Back to…..the Drawing Board

It was fun at the top while it lasted.

But the Caps didn’t do themselves any favors with their play in the playoffs. There were a lot of things that they could have done better. There’s things that they didn’t do last year that they did this year. There’s things they didn’t adjust to when the Hurricanes looked so much hungrier than the Caps did.

First, the biggest thing is the lack of pressuring when they were ahead. They were up in Game Five and let it slip away. They were up by two twice in Game Seven and it ended in a double-OT loss. Maybe it was just too many games for a lot of these guys and they kind of ran out of gas. Maybe it was not being able to adjust to injuries in their line-up. Maybe it was a lot of things…the Caps just couldn’t put the Canes away.

Second, defensively there were a tire fire. An honest to god tire fire. So many turnovers in their own zone leading to quality chances for the Canes was amazingly frustrating. Whether it be dangerous passes up the middle, whether it dangerous passes in front of Braden Holtby, whether it the forwards lack of breakout support for the the defensive which– hey– caused more turnovers. There so many times the Caps went for a home-run pass the length of the ice that the Canes played perfectly in the neutral zone that I lost count and just had a heavy sigh about it. Yet– there was no adjustment.

Rod Brind’Amour adjusted better than Todd Reirden did and it showed in the result. While they shuffled some lines in Game Seven, the grand scheme of things came down to Brind’Amour getting his team much more into it that Reirden could. To a man, Canes players were behind their coach and always commented about his fiery nature to get the team going. I didn’t hear one Caps say the same about Reirden, at least on the record.

And I won’t blame losing TJ Oshie to injury. That’s a part of the game and you have to adjust– which the Caps didn’t. One of the things it did take away was low-end options on the power play. Oshie’s play in the slot was some of the nice decoys for Ovechkin to get some more space. Without that option and a fill-in to act like that (sorry Tom Wilson), the Canes were able to give the Caps minimal chances to convert.

They did what they could though. The top line was solid with Nicklas Backstrom leading the way in the goal-scoring and Alex Ovechkin being the set-up man, which was an amazing change of pace. Tom Wilson was able to get into some dirty areas at times, but maybe could have done more.

Holtby was not himself, though. Lot of soft goals, lot of saves he could have made last year that snuck by this year. Like I said, his defense didn’t help him out at all. If anything, that’s a key point to look at for next year and how they can build around John Carlson and Nick Jensen. There needs to be some help out there because Dmitri Orlov and Matt Niskanen are hit-and-miss, Brooks Orpik is out of fuel, Jonas Siegenthaler needs more time, Christian Djoos somehow isn’t cutting it. They just need to hope Michal Kempny is ready to tear up the league next year.

Lest we forget the Luis Mendoza Line (all speed, questionable hands) of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana, and Carl Hagelin. When you need a secondary scoring line and it’s more of the third and fourth lines getting it done– there’s an issue. Kuznetsov, aside from the goal, seemed to be more than snakebit this series, Vrana was near invisible for the duration, and Hagelin was good on some penalty kills, but overall not worth retaining– unless they can get a good deal on him.

The Caps had a good season. It’s hard to top what they put forward last year and unless they would have swept everyone or beat everyone in Game Sevens, the dramatics were not there. Personally, this is probably the calmest I’ve been when it comes to losing a series, especially when you see them outworked as they were when you look at the greater picture.

Thank you Capitals for the ride over the past 10 months, it was fun while it lasted. Now, it’s time to reflect, figure out who’s going to be here next year, and find that hunger again.

Caps By The Numbers: Overtime Orpik

Of all the people to score an overtime winner, Brooks Orpik was probably the last guess. The long-shot did just that, however, as the veteran defenseman took a lovely pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and launched it over the shoulder of Petr Mrazek to win the game 4-3 and put the Caps up 2-0 in the series. The Caps and Canes traded goals– first two, then one– with Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie having goals, then two for the Canes, then Tom Wilson putting on through Mrazek before Jordan Staal tied it on the power play to send it to overtime. Orpik came off the bench on a change to find a pass and then the back of the net.

The game was not without controversy, as Nick Dowd took a hit from Micheal Ferland, to which Ferland got a match penalty. From looking at it, it’s shocking how the referees gave him a match, as the principle point of contact was to Dowd’s right arm. Nevertheless, the Caps couldn’t score on the major penalty.

With that…we go to win #18 for the Caps in the past two seasons. This time, we’ll look at someone who– when you think Capitals hockey, you think your good buddy Locker.


Craig Laughlin was one of the guys who came over to the Capitals in the Rod Langway trade. A trade that helped the Caps not only with Langway’s defensive game, but also gave the Caps a crop of color commentators in Laughlin and Brian Engblom to choose from when their careers were over.

However, as much as we know Laughlin now as the long-time color guy, many forget what a stand-out he was with the Caps in the mid-80s. Not much of the flash-and-dash, but a serviceable player for that team and was able to pot a lot of goals. Three 20-plus-goal seasons, including 30 in 1985-86; four 50-plus-point seasons, and a bit of a power play specialist with 41 of his 110 goals as a Capitals coming with the man-advantage (37.3%).

The Capitals traded Laughlin in 1988 to Los Angeles and after that season, he went to Toronto for a season, then Germany for another before hanging up his skates and returning to Washington in 1990 to start his career in broadcasting. He’s been a mainstay of the Caps broadcasts since, but it’s not just because of his skills behind the mic do people in Washington enjoy Locker.

Laughlin has always came out in the hockey community to help youth players grow their game. I remember skating at Piney Orchard, the old Capitals practice rink, and see Locker around, skating with rec league teams and giving kids pointers about their game. Laughlin created Network Hockey that focuses on player development for players in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area and helps them get to the next level.

While he was born in Toronto, Craig Laughlin found his home with the Capitals and bridges the generational gap for Capitals fans 29 years after starting his broadcasting career.

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 Number: Holtby Comes Up Big in Game 6 Win

Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals

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.

Hedging Their Bets in DC

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I had an outlook for the my beloved Washington Capitals this summer. It was a simple one that would get money off the books to sign key cogs back into the books. My list was:

  • Expose Brooks Orpik in the Expansion Draft
  • Create a side deal that had Vegas pick Orpik and trade Dmitry Orlov, a prospect, and a pick as incentive.
  • Re-sign TJ Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
  • Hope Karl Alzner would want to stay on to help defensively
  • ????
  • Profit

Only two of those things happened and much worse happened. The Caps did re-sign Oshie and Kuznetsov to very long-term deals, they lost one of their best skating defensemen in the Expansion Draft (Nate Schmidt), the traded Marcus Johansson, and lost Alzner to Montreal (which, Karl, they haven’t been out of the second round in the last three playoffs either, champ). All this on top of the fact Orpik is still under contract, they re-signed Brett Connolly, got Devante Smith-Pelly on a two-way deal, and still have to re-sign Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer.

The Caps sit at 15 rostered players and 38 contracts (of the 50 max) and have $8.5M left to fill it all out.

Now, there’s parts of me that understand the whole “blow up the team and trade Ovechkin mentality” and parts of me that understand the “what are you, stupid?? This team has won two consecutive Presidents Trophies.” Right now, I think the Caps management is hedging their bets that this team they’re assembling is still as elite as the last two teams and will make it further in the playoffs than those teams.

Some points that needed to be made from my point of view. First, you are playing Kuznetsov on potential. He’s only hit the 20-goal mark once and hasn’t gotten to the 80-point plateau, but he’s a second-liner; which many teams would take all day. Kuznetsov is the heir-apparent to Ovechkin as the face of the franchise, so you have to pay that potential.  Second, you had to trade Johansson while his value was high. Yes, MoJo was a big contributor to the Caps last year, but the sample size the Caps have with him show that he could have peaked after six seasons in DC– so why not get rid of him to clear space?? Oshie’s deal is a big one, taking him until he’s 38, but if he’s still contributing– why not do that deal?? He’s one of the best guys on the right-side the Caps have seen in a while and is someone who plays his role on the power play and on the top line very well to help with this offense.

Defensively, I’ve never been a fan of Orlov– I don’t know why, I just get overly nervous when he’s out there for a shift. I guess it’s another situation where you’re paying on a potential the Caps see in him, especially with the lack of development being seen in Hershey with the other blue-chip prospects. There’s not a market for Orpik– an aging defenseman with little to no foot speed. The best option was the make a deal with Vegas in order to get him off the books for the next two seasons or even a buyout– but the Caps held-steady.

It’s a weird period for the Caps and their fans. Their star is getting older, their window is pretty much a crack right now, and this is a team with some kind of mental block in the playoffs that they can’t seem to get over and no sports psychologist can figure out (assuming they go to a sports psychologist). Yes, there’s some potential in Hershey with Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Riley Barber, Madison Bowey, as well as Shane Gersich at the University of North Dakota waiting for his time– so there’s hope. To hedge their bets like this and hope that an immediate rollover will be seamless with the new blood is a bit crazy– but I expect nothing less out of this teams after the years of wackiness that has transpired.