Caps By The Numbers: Quick Start Helps Caps Take Game One

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Though they were heavily put as the underdog in this series, the Caps got out to a quick start in Game One– scoring two goals in the first thanks to Michal Kempny and Alex Ovechkin, then two in the second from Jay Beagle and Lars Ellers. While they had four goals, they had to hang-on, as Tampa Bay had two goals in the third and were pressing late, but Braden Holtby was equal to the task for the Caps 4-2 win in Game One of the Eastern Conference Final. The Caps won again without Nicklas Backstrom and hope to keep a good pace going for Sunday’s game.

With a ninth win, we get to number nine of the Caps history chart.

While he didn’t pan out as a Flyers’ first round pick, Dainius Zubrus started to live up to expectation when he got to Washington…but not just on the ice. Formerly one of the poster boys for Easton Hockey, Zubrus couldn’t transition his game to the North American style when he first game over. Zubrus was brought to Washington in 2001 and took off as a bit of an offensive threat– at least to the Capitals side of things, as they were going through their rough times.

In his six seasons with the Capitals, he hit season-highs in points and goals, netting three straight 20-plus goal seasons towards the end of his run with the Caps, before his trade to Buffalo. As I mentioned, Zubrus was part of the teams that were going through the rough phase of contenders to tanking and having a difficult rebuild ahead of them. However, Zubrus was traded away before he could see the full bloom of the rebuild.

Yet, the most important part of Zubrus’ tenure with the Capitals was what he was able to help a new young star for the Capitals, doing something that may not have been done for him when he came into the league. When Alex Ovechkin came over to North America, Zubrus was not only a mentor to the young winger, but he played the role as translator, roommate, and someone to get Ovechkin comfortable with the game. Once Zubrus was traded, Ovechkin’s production in his sophomore season slowed down a bit. As we know, he’s gotten back on track– but Zubrus made a big impact for Ovechkin coming over and maybe allowed the Caps to have their franchise face develop quicker because of Zubrus’ off-ice help.

Caps By The Numbers: Caps Get Past the Penguins, Second Round

For the first time in 20 years, the Washington Capitals will go to the Conference Final with a 2-1 win in overtime from an Evgeny Kuznetsov winner to defeat the Penguins in six games. Kuznetsov got a semi-breakaway feed from Alex Ovechkin and went five-hole on Matt Murray for the game-winner. Alex Chiasson had the other goal on an assist from Aussie Nathan Walker. The Caps will now take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

With that eighth win– a famous number eight from the Caps yesteryear.

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While Alex Ovechkin will always be synonymous with #8, there’s one other guy who is notable for that number, but not for the right reasons. Despite that, he’s a Hall of Famer, a four-time Cup winner, and had quite the resume, though it’s at time not enough for the Caps’ faithful. It’s Larry Murphy.

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Seriously, though….it’s a number so nice, he wore it twice and that was Dmitri Khristich. For a guy who had two tours of duty with the Capitals, he was able to go ahead and get the #8 twice in his career. While he did wear #29 when he came up to the NHL in 1990-91, #8 is the one that people remember him most for.

While he played 40 games in 1990-91, Khristich came to form in his first full season in 1991-92, where the Ukranian forward potted 36 goals and 73 points, which put him second and fourth respectively in team scoring, while also providing a little bit of defensive touch to his game and create a little (very little) Selke buzz for best defensive forward. Despite Khristich was a better than point-per-game player (66 points in 64 games) in his second season. While leading the team in goals in 1993-94 with 29 goals on the season. However, Khristich only had nine goals in 42 playoff games with the Caps in his first tenure in DC.

After some time in LA, Boston, and Toronto, Khristich came back to the Caps in the middle of the 2000-01 season, while contributing solidly in his 43 games with 10 goals and 29 points when coming back, while his last season with the Caps and in the NHL was a dud with nine goals in 61 games before going to the Russian Superleague.

Though he did have some declining numbers, Khristich was one of the more popular #8s in the Caps history and is very well remembered for his tenured. Not only that, but he was sort of a mentor to some of the young European players– most notably with a young Peter Bondra and his family when Bondra was coming over. Khristich and his family helped the transition to a new life in hockey and make Bondra comfortable and we know what Bondra did for the Caps after that.

Caps By The Numbers: Four Unanswered in Third Lift Caps

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In what could be one of the most sloppily played defensive game, the Caps used Jakub Vrana bumping up to the first line to help propel them to four unanswered goals (including two empty netters) in the third and gave the Caps a 3-2 series lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov had the game-tying goal and two assists, but the rest star was Braden Holtby. Holtby kept the Caps in the game after a barrage of Penguins chances and shut the door on them in key moments to keep the Caps alive and ahead.

That’s win seven in the playoffs, which means we look at the ONLY #7.

In the 43 seasons the Capitals have operated, there has only been one player to wear #7 and it’s the man who has ties to the organization and area– that’s Yvon Labre. While he only played 334 of his 371 games with the Capitals, he kept himself involved with the team after his retirement in 1981.

Labre was picked from Pittsburgh in the Expansion Draft of 1974, while being fourth in scoring in the inaugural season with the Caps and top amongst defensemen. Labre was the first player to score a goal at home for the Caps and was captain from 1975-76 until 1977-78 before starting to see some injuries mount up on him and forced him into retirement at only 31 years old.

However, Labre was dedicated to the DC area, taking part in a number of community projects, while also staying with the team as a coach, scout, and community ambassador. His number 7 was the first to be retired by the team, as he continues his time around the community with the Capitals and around area hockey. The Yvon Labre Award is given to the high school senior in the Maryland Student Hockey League based on dedication, work ethic, skill, and leadership.

Labre is always going to be remembered by Caps fans, though it was probably more for his contributions off the ice, as little is remembered from his on-ice days for more.

Caps By The Numbers: Late Captain Heroics Give Caps Series Lead

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It wasn’t pretty, but it was a typical Pens/Caps game…but with the Caps getting the better of the Western Pennsylvania foes with Alex Ovechkin tipping in his own rebound with 1:07 left in the game to give the Caps a 4-3 win and 2-1 series lead. Not without controversy, as Tom Wilson became more of a villain for the Penguins for a borderline hit on Zach Aston-Reese. However, on the upside– goals from the blueline was big with John Carlson and Matt Niskanen putting up goals for the Caps, while Chandler Stephenson had the other goal for the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom was a true playmaker with three helpers in the game.

Sixth win of the playoffs means it’s time for a famous– if not THE famous– #6 for the Caps.

When it come to the #6, there’s only one guy to look for and it’s Calle Johansson, who’s longevity leaves him at second all-time with most games played as a Capital at 983 games. Johansson also continued the sturdy defenseman role that was left when Rod Langway retired. Having spent two seasons learning from Langway, Johansson picked up the reigns to anchor the Caps defense for 15 years.

After being acquired from Buffalo in 1989, Johansson fit right into the everyday line-up and never looked back. While there was a drop-off, Johansson was good for between five to 10 goals a year and in the mid-30s in points. A major power play contributor and key in their transition game, Johansson hit the 40-point plateau four times, while being a key part in the Capitals’ only trips past the second round in 1990 and 1998.

Calle Jo was quite sturdy, as well, with a few hiccups here and there– the most notable coming in 2001-02 when he missed the bulk of the season with a rotator cuff injury. Johansson played one more season with the Capitals after the rotator cuff injury before he retired for a time, then came back to play eight games before retiring again. Johansson’s legacy is one of an under appreciated defenseman league-wide, but was a major contributor for the Caps from the blue line and could be one of the finest two-way defensemen of his era.

Caps By The Numbers: Luck on Caps Side in Game 2 Win

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It started with an Alex Ovechkin goal, it ended with a Nick Backstrom empty-netter, but in between– it was a battle. The Caps got up to a dreaded two-goal lead, but were able to hold off the on-slaught by the Penguins, including a controversial no-goal by Patric Hornqvist and a hit-to-the-head by Tom Wilson on Brian Dumoulin; but the luck seemed to give Caps a series tie as they go into Pittsburgh on Tuesday. With that fifth in of the playoffs– time to cover a famous #5 in Caps history.

Everyone knows about Rod Langway. He’s a Capitals’ legend and doesn’t need going over. But what about the guy that came before him?? Not just in position, but in number, as well. That’s where Rick Green comes in. Green was a part of the trade that brought Langway to DC, with Green going to Montreal– but he kept the #5 warm for the eventual Caps great.

Green was another first overall pick for the Capitals in 1976 and saw action immediately in the 1976-77 season, part of the lean years for the still new Capitals. Many wondered why he was picked over some proven scorers in that Draft, but then GM Max McNab thought a defenseman would help lessen the brunt of goals being scored on those lowly Caps. Green didn’t have an immediate impact and got plenty of hazing from the Landover faithful when he was around the ice. His minus-100 rating in his first three seasons probably didn’t help either.

Yet, he was still young and thrown into a role on an expansion club that saw the young rear-guard play close to 40 minutes a night, unheard of at the time for a younger defender. Green started to live up to the expectation, along with Richard Picard, to help the Caps get to their highest win total (27) in 1979-80, while the team only gave up 32 more goals than they put in. Green got the team’s top defenseman award and the team’s Unsung Hero award from the fans who used to boo him.

Green chipped in here and there offensively, as well, putting up 31 goals and 158 points in his 377 games with the Caps. But the move to trade him and Ryan Walter to Montreal in order to get Langway, Craig Laughlin, Brian Engblom, and Doug Jarvis was the first part of the “Save the Caps” movement so the team didn’t relocate. Green’s impact started with becoming better defensively and his impact worked well after he was gone by bringing in the Secretary of Defense that was Langway….and the long-time color commentator in Laughlin.

Caps By The Numbers: Caps Close Out Jackets

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With two goals, Alex Ovechkin once again help lead the way for their 6-3 victory over Columbus to win the series in six games. Braden Holtby had 35 saves in the winning effort, his and the Caps’ fourth straight. Chandler Stephenson potted a goal and assist for the Caps, as they move on to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins for a third straight year and 11th time overall. Before you get to where the Caps are going, gotta know where they’ve been– so time for #4 to go with the fourth win of the playoffs– Kevin Hatcher.

When it comes to the #4 spot, there hasn’t been many guys who made the mark that Kevin Hatcher did. Say what you will about him later on in his tenure, but the defenseman was crucial to production on the blue-line in the early-90s, as well as being a leader to his peers enough to get the captaincy for two years.

The former first round pick in 1984 for the Caps, Hatcher became a full-time blueliner in 1985-86 and kind of showed off his mixture of offensive talent and aggressive style of play in his own end. Hatcher saw his point-production increase through his first six seasons, peaking in his eighth season with the Caps in 1992-93, which saw Hatcher notch 34 goals and 79 points on the season. That goal total is still currently a Caps record for a season. Hatcher represented the Caps at the All-Star Game three times, while also holding the record for most goals by a defenseman in their career in Washington with 149.

While he did have his tenure marred by a contract holdout before the 1990-91 season, as well as his trade demand that saw him shipped to Dallas; Hatcher’s contributions on the scoresheet and as an imposing force in the line-up is what Caps fans should remember about the Detroit native who filled his role well during his 10 years with the Caps

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom Buries Winner, Caps Up in Series

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Another game, another overtime, but this time– the Amazon Bulk Fortune Cookie was right in that #19 was a lucky number for the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom netted two goals, including the OT winner to put the Caps one win away from advancing out of the first round once again. And once again– we have a former Capital to look at for the win. This time– the #3 is a first for the Caps.

Yeah, it could have been Scott Stevens or Sylvain Cote– but we’re going with the original, we’re going with the first guy– Greg Joly. That’s right, the first ever Draft pick of the Washington Capitals was the first guy to don the #3 for the Capitals.

After an impressive junior career with the Regina Pats, one that saw him put up 21 goals and 92 points as a defenseman in his last season, as well as claiming a Memorial Cup; the Caps thought they had their first franchise player. However, the lights may have been too bright for a young player like Joly. He was never able to get back to the torrid pace he had in Juniors, only playing 98 games with the Caps and putting up a total of 33 points in those games. After two seasons, the Caps gave up on their first ever pick, trading him to Detroit for Bryan “Bugsy” Watson.

Now retired into a life of insurance, many Caps fans should remember someone like Joly. He was the hot product that the Caps thought they had lucked into. Yet, it also made a cornerstone for the future of the Caps– relying heavy on defense and very questionable drafting.

Caps By The Numbers: Captain Promise Fulfilled, Series Tied

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People thought Alex Ovechkin was odd saying that the Capitals would be going back to DC for Game 5 with the series tied. Thanks to Ovi’s goal and assist, the Caps took Game 2 over Columbus 4-1 to go back to DC with the series tied up 2-2. Thanks to that– we get the #2 on the Caps By The Numbers with Ken Klee.

It had to be Ken Klee for the #2. No past Capital wore the number as long as he did and he continued the ideal of the Capitals by being a defensive minded blueliner, only putting up 111 points in 570 games with the Caps. Klee, while only putting up 43 career goals for the Caps, had 11 game winning goals.

Klee came to the Caps via the Draft in 1990, but rather than go to the Baltimore Skipjacks right away, Klee stuck with Bowling Green State University for three seasons before going pro with the Skipjacks and then the Portland Pirates. Klee was a part of the 1993-94 Calder Cup team, a team that kickstarted the careers of Steve Konowalchuk, Andrew Brunette, Olaf Kolzig among others.

Though he wasn’t a top-pairing guy per se, Klee was a shutdown guy that the Caps always seemed to have in their line-ups at the time. He left following the 2002-03 season for a variety of places, while also getting into coaching for USA Hockey after that. Playing the quiet role, but playing it well– Klee could be the most memorable #2 (for now) in Caps history.

Caps By The Numbers: Great Dane Nets First Win

There’s no way the Capitals make it easy for themselves. With all three of their games going to extra time, which they had lost two of them– the Caps finally got some “puck luck” in their win over the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 thanks to Lars Eller being in the right place at the right time. A wild puck thrown at the net bounced off Eller, than Zach Werenski, then Eller again to give the Caps their first win. They are down in the series two games to one, however.

But– now we get to the gimmick for this playoffs to honor Capitals of the past and their jersey number with each Caps win. You have to start at #1.

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There are a lot of goalies who could have gotten this slot– Pete Peeters, Semyon Varlamov, Rastislav Stana– but the guy who gets this slot is the guy who help lead the Caps past the second round of the playoffs for the first time. That man is Mike Liut.

Of course, the reason Liut was acquired in the 1989-90 season was simple in that the Caps needed a better back-up goaltending option than they had. Bob Mason wasn’t cutting it and the other options of Jim Hrivnak and Olaf Kolzig were too young in the eyes of the Caps. So, the Caps got rid of Yvon Corriveau (who only had 15 points in 50 games) to get the former NHLPA MVP winner.

It would prove to be a good move because he would be thrown into the fray after Don Beaupre went down in Game Three of the second round and was able to shake off a rough start to his playoffs to help the Caps get past the Rangers and onto the Conference Finals…though they got swept by the Bruins.

Liut would come back for the next two season with the Caps, going an even 23-23-5 in those last two seasons before calling it a career and going into a life as a player agent. He may not have been in Landover for a long time, but he was there for a decent time in the history of the Caps playoff history.