Caps By The Numbers: Three First Period Goals Put Capitals on the Cusp

With some lucky bounces off the post and some great conversions, the Washington Capitals are one win away from lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Vegas had some early chances with James Neal ringing one off the post with a wide-open net, but Lady Luck was standing with Washington. TJ Oshie broke the scoreless tie with a power play goal off his foot to his stick and in, while Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly added the other first period markers. John Carlson got the fourth goal in the second before Vegas scored two in the third from James Neal and Reilly Smith to cut the lead in half. After scrappiness from both sides mean a lot of open ice due to penalties– which allowed Michal Kempny and Brett Connolly to get some goals to end it 6-2 in Game 3 and put the Caps up 3-1 in the series. Evgeny Kuznetsov had four assists.

With all the tropes about the Capitals in the playoffs, one more remains– being up in a series three games to one; but not being able to close it out. They’ll have three chances now, but the hope is to get it done on Thursday in Game 5 back in Vegas.

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Fifteenth win means a #15 gets profiled from Washington Capitals history. When it comes to long-time Capitals, this #15 is one of them who only spent five seasons in DC, but has been with the organization much longer than that. To this day, he still is an amateur scout of the Caps and could have had a hand in forming the team you see one win away from a Stanley Cup. This time, we talk about Alan Haworth.

Haworth came to the Caps from the Sabres, who were not at all patient with their young forward. Haworth was a bit undersized, but did fit in well with the transitioning Capitals of the mid-80s. Haworth was a solid scorer for the Caps, notching 20 goals each of his five seasons, maxing out at 34 goals in the 1985-86 season. Haworth was part of “The Plumber Line” with Craig Laughlin and Greg Adams due to their blue collar work ethic, while creating many scoring opportunities.

Yet, like Rick Green before him, Haworth was a part the help grow the Capitals for the future. Haworth was part of a deal with the Quebec Nordiques that brought Clint Malarchuk and future captain Dale Hunter to the Capitals. Haworth played only one season with Quebec before going to Switzerland and ending his playing career with SC Bern.

After his playing career, Haworth got into the hockey ops side of things and, as I said, has been a scout with the Caps since 2009-10 and has been overseeing some things when it comes to the future of the Caps; something he indirectly did with his presence and by getting traded.

Caps By The Numbers: Game-Time Decision Nets Game Winner

After leaving the game early in Game 2, Evgeny Kuznetsov was a game-time decision for Game 3. That decision wasn’t one, as he was probably going to play all along. It’s a good thing he did, as he netted the game-winner for the Caps in Game 3 under the blocker of Marc-Andre Fleury to help give the Caps a 3-1 win and a 2-1 series lead. Alex Ovechkin started the scoring for the Caps off a frantic series of events in front, going back-hand on Fleury’s blocker side. Kuznetsov scored in the second, but a botched clearing attempt by Braden Holtby allowed Vegas to cut the lead to 2-1 after Tomas Nosek made Holtby pay for his blunder. The Caps were undeterred, as a wonderful forecheck by Jay Beagle allowed him to strip Shea Theodore of the puck, pass it right on the tape of Devante Smith-Pelly, who then roofed it over Fleury’s glove for the 3-1 marker. Game 4 goes Monday, still in Washington.

Win number fourteen means it’s time to profile a #14 in Caps history.

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When it comes to #14s there has been a lot– some of which have been marred by allegation that were proven false, some have been there for a cup of coffee, while others just used it as a number. For this player, he could have been something that Alex Ovechkin is now, as he was a highly touted player coming out of juniors. However, a rash if injuries, including a devastating ankle injury– he could never get his career off the ground. Now, a look at Pat Peake.

Peake was a career Capital, albeit for all of 134 games over five seasons, but before that– he was a major junior superstar, collecting 138 goals and 319 points in three seasons (162 games) with Detroit Compuware/Jr. Red Wings; exploding for 58 goals and 136 points in 46 games in 1992-93.

Peake finally got to the NHL in 1993-94, where he played 49 games for the Caps, registering 11 goals and 29 points on the year. However, that’s when the injuries started to pile up. Shoulder injuries, kidney issues, torn cartilage in his thyroid, and then the injury that would eventually retire him.

Coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals in 62 games, Peake was playing against the Penguins in the playoffs and was skating to cancel out an icing call, he got tripped up, landed feet first into the boards, and shattered his heel, which the doctors said was equal to a construction worker falling off a building feet first. Peake would rehab and need numerous surgeries to try and get his life back together, but it would end his playing career.

Peake stayed in hockey, going from assistant coach, to agent, to head coach of a AAA team in Michigan. While he will go under as one of the biggest 1st round busts, it was a series of unfortunate events that kept him from reaching his full sucess.

First Black Bears Acquire from Kenai River

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Via @BlackBearsNAHL

A few days late, but the first two rosters players were announced for the Maryland Black Bears, as a deal was made with the Kenai River Brown Bears, which sent Carter Wade (’98) and Luke Posner (’99) to Maryland for what appears to be future considerations, though nothing was put as a return.

The move was a decent one for Maryland, as they’ll immediately be bringing in older players who have experience at the NAHL level to help mentor the other players who may be getting their first shot at this chance.

Wade finished his second season in Kenai River, putting up three goals and 14 points in his 88 games over two seasons, as well as serving as an alternate captain last year. Wade comes from Ephrata, Washington and came out of the Everett Jr. Silvertips program before jumping to the NAHL in 2015-16 with the Odessa Jackalopes before getting a taste of the USHL in two games with the Sioux City Musketeers. After that season, Wade moved to Kenai River before heading now to Maryland. The big stat for Wade is his 407 PIMs in the last two seasons, which means the Black Bears may have found their enforcer already.

Posner finished his first year in the NAHL with five goals and 27 points in 56 games after a high school career in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. Posner captained his Mahtomedi Zephyrs get to the Class A State Tournament his senior season, though they were eliminated in the first round. Described as a slippery player, Posner was sixth on the Brown Bears in points in his rookie year. A hot start helped Posner, with 11 points in his first seven games, but it cooled as the team cooled down. A new start in Maryland could help him get back on track.

With speed and some toughness on the roster already, the Black Bears are setting things in motion for the new younger class coming in. The NAHL will hold their draft on June 5th, which will be another step in the Maryland Black Bears molding their team either through the draft or making trades to get some established players on their roster.

Caps By The Numbers: The Save Gives Caps a Split in Vegas

For the first time in franchise history– the Washington Capitals won a game in the Stanley Cup Final. In what could be the best save in his career, Braden Holtby stopped Alex Tuch late in the third period to preserve the Capitals 3-2 lead, which ended up being the final as the teams go back to Washington tied up at one game a piece. Caps goals came from Lars Eller, Alex Ovechkin, but the game-winner came from Brooks Orpik– his first goal in 220 games.

The game didn’t come without a price, as Evgeny Kuznetsov took a hit from Brayden McNab in the first, looking like he jammed his wrist and didn’t return. Late in the game, Jay Beagle took a shot off the inside of his foot. He did play the rest of the game, but had a noticeable hobble when he was on the ice. Luckily, the teams have space between games, as they don’t play until Saturday night.

With the 13th win, we have a former Caps #13.

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Since it’s the first time that the Caps have won their 13 games in the playoffs, why not go with the first guy who wore the #13?? That feat didn’t happen until 1997 when it was the man they call Niko, who first donned the superstitious number after coming over from the Hartford Whalers. It’s time for Andrei Nikolishin.

Nikolishin came into the league as an offensive forward, but adjusted his game to the North American style, while also keeping his solid hands, impressive strength of skating, and one of the most balance players in the league, though the numbers never translated that. Coming to the Caps in the middle of the 1996-97 season, Niko was put into a checking role– which is something he happily went into. While he only peaked at 38 points for the Caps in his six years in DC, Nikolishin’s backchecking, forechecking, and ability to give up the body for the play was one of the big reasons why the Caps wanted him in the trade.

Of course, the relationship wasn’t without its drama with contract disputes. Nikolishin sat out most of the 1997-98 season due to trying to get a better contract, which limited him to only 38 games. However, once the playoffs came– Niko was a big reason why the Capitals were able to get into the Stanley Cup Final, putting up 13 assists in 21 games, while also providing the stingy defense that tends to win you championships.

Nikolishin would improve his offensive output after that season, peaking at 13 goals and 25 assists in 2000-01, complimenting that with a 13-goal, 36-point output for the Caps in 2001-02 before leaving the team to test the waters. With two failed attempts in Chicago and Colorado, Nikolishin went to Russia to end out his career.

My Life As a Caps Fan

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Photo via CapsJerseys.com

This story is unique, but not. Many Caps fans have a similar tale– one of hope, heartbreak, despair, and faith. This is just mine.

My first Caps game I remember seeing on TV was on WDCA Channel 20 when the Caps played the New York Rangers in 1987 or 88. I knew the game of hockey because I had saw two wooden souvenir sticks in my bedroom, I believe a gift from my Godfather. They were red with blue lettering “Washington Capitals” with the Caps logo on it. I also had Fisher-Price roller skates with bells on it– so when I saw the game and wanted to imitate that– my mom and dad were reluctant about it. Not because of the game itself, it was mostly because of the ringing.

The first Caps game I attended was in February of 1989 (a story that I’ll hopefully get to tell at the end of the playoffs). I was instantly hooked, not with hockey– but with the Capitals. They were my local(ish) team, even though the Baltimore Skipjacks were a few miles from me– my dad had some connections at the Capital Centre that allowed us to see many games together until they left for the then MCI Center.

Through it all, this is the team I hung my hat on. From the days of never getting out of the Patrick Division until 1990 or the times going up three games to one in a series, only to lose. From the miraculous run in 1998 until the Cup Final to the Jaromir Jagr trade, which always left a bad taste in my mouth. From all the rebuild, which included Matt Yeats as a goalie to now in this era of Caps hockey that’s great and scary all in one. This is a team that always gave me the highest of highs and lowest of lows in sports fandom.

It also provided a community. Because of the Caps, I got into local hockey– first at Benfield Pines and then Piney Orchard– which happened to be the Caps practice facility. Through youth hockey, I have some of my closest friends, who have all come together through the wonders of social media to enjoy this series, as well as relive moments from our own glory days of travel hockey.

For many, the Caps are more than just a team (not to be confused with the 1989-90 team video), but it’s something that bound us together through our formidable years. We won’t be watching the Cup Final from our assistant coach’s sun room (shoutout Coach Gary), but we’re all in-tune with this. Especially since this is not something that’s supposed to happen. The window for this team was closed after they went all-in with Kevin Shattenkirk. But they kept it open enough to have the breeze roll in and keep the hope alive. Keep this whole thing going, as improbable as it has been.

And I won’t kid anyone in saying that this all seems like a fever dream. The Caps have had the odds against them and it seems like it’s all going to come to an end in typical Caps fashion so many times….but it hasn’t. We’ve prepared for the worst, but the best has been happening. It’s atypical in so many ways– especially with who they’re playing in this Cup Final.

Seemingly, all the playoff ghosts have been vanquished– beating the Penguins, winning a Game 7– save for three: Marc-Andre Fleury (22-12-2 regular season, 8-6 postseason vs. Caps), George McPhee (former Caps GM, now Vegas GM), and Lord Stanley (The Cup). If there was a time to flip the script and eliminate them all– it’s now.

For now…time to face the next game and hope that these past 30 years as a fan of this team that many love (despite them seemingly not wanting to love us back) continues to be all worth it. I’m not ready to use the “B” word when it comes to this team. Maybe if they get four more wins, I can admit to myself– it’s okay. It’s all okay.

Caps By The Numbers: Burakovsky’s Pair Lifts Caps to Stanley Cup Final

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After Alex Ovechkin scored 1:02 into the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning tried like hell to even up the game and take the lead. However, with the Caps setting up a wall in front of Braden Holtby and two Andre Burakovsky goals– the Washington Capitals will go back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998. Holtby had back-to-back shutouts and Nicklas Backstrom had the empty net goal to finish it.

The Caps have beaten the Penguins, won a big Game 7, won the Eastern Conference, and now will try to slay another demon in beating Marc-Andre Fleury and George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights. Those games start Monday.

Win #12….and there’s only one.

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Before Alex Ovechkin, the Caps’ biggest superstar offensively was Peter Bondra. While he may not have had the national appeal that Ovechkin has, he was a big part of the Capitals offense in the mid-to-late-90s with nine of his 14 seasons being 30-plus goal seasons, including two 50-goal seasons in 1995-96 and 1997-98. Bondra was the new wave of goal-scorer with the exits of Mike Gartner, Dino Ciccarelli,Geoff Courtnall, and really made the team his own.

Once over from what is now Slovakia, Bondra formed a kinship with Michal Pivonka, who helped Bondra and his family get accustom to life in the US and the NHL. While Bondra would also use Dmitri Khristich as a resource, Pivonka and Bondra seemed to be the bosom buddies. With the same agent, both Bondra and Pivonka held out for a period before the 1995-96 season, where they would play in the IHL with the Detroit Vipers. Both would come back and had his top goal scoring season with 52 goals in only 67 games.

As the Caps were sinking, the team felt they owed Bondra the chance to go for a Cup, to which they traded him to Ottawa for Brooks Laich. A chapter of the Caps had closed, but due to that trade and others during the end of 2004, it paved the way for Alex Ovechkin to take the reigns and be the new face of the franchise. Luckily, Bondra is still in this organization, serving as a community ambassador and should be the next in line to get his number retired.

Black Bears Welcome Former Hound Into the Den

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Another step was made in building the Maryland Black Bears first season in the NAHL, this time with naming their head coach and general manager. While they could have gone on the inside with the variety of coaches in the systems, they decided to go well outside the Maryland space by hiring Clint Mylymok from the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior League.

Mylymok is coming off of four seasons at Notre Dame, where he went 114-90-13-13 in that time, as well as reaching the Anavet Cup Final for the SJHL champion in his first season of 2014-15. This season, the Hounds under Mylymok went 29-24-1-4 and lost in the Wildcard portion of the playoffs.

While he bounced around in California for a bit after originally being born in Ontario, Mylymok played in the Notre Dame prep system before going to Western University in Ontario and then hung up his skates, aside from stepping in during an emergency goalie role for the Columbia Inferno in 2003-04. Aside from that, Mylymok plied his trade in the front office in Columbia and El Paso of the Central League before going back to Canada for coaching in the lower Ontario junior levels before going to Notre Dame as an assistant coach first, then into the head coach/GM role. In addition, Mylymok has been in Hockey Canada’s radar, coaching Team Saskatchewan in the last two seasons at the WHL Cup for U16 players in the WHL boundaries.

To bring in this sort of coach and GM to help craft this team from the ground up shows that the Black Bears won’t be messing around with pinning down the proper talent to make this team successful and to display the top talent that needs to be displayed on and off the ice. While it remains to be seen how Coach Mylymok will put as a priority, the resume he has will definitely get some eyes on the Maryland Black Bears as they start their first year.

Welcome the St. John’s Brimleys….err…Growlers

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While it wasn’t much of a secret, the St. John’s ECHL team made it official on Tuesday, as they will be named the Growlers as they enter into the 2018-19 season. Hockey will be back at The Rock with presumably the Toronto Maple Leafs as the primary affiliate– though nothing official on that has been brought forward.

The logo, as you can see, is an angry Newfoundland dog. That seems a bit oxymoronic given the loving nature of these creatures. However, there is a tie-in to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, as the logo was inspired by the mascot for the RNR in World War I, Sable Chief. Given the historically nature behind it, I feel bad for saying it looks a little like Wilford Brimley, but not bad enough to stop making that comparison.

As the second Canadian team in the league and third all-time, the Growlers are going to have a lot to manage, especially with being the furthest team east by over 1,200 miles. When Scott Wheeler did his piece about the Brampton Beast’s travels (PAYWALL BLOCK), you can only imagine how hellish the Growlers’ road trips are going to be. Also, after years of being in the AHL– how will the fan base receive the team. Will they be happy enough just to have a hockey team there to support it or will they feel like they could have gotten a QMJHL team and resent the team?? Time will tell, but I believe the former will be a lot more of a result than the latter.

Puck drops October 12th for the Growlers, as they play the Eastern Conference champions (and waiting for the Kelly Cup to start) Florida Everblades at Mile One Centre.

Caps By The Number: Holtby Comes Up Big in Game 6 Win

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In what needed to be their best game of the season in order to survive, the Caps did just that in shutting out the Lightning to force a Game 7 Wednesday. Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots thrown at him, while TJ Oshie had two goals with Devante Smith-Pelly having the third to give the Caps a 3-0 win.

With win #11, the time has come to talk about a former #11 in Caps history.

When it comes to the Capitals, there’s very few players who grew up in the area that have been able to play on the team. In fact, this #11 is the only one to do so thus far, the Potomac native, Jeff Halpern. He is also the last Capital to wear #11 before it was retired for Mike Gartner.

Halpern grew up in the DC area, but learned his hockey in the Northeast due to not many elite schools in the area during his time. His father would drive him to Connecticut and back for practices and games. While he didn’t get noticed in prep school– Halpern played Junior B in Ontario, which got him noticed for him to go to Princeton.

Though he was undersized, Halpern impressed the Capitals enough during their prospects camp for them to give him a contract after his four seasons at Princeton. Halpern only played six games for the Portland Pirates after his senior season before becoming part of the Caps everyday line-up in 1999-2000. Halpern was a heart-and-soul player, which is to say he didn’t put up the superstar point totals, but had those intangibles that people seem to crave these days. With only one 20-goal season in 2000-01, Halpern was more of the ilk to block shots and get into the dirty areas to score goals.

He was a favorite amongst his teammates, too, which allowed him to be named captain in 2005-06, which was also the last season for him in his first stint with the Capitals. After some time in the south, west, and Montreal; Halpern landed back with the Capitals in 2011-12, playing 69 more games and putting up 16 points before moving onward to different things before his retirement following the 2013-14 season.

It’s a dream of players to play with their hometown team, but not something you often hear about when it comes to the teams in the non-traditional market. For someone like Halpern to come in and be able to achieve that dream created a solid connect and showed that players from that area can make it in the big time.

Butthurt Fans Fuel My Golden Knights Love

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It’s funny to see the reaction of people who hate the idea of the Vegas Golden Knights being this close to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. The claims of unbalanced Expansion Draft rules, unfair trades so some guys wouldn’t get picked in the Draft, and other wild, butthurt claims that makes me want them to win the Cup more than ever.

And look– as a Caps fans, I know what it’s like to have a team that struggles and has the talent, but never tastes anything close to the Cup. It’s a bit annoying to see the success of the Golden Knights out of pure jealousy– but when I step back from the fan-view; it’s a great story. Not just in the NHL, but in sports overall. It’s a movie script to be honest– unprotected by their team, picked by this new, put together team, and have this amazing season that still isn’t done yet.

However, to say that they did it by nefarious means is downright outrageous. William Karlsson has talent, but he wasn’t going to get a chance in Columbus with John Tortorella at the helm. You can’t tell me that you thought Karlsson was going to have a 40-goal season in Columbus when he only hit 14 goals in his previous two seasons combined. Oh, and he also was picked AT THE REQUEST of Columbus, while also giving them the salary of David Clarkson. Alex Tuch was a throw-in from the Wild for the Knights taking Erik Haula, Fleury was who the Pens wanted the Knights to take, Reilly Smith was traded to make sure that Jonathan Marchessault was picked by the Knights.

Yup– really unfair when the guys who turned out to be the best players on their team are basically having their old teams BEG VEGAS TO TAKE THEM AWAY!!

You want motivation?? How about when you have teams giving you away because they wanted to make sure someone else got taken. You want to prove value?? You shove it up their ass. That’s motivation. And to have someone like Gerard Gallant– who was last seen in the NHL having to get his own cab– at the helm of this rag-tag team of players; you have 30+ guys with their hearts and minds dead set on proving everyone wrong.

This was a team that most people thought were going to finished dead-last in the league. This was a team that people had not getting to 70 points. This was a team that people believed would have visiting fans outnumber the home fans by a country mile.

So much for that.

No one would have guessed this season would happen. I’m sure some of the guys on the team– despite saying they believed in themselves– would have thought they’d go this far. Five guys with 20+ goals, using five goalies in the first two weeks due to injuries and STILL WINNING, and believing enough in their roster to make very limited moves and sticking with the horses they have. Now, as of the time of this writing, they are one win away from getting to the Stanley Cup Final.

What’s the point of my ramblings?? Well, it’s because fans ruin everything thinking they know what the story is supposed to be for any franchise. Just because your team had to have hardships doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for every team. Just because your team had the top-priced talent doesn’t mean value picks can’t get it done. Just because your team waited X-number of years to win a Cup doesn’t mean this team can’t do it in a single season.

If you can’t enjoy this for the story because it’s a first year team and you’re a jealous fan– fine. But don’t say these players don’t deserve it because everyone– including myself– didn’t think this team would do shit for shinola.

Good on them for shoving it up everyone’s ass.