Preparing for a Caps First Round Exit

These playoffs hit differently. Obviously. But as a Caps fan, I didn’t have big expectations for them. There didn’t seem to be too much buzz coming from their camp, this is a team that’s family oriented, and there wasn’t the jump in their game it seemed.

When their round-robin games happened, people were lamenting the reason for a slow start was because the team needed more games in a time-frame so they can get a rhythm. Well, now they’re down 0-3 to a hungry team with plenty to prove to the conference. You can see how the Caps have gotten outworked in in their series and you have to tip your hat to the Islanders– they’re buying into Barry Trotz’s message and it’s paying off. Same way it did with the Caps in 2018.

At the start, I didn’t want to say that the Caps saw these playoffs as an obligation to play, but it does feel a little that way. Five months off for an older team to have however many games with them away from their family is not the most ideal situation in these trying times. Every team and every player has to go through it, but there’s something about the Caps when looking at their games that seems off and seems like they’re going through the motions in this.

This isn’t supposed to be a team where John Carlson gets completely beat on a wide-angle carry-in, leading to an OT goal. This isn’t supposed to be a team where Alex Ovechkin had five games until his first two goals and then really hasn’t been all that noticeable. This isn’t supposed to be a team where the depth of the team has gone completely silent. Tom Wilson had a good game Sunday, but guys like Jakub Vrana hasn’t been great, Michal Kempny got sat, and other have just been there.

You can chalk that up to the Islanders style of play, sure– but usually teams would adjust to that, whether it’s coach’s orders or not.

Which brings us to Todd Reirden showing that the student still is not able to best the master. Ted Starkey had a great note on the Caps coaches saying that head coaches who haven’t been able to advance out of the first round in two seasons didn’t make it to a third. I’m sure Brian McLellan won’t can Reirden just yet, given the circumstances of the playoffs, but we’re on short-leash watch for next season.

Is Reirden a bad head coach?? It sure looks like it. It’s kind of hard to believe the Caps low-balled their Cup winning head coach just because they signed this assistant out of Pittsburgh to a lower deal and thought he was ready for the bench. With Trotz’s troops– Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn– leaving as well, you almost wonder what could have been if they give him closer to what he wanted rather than being about $3.5M apart on a deal.

That all said, I can’t take away credit from the Islanders this series. They’ve played a great team game, they’ve been physical, they’ve worn down the Caps, and they seem to have much more of a jump in their step than the Caps have all series. They’ve done most everything right as much as the Caps have one most everything wrong. While it might not be a sweep and the Captain says they have nothing to lose, you almost feel like this first round ouster is all but official. So it goes.

Weekend Wrap: UND Picks, Carlson Deals, Others Dealt

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It’s been a bit since I’ve written something, mostly basking in the afterglow of the Capitals Cup victory and then waiting to play out what’s gonna happen leading up to the NHL Draft that happened this past weekend in Dallas. While nothing crazy really happened, some moves were made in order to prepare for next season. For that– here’s a little high-speed rundown of some notable things.

NORTH DAKOTA FOUR INCOMING PLAYERS GET PICKED

This weekend, I did my work for the University of North Dakota, which saw four of it’s incoming class get selected. Jacob Bernard-Docker (OTT), Jonny Tychonick (OTT), Jasper Weatherby (SJ), and Gavin Hain (PHI) were all picked and I was able to get stories on three out of the four players (I don’t believe Weatherby was in attendance that I saw), as well as head coach Brad Berry. Links are below.

Berry reflects on draft, hockey growth in Dallas
For Bernard-Docker, road to NHL runs through UND
The draft wait now over, Tychonick ready to roll
Flyers’ pick Hain looks forward to next chapter

CAPS LOCK UP CARLSON

As I was getting home from Dallas, I got the news that the Caps took one of the most sought after free agents off the market in signing John Carlson to an eight-year extension worth $64M. For a guy who is 28 and just hitting his stride it seems, it’s a great deal for the Caps to keep him locked up and part of the core for a long time. Carlson is coming off a career year in goals (15), assists (53), and obviously points (68), while also being a huge contributor in the Stanley Cup playoffs with five goals and 20 points in 24 games. It also gives the Caps some room to get others key parts signed. However, in order to do that– they had to shed some money, too.

GRUBAUER, ORPIK DEALT

On Friday before the Draft, the Caps trades Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for some picks in return. Both players were going to be rumored to move anyway, but for Grubauer– he turned it into a new deal with the Avalanche for three more seasons, while Orpik was bought out by the Avalanche in order to help get them to the floor of the salary cap. Grubauer will be the primary back-up for the Avalanche it seems, mostly grooming to probably take over for Semyon Varlamov– who is a free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season. Orpik may return to the Capitals at a value deal, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

HAMILTON DRAMA NOT ON STAGE

This whole thing with Dougie Hamilton is very weird and makes you wonder how much one player going out of his way to do things on his own is a detriment to his character. When he left Boston, rumors went around that Hamilton was a guy who was a bit of a “loner,” as it were– not really hanging out with teammates as much as some people would have liked him to be. It seems that stuff like that continued in Calgary; which lead to him and Micheal Ferland being moved to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.

Hamilton was tied for the league lead for defensemen in goals with 17, but apparently was all too content with the Flames losing down the stretch and may have taken offense to the Flames releasing his brother Freddie in January…which really is something you take with a grain of salt until you hear it from the man himself. GM Brad Treliving mentioned he’s going to keep stuff internal, but the gossip about Hamilton’s character keeps buzzing around.

Honestly, if a player doesn’t want to be around his team 24/7 during the season– I could see that. It shouldn’t be a knock on his reputation if he needs a little time to himself. Of course, the hockey culture of being with your teammates constantly is something I acknowledge, as well. It does seem odd for a guy to just go rogue like that– but maybe it’s something that’s needed for him to reboot now and again– especially if the team isn’t doing great and he needs to get away from that scene.

Regardless, the fact that this is the second time he’s been traded despite people saying he’s a top-tier defenseman should raise an eyebrow or two to why he keeps being moved around so much.

TIME FOR TALKING IS NOW

Another anxious time for fans, as unrestricted free agents have their week period of talking with other teams and hearing their offers before the July 1st “Frenzy.” Focus is going to all be on John Tavares, of course. He’ll take is time listening to offers, all the while new Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello is sitting in his office– lights out, shades drawn, and the hit of light from a screen in the background as he waits by his phone for a call. While Rick Nash and Toby Enstrom may be doing the same, Tavares’ name will be the one most looked at when it comes to this period– especially for Isles fans who want to keep him around.

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: Five Unanswered Give Caps 2-0 Series Lead

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After a quick start thanks to a Tom Wilson tipped-goal 28 seconds in, the Caps fought through some adversity after the Lightning netted two power play goals from Brayden Point and Steve Stamkos. However, this Caps team didn’t give up and scored the last five goals of the game to notch a 6-2 victory and leave Tampa with a 2-0 series lead. The win was the seventh win on the road for the Caps this playoffs, tying a team record set in 1998. Along with Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Brett Connolly had goals. Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Wilson, and John Carlson had multi-point games.

The Caps are in double-digits for wins this players, so it’s time to look at a former #10 in Caps history.

This entrant was a two-time member with the Capitals, but made his name more known when wearing #10. Bobby Carpenter garnered a lot of attention with his selection in the 1981 NHL Draft, being the first player to go into the NHL right out of high school when he took the ice for the Capitals. While he did have some clashes with his head coach Bryan Murray, the short time in his first stint was something the Caps needed from a young player in their line-up.

Right off the bat, Carpenter was able to get the offense going for the Capitals with two straight 30-goal seasons in 1981-82 and 1982-83. While he had a drop-off in his stats in his third season, the 1984-85 season was the real big break-out for Carpenter, as he led the team in goals with 53 and was only behind Mike Gartner in points (95). It was Carpenter’s highest output in goals and points. Carpenter was the first US-born player to put up 50 goals in a season.

However, the clash between him and coach Murray reached a boiling point during the 1986-87 season. Murray and the Capitals had communication issues, chief among them was Carpenter– who said that Murray panicked too much behind the bench and held him back from being a bigger part of Washington’s offense. Carpenter sat out waiting to be traded as the Caps struggled without him before getting dealt to the Rangers for Mike Ridley and Kelly Miller.

Carpenter re-sign with the Caps ahead of the 1992-93 season, but donned #11 after Miller took over the #10 role. On his second stint, Carpenter was only able to register 11 goals and 28 points over 68 games.

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.