green out of Saskatoon.

Two years later these three, Ovechkin, Semin, and Green, formed one of the most exciting young cores in the league. After another disappointing year, the Caps had the 3rd overall pick in the 2007 draft and picked Nicklas Backstrom out of Sweden as the franchise center.

These four: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nick Backstrom, and Mike Green. A generational superstar, all-star winger, elite first-line center, and Norris-capable defenseman made up the new core for the Caps, and the future seemed brighter for Washington than it had ever been before.


Fast-forward five more years. It's now the summer of 2012, and after five straight disappointing playoff exits, the first member of the core leaves the team. Semin signs a contract with division rival Carolina leaving the Caps without a capable scoring winger outside of the struggling Ovechkin. To make matters worse, Green has missed much of the previous two seasons due to injuries, leaving the Caps void of defensive depth. True, they have talent in John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov, but the rest of the D-corps is full of AHL plugs and struggling veterans.

That season is the lockout-shortened one, and there is a resurgence. Ovechkin goes back to his goal-scoring ways and wins the Richard trophy for the first time since 2009. As the Caps make yet another trip to the playoffs, they're clicking as they never have, and after taking the first two games from the New York Rangers, the second thanks to an OTGWG by Green, it looks like this may be the year.

Of course, the Caps lost that series in 7, but it seems like the future is still bright for the team, and with the remaining members of the core playing as well as they have in the past few years, it only seems a matter of time until Adam Oates leads the team to the Stanley Cup.

The 2013-14 season is an unmitigated disaster, as the Caps miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the first time since Backstrom joined the core. There are sweeping changes as the general manager and coach are replaced, but the general perception of the team is that the core is rotten, and the Caps would be better off ditching OV and Green and going into a semi-rebuild.

The next season, spurred by the growth of the next young guns in Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Braden Holtby, Barry Trotz leads the Caps back to the playoffs on the backs of one of the best seasons of Ovechkin's career. Backstrom emerges as one of the best and most underrated centers in the league, and Green has a resurgence with more sheltered minutes. Together, the team gets as close as it has to success, losing in overtime of Game 7 of Round 2 after leading the series 3-1. It is likely the most heartbreaking loss of the Young Guns era.


That brings us to today, and the news that Mike Green will not be back to the Caps. It's a move that most of us expected, especially after Green took a parade of penalties allowed the Rangers to tie up Game 7. Beyond just that, Green's years of steady decline from being a Norris Trophy candidate to an overpaid third-pairing defenseman effectively killed any chance of the Caps re-signing him.

On July 1, Green will be signed by another team, likely a team that needs an offensive D-man capable of playing Top 4 or even top-pairing minutes. Given what he's capable of, he's simply not a good fit for the Caps anymore.

That being said, the fact that Green is leaving this particular year seems symbolic of something else. For one, today's draft will see Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the next generation of superstars, get drafted, thus filling the mold of Ovechkin and Crosby ten years ago. Within the next few years, we'll likely see a passing of the torch to the next crop of generational talent.

But even more symbolic, perhaps, is a milestone coming up later this year, right before the 2015-16 season starts up. It's a milestone I don't think any of us fans saw coming, and it's a milestone I don't think any of us fans want to come.

Yet, this September, Alex Ovechkin is turning 30 years old.

It speaks to OV's longevity and strength that he's played at such a high level for ten years and has the potential to do so for even longer. I don't think his production is going to suffer any time soon.

Still, if eight years ago, after Backstrom's drafting finalizing the core, someone told you that OV would turn 30 before the Caps won a Stanley Cup, what would you have done? Called that guy crazy? I would have. Eight years ago that core, the young guns, seemed capable of so much, of a decade of dominance that would create a dynasty and bring DC multiple Stanley Cups.

It hasn't happened, and now, the young guns are young no more.

Today the Caps are perhaps the closest they have ever been to Stanley Cup success. This is a deep team with great coaching and high-end talent. Next season we may see the Caps come the closest they ever have to winning the cup, and within the next few years, I hope, the Caps may have won a cup.

Despite this, it's hard not to feel disappointed and sad at what has happened to such an exciting and talented core. OV is still here, and will be for the rest of his career. Backstrom is still here, and will be here as long as OV is.

Alex Semin isn't here. He's failing to live up to a 7 million dollars a year contract in Carolina, who is looking to dump his contract and enter a rebuild.

Mike Green isn't here. He's going to sign a big-time contract with some team that needs a skilled veteran defenseman to take them to the next level.

Today, we look at the draft and the future, and we see high potential and a bright future. We see years of success with OV and Backstrom, Kuzy and Bura, Carlson and Alzner, Holtby and the rest of the crew.

But we also see failed opportunity, the ghosts of Alex Semin and Mike Green. We see Nick Backstrom entering his eighth season in the league, halfway through his mega-contract from 2010. We see Alex Ovechkin turning 30 this September.

We see Young Guns moving on.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What's Next?

100 seconds. That's how far away the Caps were from extending their season into the third week of May for the first time since 1998.

100 seconds and 5 days later, the season is over after what may be the worst of the numerous collapses in Caps history. We all know what happened yesterday, and I see no reason to harp upon it. What I do want to do, however, is examine where the Caps are and what happens next.

First, though, let's get one thing straight: the Caps did not choke.

The Caps choked against Montreal in 2010. They choked in 2012 against the Rangers. They choked again against the Rangers in 2013. In all of those series, the Caps were overachievers who had gotten to where they were in spite of themselves, not because of themselves.

This year was not those years, and this team was not those teams.

Oh, the media will definitely add this to the narrative about OV and the Caps being chokers. And lets be honest, the Caps deserve it, having been so close to the next round and watching it slip away.

But we, the Caps fans, should know better, as we always do. This team, our team, went toe-to-toe with the heavily favored defending Eastern Conference champs and Presidents Trophy winners in easily the best series of the playoffs so far. It hurts now, but we fans should realize how well this team played and we should be proud of the strides they have taken since missing the playoffs last year.

Let's start with OV. He will undoubtedly be the most scrutinized player in the aftermath of this loss. After Game 6, OV made his 'guarantee' that the Caps would come out strong and win Game 7. Well, OV and the Caps definitely came out strong. OV made his presence felt early and often. He was third on the team in individual even strength Corsi-for behind only Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jay Beagle, both of whom were on another level yesterday. When you add in the power play, which was absolutely abysmal again, OV is tied with Kuzya for first on the team. OV definitely backed up his words yesterday, and he is not to blame for this loss.

Let's be honest, however, the Caps are still responsible for their own loss. Yes, the bounces stopped going their way. Yes, they played very well at the end of Game 6 and in Game 7. But no team that blows a 3 games to 1 series lead can only blame luck. There were definitely other factors at play.

For one, the production from the Caps was consistently inconsistent in the series. OV led the Caps with 3 goals, two of them in Games 1 and 2. After him, three players (Joel Ward, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Andre Burakovsky) had 2 goals, and 3 players (Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Curtis Glencross) had 1 goal. The Caps only scored 12 goals in the series, 3 of which were in the Game 6 loss. If the Caps had gotten one more goal somewhere in Games 5-7, the series would have gone the other way.

Building off of that, the power play was absolutely horrendous. The Caps had the best power play in the regular season, but was only able to score once in the Rangers series, the first goal of the entire series. Considering that we blew three power plays in Game 7, that hurts, to say the least.

Building off of that, the penalty kill had to spend way too much time on the ice. Don't get me wrong, the penalty kill was phenomenal; however, the Caps were shorthanded way too many times, especially in Game 7 when it mattered most, with Mike Green sent to the box twice in a row thanks to dumb penalties, allowing the Rags to capitalize on the second one.

And that brings me to the last point about why the Caps lost: the defense. The Caps have one of the strongest defenses in team history, but when it mattered most, it faltered. John Carlson was not good yesterday, Tim Gleason was slow, and Mike Green was absolutely abysmal. It would be a real shame if this was Green's last game in a Caps sweater.

That's a perfect way to transition into the next part of this post: what should the Caps do moving forward?

It's clear that the Caps are still a piece or two away from being a legit Stanley Cup contender. However, the huge strides the Caps made this year compared to the previous season's disOatester are a source of pride and hope for next year.

I'm going to start with the back end for the Caps. Goaltending? Caps are sitting pretty with top-10 goalie Braden Holtby who I hope will sign a long-term deal in the 6 x 6 range.

Next, the defense. The Top 4 is all but set in stone, with Brooks Orpik, Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner anchoring a very talented, physical and dangerous D corps. That leaves two everyday playing spots and a plethora of options to choose from. With Tim Gleason obviously gone, the only thing left is to address the elephant in the room.

Should the Caps re-sign Mike Green? I'm going to say no, and it's not just a knee-jerk reaction to his horrible performance yesterday. The Caps have a plethora of talented defensemen in Hershey to choose from, with Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, Connor Carrick and soon Madison Bowey ready to claim their spot with the big club. I love Green and he has been awesome with the Caps for nearly a decade. Still, I don't think the Caps are willing to shell out $5 mil + for a 5D especially with so much talent waiting in the wings.

That leaves the following as our defense entering next year:
Orpik - Carlson
Alzner - Niskanen
Schmidt - Orlov

That is a very talented group capable of rolling three solid lines with enough depth to withstand the inevitable injuries we'll suffer next year.

And now, the forwards.

It's clear that the Caps do not have enough Top 6 talent to compete with the best of the NHL. The top priority for the Caps this offseason should be to find a first line Right Wing capable of playing a Mike Knuble role. The first line was best when OV and Backstrom were playing with Joel Ward who fits into that hard-nosed go-to-the-net role but does not have top-line talent. In my opinion, the best option there would be Tom Wilson. There is nobody in free agency who is capable of playing that role effectively. I truly believe he will thrive on the top line, and I was extremely impressed with how well he played in the regular season.

Here's how the Top 6 should look next year:
Ovechkin - Backstrom - Wilson
Burakovsky - Kuznetsov - Johansson

That leaves the bottom six, where the Caps need more depth. If there is one player the Caps have to re-sign this year, it's Eric Fehr, who was awesome last year. I also can't see Jay Beagle going anywhere, and Joel Ward has the Barry Trotz connection, and I'm OK with the Caps re-signing him as long as it's not 3 mil a year.

That leaves Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Michael Latta and Brooks Laich fighting for the fourth line spot. Personally, I would like to trade away two or three of the guys not named Latta in that list, possibly for a better player or first round pick.

Here is how the bottom 6 could look next year:
Beagle - Fehr - Ward
xxx - Latta - xxx
*xxx is Brouwer, Chimera, Laich, someone from Hersey, or someone acquired from a trade

Hopefully, this will allow the Caps to build more forward depth.

Overall, the Caps are in a much better shape entering this offseason than they were entering last offseason, and once we fans get over our disappointment, I think we will all see that as well. I have been a Caps fan for all my life, but I must say that I have never been prouder of this team, to the point where I am willing to say the following:

The Washington Capitals will win the Stanley Cup in 2016.

I know we Caps fans say this every year, but I honestly feel that this is the best Caps team since the 80's. Better than any OV team, and better than any team in the 90's glory days.

Before I sign off, I just want to thank you, the people who read my rants and views over the course of this season. From the Winter Classic to an amazing playoff run, this was one of my most enjoyable seasons as a Caps fan, and I look forward to sharing the ride with you guys when next October rolls around.

Enjoy the offseason. Let's Go Caps.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Seinfeldology: Staying Serene,
The last time I posted, the Caps had delivered an awful performance in Game 1 against the Islanders, leading to nightmares in Caps-land. Since then the Caps have steadily improved, and today are up 3 games to 2 on the Isles with Game 6 coming up tomorrow in potentially the last game ever at Nassau Veterans Coliseum.

With all the pressure on the Caps and Isles, fans may be feeling emotions run high and tempers flare. We all know that the Caps are not very good under pressure in the playoffs, and if the Caps struggle in Game 6, fans may be getting a sudden influx of bad memories.

So, to learn how to combat this, we turn once again to the greatest sitcom of all time, Seinfeld, to see what we can learn about staying calm in the face of adversity.

The Issue: Calm Before the Storm?

As explained above, the Caps are in a familiar position: they have the chance to win the series before Game 7 and move on to the next round. However, with a loss, the Caps would be put in an even more familiar position: Game 7 on home ice. Needless to say, the Caps haven't done all that well in Game 7's at home during the OV era.

Combining the pressure that inevitably comes with an elimination game with the ghosts of playoffs past creates a perfect storm that can lead us fans on an emotional roller-coaster the likes of which we have never seen or experienced before. We will need to decide how to stay calm and/or betray our emotions and accept the consequences that come with that decision.

How should we stay calm or express our emotions? What will happen if we bottle up our emotions versus showing them? Let's ask Seinfeld.

The Episode: The Serenity Now (Season 9, Episode 3)

One of the first episodes of Seinfeld's final season, The Serenity Now is a clinic in using a show's character's full potential. We have Kramer with amazing physical comedy, George feeling down and out, and of course Frank and Estelle Costanza, the greatest TV parents in history.

This episode centers around Frank, George's father, and his scheme of building and selling computers with the help of George and his formerly insane rival, Lloyd Braun. George has no interest in selling computers, but takes the job to beat Braun in number of sales. George, of course, couldn't sell pizza in a soup kitchen, so he ends up buying a bunch of computers and storing them with Kramer.

Frank is also told by his doctor to say "Serenity Now" before yelling at anyone so that he keeps calm and maintains his stress levels down. Kramer gets into the habit and becomes a believer, his anger "melting right away" in the process.

George wins the competition, but Braun warns George that "Serenity Now" just bottles up the anger, leading to an explosion later on. George doesn't believe him, but something else is brewing. Kramer, who is being tormented by kids in the apartment, ends up releasing all of his pent up stress at once, destroying the computers George was storing there.

There is another storyline with Jerry that complements the main point, that storing your emotions will just lead to you blowing up at an inopportune moment. But what does this tell us?

What Can We Learn?

If you haven't figured it out yet, the lesson here is that it is OK to express your emotions. Fan is derived from the word fanatic for a reason. We are deeply invested in the Caps, to the point that we consider it our team, not Ted Leonsis's team.

This is basically my long-winded way of telling you, Caps fans: let it all out tomorrow. If the Caps win, let it all out next series. If not, let it all out during Game 7.

Whatever the case, lay it out on the line and scream loud and proud, LET'S GO CAPS!!!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How the Caps can Win Game 2

The Caps stunk it up in Game 1 against the Isles Wednesday. They looked lethargic at the beginning, started to panic towards the middle, and eventually just gave up. It was probably the worst game I've seen the Caps play since the St. Louis game in November, a surprisingly terrible start to what should have been a good postseason.

However, what's in the past is in the past. The Caps realize they messed up and I have confidence in Barry Trotz that he will do whatever it takes to remedy the mistakes made. For the most part the errors the Caps made were basic: too many turnovers, rushed shots, poor positioning for passes and rebounds, etc.

Beyond that, what can the Caps learn from the Game 1 loss? Here's a look at some of the elements of the game the Caps need to improve:

Courtesy of

As Caps fans (and all hockey fans) implore of their team, the Caps need to shoot the puck. They were being completely out-possessed and outshot by the Isles. I was at the game, and it was maddening to see the Caps try to force passes when the Isles defense was in perfect position to stop it from going through. The Caps made Brian Strait look like Shea Weber in Game 1, and that is not something that can continue going forward.

Looking at the shot attempts chart, the Caps also need to sustain consistent pressure like the Isles did for the most part. The interval from the Islanders first goal to the Islanders second goal saw the bad guys pull way ahead of the Caps in shot attempts. We already know that the Isles are a very good 5 vs. 5 team (one of the best in the league), but the Caps cannot continue to be outplayed at even strength like they were in Game 1. The Isles PK, although bad numerically, operated at a 90%+ clip in March and April, and yesterday they put pressure on the Caps PP and did an excellent job limiting the Caps to one shot attempt at a time. If that trend continues, the Caps really need to step it up 5 on 5 lest the season end very soon.

To be concise, the Caps just need to shoot more. Jaroslav Halak is not the kind of goalie who is going to stop every shot he faces, and if we hit him with a high shot volume, he is going to give up rebounds and struggle. Shooting more is the first thing the Caps need to fix.

Line Combinations:
Courtesy of

When I mentioned how the Caps were panicking earlier, I was mainly referring to how Barry Trotz was constantly switching up the lines at even strength to try to create a rhythm. Save for a few good shifts at the end of the second period and beginning of the third period, the Caps were being consistently outplayed at 5 on 5, as can be seen from this chart. Very few players were on the right side of the Corsi For/Minus line.

Alex Ovechkin is always going to be a force on 5 on 5 just based on the sheer volume of shots he produces. Therefore anyone can play with him and be above the red line, but that does not necessarily mean he is a good fit on that line (see: Joel Ward). What OV needs on his line is a playmaking center with a decent to good pass and a power forward who can muck it up and get rebounds. Maybe Curtis Glencross would be good in that role?

Nick Backstrom on the 2nd line was a tremendous idea from Trotz, as it allows the Caps to increase their scoring depth. However, Troy Brouwer is always a possession black hole, so it may not be a great idea to give him Top 6 minutes, especially seeing how atrocious he was last game. That means there is a toss-up between Jay Beagle and Brooks Laich for the 2RW slot. I hate to say it, but I think Beagle deserves it, and he also will provide a steady defensive presence for the second line. If you really want to switch things up, put Fehr on the 2RW and put Beagle at 3C, but I don't see Trotz doing that.

This is how I'd like to see the lines tomorrow:

Ovechkin - Kuznetsov - Glencross
Johansson - Backstrom - Fehr
Laich - Beagle - Brouwer
Chimera - Latta - Ward

I am extremely wary of that third line. Laich, Beagle and Brouwer all play the same vein of muck it up hockey, but unfortunately they don't do it all that well, thus leading to the poor Corsi differentials seen above. Still, this would allow a balance of depth, style and energy that will catalyze the team.

(Of course, playing Burakovsky over Chimera would also be a good idea, but let's not get too crazy now).

In conclusion, there are two main things the Caps need to do to win tomorrow: play clean and shoot the darn puck. If Trotz decides that the Caps need a push, then shaking up the lines would be a good start. (Although with Trotz you run the risk of putting Beagle or Chimera on the first line). Whatever happens, I expect the Caps to play much better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1, and I am standing by my prediction of Caps in 6 games.

Make sure to tune in to CSN tomorrow at 7pm for Game 2, and as always...

Let's Go Caps!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Breaking Down the Caps-Isles First Round Series

Playoff hockey is back in DC.

For the first time in 2 years, Caps hockey will extend through April, when the Caps host the New York Islanders in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Caps and Isles finished off the regular season with 101 points each and the same number of Regulation + OT wins (40), but the Caps receive home ice because they won the season series over the Islanders, taking 6 points vs. 5.

Capitals Islanders Regular Season Series
Date (Location)
November 26 (New York)
Islanders 3-2 (OT)
November 28 (Washington)
Capitals 5-2
December 29 (New York)
Islanders 4-3 (OT)
February 21 (Washington)
Capitals 3-2 (SO)

Given that the home team won every game of the season series, it was very important that the Caps got home-ice advantage. It has added significance when one considers that this is the last season for the Isles' famed Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders will be playing in Barclays Center in Brooklyn starting from next year.

Here is the full schedule for the playoffs, with dates, locations, and TV listings:

Capitals Islanders Schedule
TV Listings
Wednesday April 15
7 pm
Friday April 17
7 pm
Sunday April 19
12 pm
New York
Tuesday April 21
7:30 pm
New York
*Thursday April 23
*Saturday April 25
New York
*Monday April 27
* - if necessary

This is the first playoff meeting between the Caps and Isles since 1993, when Dale Hunter infamously cheap-shot Pierre Turgeon after the latter scored the series-clinching goal. Other than that meeting, the Caps and Isles have had a long, treacherous playoff history. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have caused more heartbreak to Caps fans than the Isles have.

Capitals Islanders Playoff History
Islanders 3-1
Islanders 4-1
Islanders 3-2
Capitals 3-0
Islanders 4-3
Islanders 4-2

However, this is a new Caps team, one that is completely different from those of years prior. This year's Caps have solid offensive depth, a lockdown defensive corps, and an elite goalie who has been playing at a high level all year.

The Islanders are not to be a team to be looked over, however. With John Tavares and Kyle Okposo leading the offense, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy anchoring a solid defense, and Jaroslav Halak performing admirably in goal, the Isles have the ability to do some damage in the playoffs.

Here is how the Caps and Isles compare in some basic stats:

Capitals Islanders Regular Season Stats
Goals/Game Played
Goals Against/Game Played
5-5 For/Against
Power Play %
Penalty Kill %
Shots/Game Played
Shots Against/Game Played
Faceoff %

These are two teams that play very different styles of hockey. The Caps are much more of a physical, muck-it-up sort of team, whereas the Isles are a free-flowing team that relies on speed and skill, a team reminiscent of the Caps teams of the past few years. The Islanders scored more than the Caps in the regular season but also gave up more goals. Both teams are even at 5 on 5 play. The Islanders are better at getting shots through and a bit better at shot suppression. However, the Caps have clear advantages on special teams and faceoff numbers. Considering how even the teams are at 5 on 5, special teams may decide this series.

Here is how the Caps and Isles compare in some advanced stats:

Capitals Islanders Regular Season Advanced Stats
SAT % (Corsi)
USAT % (Fenwick)

The Islanders have a clear advantage in shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts percentage. In fact, they were actually one of the unluckiest teams in the league in the regular season, with a SPSV% that was 25th in the league and worst among playoff teams, which means that they may in fact be better than they have been. The Caps on the other hand have a relatively high SPSV% (11th in the league), signifying that the Caps may regress just a little bit. This is the area that will give the Caps fans the most angst.

Overall, these are two very talented and evenly-matched teams who will put on a show in the first round. If the Caps D and Braden Holtby continue to flourish, there is no reason the Caps can't go toe-to-toe with the Isles at 5 on 5.

Where the difference will be made in this series is the special teams. The Caps have clear advantages in both their power play and their penalty kill, and if the Isles can't stop the Caps power play, it's going to be tough for them to win.

Prediction: Caps in 6.

This series can go down to the wire, but in the end I think the Caps' advantages in special teams and experience will give the Caps the edge.

Whatever happens, this will surely be a great series and great playoffs. Make sure to tune in on Wednesday, and as always...