Are the Caps in Trouble?

  • Thursday, January 24, 2013 3:42 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Three games into the lockout-shortened 48 game season and three deflating losses for the Washington Capitals. Is it time to hit the panic button this early? Yes. And here’s why. Two Stanley Cup veterans publicly called out the team’s lack of effort and work ethic tonight. That is a sign of a franchise in trouble. A sign of a team floating out at sea and in danger of not returning to shore before it’s too late to make the postseason.

Head coach Adam Oates, who as a player participated in two Stanley Cup Finals with Washington and Anaheim and last year as an assistant coach helped take the New Jersey Devils to the Cup Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Kings, said this at the post-game news conference after losing at home 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens for the franchise’s first 0-3 start since 1993:

“The team is fragile.”

“Some of our mistakes are pure effort.” (In response to a question about the team’s work ethic.)

“It’s very upsetting. I’m not pushing the panic button. But obviously it’s upsetting.”

“I’m not a believer in the Knute Rockne speech. We’re pros. You have to do your job. It’s not always going to go your way and you gotta show up for work.”

“At times it’s effort. You gotta want it.”

These are not the sound bytes you want from your new head coach the third game into the season. And then there is these post-game locker room quotes from Troy Brouwer, who won a Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks so who knows what it takes to reach the top of the mountain:

“One guy is showing up to play. We have 26 (Matt Hendricks’ number) playing hard every night. There’s a few guys: Matty P. (Mathew Perreault), Joey Crabb, Matt Hendricks showed up tonight and that’s about it. From there I don’t have a whole lot for you.”

“Embarrassing is almost the right term right now. Pathetic is probably a better one.”

“I feel bad for the fans. I’d like to finish a game with at least 50 percent of the fans still in the stands. Their reaction is completely warranted in booing us. We haven’t earned any of their respect. We haven’t earned any of their passion, their ambition. We’ve got to turn this around and we’ve got to do it fast.”

“If I had to say one thing I’d say work ethic. We’re not out of shape, that’s an excuse right now. Guys are professional here. They came into camp in shape, ready to go. It’s not fitness. It’s work ethic. We’re getting outworked. We’ve been outworked three times and lost three games.”

Ouch. That is a heavy dose of reality from Oates and Brouwer this early in the season.

Some Caps fans blame general manager George McPhee for constructing the current roster of players with talent but who seem unwilling to crash the net and pay the price and even play a full 60 minutes, except for fourth liner Matt Hendricks and a few other players. Some Caps fans believe Alex Ovechkin should have never been made captain, that he would flourish more in a secondary role without the pressure of the C on his sweater. Ovie’s production has declined every year since he was made captain. The league figured out Ovechkin years ago and he has failed to adjust his game and thus the joy and creativity has been replaced by frustration and a lack of confidence.

Some Caps fans blame the revolving door of coaches and their systems. There was Bruce Boudreau’s high-flying offensive system, then Dale Hunter’s defense-first system, now the Caps players must learn Oates’ hybrid offense-defense scheme, but that takes time, something they don’t have with no training camp and being thrown into a regular season where every game is amplified and a losing streak could mean missing the playoffs.

There are a lot of good questions as to why the Caps are so out of sync, but few good answers. One thing is for certain. They need to turn this ship around quick, starting with tomorrow in Newark against the Devils. Otherwise the once-mighty Washington Capitals will be looking up at every team in the league, wondering what hit them.

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Capitals Season Preview

  • Friday, August 10, 2012 4:24 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Washington, D.C.'s professional sports landscape is changing fast. For the past few years the Capitals were the only winners in the nation's capital (at least in the regular season, the playoffs have been disappointing to say the least). But the winning is finally spreading around, and that could be a good thing for the Caps and their long-suffering fans.

The Nationals are enjoying their best season in franchise history. The Nats own the best record in Major League Baseball and are 26 games above .500. If the team makes the playoffs for the first time in Washington after years of futility since moving from Montreal in 2005, then Rockin' the Red could travel from F Street to South Capitol Street with the Curly W replacing the Capitals logo and Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg t-shirts replacing Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom t-shirts. And the Redskins and Wizards are both teams on the rise. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is someone the team can build around, and the Wizards are already building around John Wall, adding some key players this offseason. Both the 'Skins and Wiz should show improvement this upcoming season. And the D.C. United are returning to the dominant form they displayed for so many years as the flagship franchise of Major League Soccer (a new soccer-specific stadium to replace crumbling RFK might be on the horizon as well).

So where does that leave the Caps? Well, it takes a lot of pressure off the team when other local pro teams are experiencing success. The Caps don't have to carry the expectations of an entire city starved for a championship (besides United's 12 titles, the last time a major pro D.C. sports team won a championship was the 'Skins in 1992). Also, Caps and Wiz owner Ted Leonsis was quoted once repeating the famous phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats," in reference to how success breeds success in a city. All you have to do is look at Boston the past ten years to see the truth in that statement.

Now let's get to some of the changes the Caps made this offseason and how they will help or hurt the team's chances this upcoming season. Since General Manager George McPhee built this team around the Young Guns -- Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alex Semin -- the Caps have wowed fans with spectacular skill and playmaking, but have disappointed time and again in the playoffs with epic collapses that were that much more painful for Caps fans to experience given the unbelievable talent on this team.

Coach Bruce Boudreau was all about offense and during his tenure the Caps dominated teams in the regular season, often overwhelming their opponents with offense. But come playoff time, when defense, tight checking and goaltending is emphasised, the Caps crumbled. When Boudreau tried to implement a more defensive style, he just couldn't get the players to buy in. Thus he was fired and Caps legend Dale Hunter was brought in. He was someone who could instantly command the respect and attention from the players. Hunter instituted a defense-first system that finally had the Caps playing the way teams have to play in the postseason to give themselves a chance at making a long run to the Cup. The problem was that Hunter's system took away all the offense, which is the team's bread and butter.

So Boudreau showed that the Caps can be one of the most explosive offensive teams in the history of the NHL. And Hunter showed that the Caps can play grinding, shot-blocking, defense-first playoff hockey that can knock out the defending Cup champs Boston in seven games and take the number one seed Rangers to seven games. The Caps now know what it takes to win in the postseason.

Which brings us to Adam Oates. The former Caps player and new head coach will command the same respect that Hunter did, but Oates plans to bring a balance between offense and defense that if implemented properly and with everyone buying in, should make the Caps a contender for the Cup (I know, this is said every year and every year the Caps get bounced in the second round). That elusive balance between offense and defense is what the Caps have always needed but failed to find. Hopefully Oates can make that system work in Washington. As an assistant coach in New Jersey during the Devils' run to the Cup Finals, Oates was credited with turning Ilya Kovalchuck into a two-way player. Can he do the same thing with Ovechkin?

Besides a coaching staff able to find the right balance between offense and defense, the Caps have had two huge needs -- a second line center and a shutdown defenseman. Well, the second line center might have been found with the trade to the Dallas Stars of Cody Eakin and a 2nd-round draft pick for Mike Ribeiro. A 32-year-old Montreal native, Ribeiro filling up the middle on the second line will create scoring opportunities for the talented wingers. As a player, Oates was known for his unselfish playmaking abilities, so he should get along with Ribeiro very nicely.

The shutdown d-man is an issue that still needs to be addressed, but the Caps are still solid on the blue line, especially if they can sign restricted free agent John Carlson. The Caps earlier this summer locked up Mike Green to a three-year deal and Karl Alzner has one more year on his contract. Rounding out the blue line is Jack Hillen, Roman Hamrlik, John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and Dmitry Orlov. But getting Carlson signed is priority number one and then later trying to get someone who can play a role like Rob Scuderi did for the Los Angeles Kings in their Cup run.

The rise of goaltender Braden Holtby was one of the best stories of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He should be getting his first full season workload so it will be interesting to see how he handles it. Backing him up will be Michal Neuvirth. The Caps also have a bunch of promising netminding prospects in the farm system, so goaltending depth shouldn't be an issue this season. Holtby and Neuvirth have both proven that they can carry this team on their backs and the upcoming season should be no different.

While some fans lament the loss of Alex Semin to the Carolina Hurricanes, I'm one of those fans who believe this actually could be a blessing for the Caps. Semin was always an enigma who could play brilliant one night, and then tune out and play lazy the next night. Besides his questionable commitment on the ice, there were rumors he might have been a distraction to his friend Ovechkin off the ice. It is hoped that now without his buddy Semin, Ovechkin can focus on being the leader the Caps desperately need him to be if they will ever have any chance of hoisting the Cup.

Caps Should Hold Heads Up High

  • Saturday, May 12, 2012 6:10 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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NEW YORK -- The bad guys won. It happens. You don't always get what you deserve and justice isn't always served. The Yankees of hockey, the New York Rangers, paid big money for Brad Richards and he delivered. And arrogant head coach John Tortorella finally beat the Washington Capitals after three tries. It only took Game 7 at home at MSG in a tight 2-1 game that went down to the wire.

The Rangers won't win the Cup this year, as much as their obnoxious fans chant "We want the Cup!" after they barely survived the Caps. The New Jersey Devils will beat the Rangers, if not in a sweep then close to it. Sorry, Rangers fans. This isn't 1994.

Caps fans deserve better, we always do. But there is a lot to be proud of this season and I'm so happy that we made it this far. We earned a ton of respect thanks to Dale Hunter's defense-first system. Every player bought in and the Caps were able to defy the odds by beating the Boston Bruins in Game 7 at TD Garden, and then taking the Rangers to the limit in a thrilling game seven in New York.

As disappointing as this loss is, and believe me, Caps fans are used to these heartbreakers through the history of this franchise, there is a lot to build on and the future looks bright in Washington. The Caps finally have an identity that will eventually push them over to a deep playoff run and a shot at the Stanley Cup. In less than a season, they transitioned from a run-n-gun, offense-first team, to a defense-first, shot-blocking machine (the most shot blocks in the postseason) and a team that set an NHL record in the first round with seven straight one goal decisions and then another NHL record in the second round by becoming the first team to win four straight times following an overtime loss.

I watched the game at The Standings, a Caps bar in the East Village, and was glad to be among my fellow Caps fans in the heart of New York City. Caps fans are the best fans in professional sports. We will be rewarded in this lifetime and all the heart breaks will lead up to the moment of glory.

So the most arrogant organization in the NHL can think they have the Cup. And believe me, from Torts on down they won't give the Caps credit for battling hard to the end. But I know every Caps fan will be rooting for the Devils to dismantle the Blue Shirts and every Caps fan should be proud of our boys from D.C.

Hold your heads up high, boys. The future is brighter than ever.

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Capitals Force Game 7 Against Rangers

  • Wednesday, May 9, 2012 4:32 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. the Capitals set an NHL record by becoming the first team ever to win four straight times following an overtime loss in the playoffs. That is a team with a hell of a lot of character in that dressing room. The resilient Caps won 2-1 against the New York Rangers in an elimination game to force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Saturday evening.

Captain Alex Ovechkin scored the first goal and Jason Chimera scored the second goal. Goalie Braden Holtby put in another brilliant performance. Holtby is composure personified. Nothing rattles the young one from Saskatchewan. And how could he lose with his mom Tami in attendance?

Both teams battled hard and deserve credit, but of course you will never hear that from Mr. Negativity John Tortorella. This guy doesn't know what positive reinforcement means. All he does is brow beat his players and call them out when they do something wrong. Dale Hunter is more subtle about telling players when they make mistakes. Case in point, Joel Ward, whose four minute high sticking penalty cost the Caps game five. Hunter put Ward back into the action in game six and he was rewarded with a gutsy performance.

I will be heading up to NYC and plan to watch Game 7 at The Standings, a Caps bar in the East Village. I'll be rocking the white. Win or lose Game 7, I'm so proud of the Capitals for battling the No. 1 seed Rangers and taking this series to the limit. Let's go, Caps!

Capitals Face More Adversity

  • Tuesday, May 8, 2012 2:41 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella won't give the Washington Capitals credit for battling hard and hanging tough. But this Caps fan will give the Rangers credit for winning Game 5 at Madison Square Garden in stunning fashion. The Caps were up 2-1 when Joel Ward took a four-minute high sticking penalty and Brad Richards tied it up with 6.6 seconds left in regulation.

With the Caps still shorthanded at 1:35 of overtime, Marc Staal scored the game winner to send the sellout crowd at MSG into a frenzied celebration and break the hearts of Capitals fans.

So, kudos to the Rangers for their relentless forecheck and never-say-die attitude. They are a great team. That said, every Caps fan knows the history of our team choking in the playoffs and being unable to get over that second-round hump.

We want to believe this year will be different after dethroning the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in overtime of Game 7 at TD Garden (thank you, Wardo, for the biggest goal in Caps history). But with all the adversity the Caps have faced this season, including a triple-overtime loss to the Rangers at Verizon Center, tonight's defeat is perhaps the toughest to take and the toughest to bounce back from.

The Caps were so close to taking the 3-2 series lead with the chance to end the series in D.C. on Wednesday. Now the Caps are in the familiar territory of trying to salvage the season and defy the odds. I don't think many pundits gave the Caps a fighting chance in this series, and they have surprised a lot of people by battling the Rangers this hard. Everyone to a man has been sacrificing and giving 110 percent so you can’t fault the effort. Tonight Captain Alex Ovechkin played a whale of a defensive game by blocking shots and being responsible with the puck in his own zone. Ovie earned a ton of respect from his mates when he went down to block a shot late in the third period. When the leader of the team is sacrificing his body, it motivates the rest of the team to give that extra effort they didn’t think they had in them.

All coach Dale Hunter asks of the boys is to work hard and battle. And they have been doing that the whole series. That is why as disappointing as it will be for Caps fans if the team doesn’t win the next two games, and as frustratingly familiar it will be to exit the playoffs early, there is a lot to be proud of this season with all the adversity the Caps have faced. They barely made the playoffs when no one gave them a chance, including me. They beat the Bruins when no one gave them a chance, including me. They are taking the Rangers to game six when no one thought this would be a long series, including me.

Maybe the Caps have another miracle coming on Wednesday and on Saturday. I do know the Caps will battle to the bitter end. They will never give up. It's called mental toughness. Here's to a great series and hopefully a win on Wednesday night. Let's go, Caps!

Rangers Win Marathon Game 3 In D.C.

  • Thursday, May 3, 2012 3:36 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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In what is shaping up to be an epic series, it is perhaps fitting that Wednesday night's Game 3 at the Verizon Center had to be decided in triple overtime. The New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 when Marian Gaborik ended it past midnight off a feed from Brad Richards. Gaborik scored his first goal in nine games and Rangers fans have to be thrilled that the drought has ended for their star forward.

When a game gets into the third overtime session, what is there to say except both teams put forth heroic efforts and left everything on the ice. Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped 47 shots while Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 45 shots. Both goalies were brilliant. Blood was on the ice, on the jerseys, and on the faces of warriors like Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi and Mike Knuble. That is what happens when two teams full of heart and character collide. They both want to win so badly that they will sacrifice their bodies to get any type of advantage over their opponent.

Alex Ovechkin had a glorious chance to win the game in the first overtime when his shot beat Lundqvist but clanked off the right post. The Caps and the Rangers traded chances until the game winner by Gaborik.

The Caps have a chance to bounce back after this tough loss and even up the series on Saturday afternoon. Both teams will have a couple of days to rest and heal and they will need it after that intense battle last night. And if the Caps are looking for ammunition, they need look no further than Rangers head coach John Tortorella's post-game comments. He did not give any credit to the Caps at all and instead said his team was mentally tougher:

"When you get into that many hours of playing, it becomes a mental game," Tortorella said. "I felt if the game got longer and longer, our team was at an advantage."

Really Torts? Kudos to the Rangers, but mentally tougher? They are playing against a team that defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in a record seven straight one goal decisions, including three overtime games and one double overtime game. And game seven was won by the Caps in overtime at TD Garden.

So again, how can Tortorella not give any credit to the Caps for battling and then say his team is mentally tougher? Juxtapose this press conference with Caps coach Dale Hunter, who every time win or lose gives the other team credit for battling.

"It's a long game and both teams are in the same boat. They're battling and it's whoever gets the break and they got a break behind the net, a pass out and it ended up in the net."

Those are wise words from a classy and humble individual. Hunter is smart keeping any negative or boastful comments close to his vest. He doesn't want to give any ammunition to the other side.

Well, Tortorella opened his big mouth and the Capitals should post his comments in the locker room. I guess we'll see who is mentally tougher on Saturday.

Ovechkin Nets Game Winner At MSG To Tie Series

  • Monday, April 30, 2012 5:09 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Buckle up for another intense battle in the second round between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. These two teams needed seven games to win round one, and seven games will likely decide this fierce battle. Tonight the Caps held serve and got the split at Madison Square Garden thanks to a game-winning goal by Captain Alex Ovechkin to make the final score 3-2. The series now heads to the Verizon Center 1-1.

There were many question marks regarding rookie goaltender Braden Holtby after a shaky game one. How would the 22-year-old respond to his first bout of adversity in his first playoff experience? It's so important to have confidence in your netminder. With that confidence shaken how would the team respond? Well, Holtby had a strong performance against the Rangers and was back to the same goalie that outdueled veteran Tim Thomas in round one. Holtby is back in a big way and that is good news for Caps fans.

You also need puck luck in the postseason. On Saturday afternoon the Caps hit the iron four times. Nothing went their way. Well, tonight the Rangers banged the post twice, including a Michael Del Zotto rocket near the end of the game that would have tied it up.

Lastly, Ovechkin played arguably the best game of his career in the playoffs. Earlier in the day he was quoted in the Washington Post saying that he needs to make better decisions and be smarter on the ice. That shows self awareness and a new found maturity that's been often lacking in Ovie's career, thus the reputation as having a low hockey IQ. Tonight Ovechkin looked like a man determined, someone serious about his responsibility on this team. When Ovie scored on the power play late in the third period to retake the lead after New York had fought back to tie the game, it lifted the entire team. Everyone seemed to work just a little bit harder. Gave of themselves just a little bit more. And the Caps hung on for the victory.

Ovechkin upped his game. Holtby bounced back. But the Rangers are relentless. They never give up. And plus they are blessed with Henrik Lundquist in goal so they are always assured of being in the game and having a chance. This is going to be a close series that both teams are comfortable playing. It will be tense for Rangers and Capitals fans, but for hockey fans it is going to be another wild ride from two great teams.

Washington Capitals Knock Out The Champs

  • Wednesday, April 25, 2012 4:18 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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The Washington Capitals put to bed playoff failures of the past Wednesday by eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in Game 7 at TD Garden in Boston. Joel Ward scored the overtime winner on a rebound off Tim Thomas at 2:57 of the extra session. To beat the Bruins, the Caps needed a rookie goalie phenom in Braden Holtby to come up huge and needed to set an NHL record with seven straight one goal decisions.

For longtime Capitals fans used to being on the losing side of these games, the result is stunning and simply unbelievable. The Caps are just not supposed to come out on top of these types of games. But the script has been rewritten and all the negativity, doubt and dread lifted like a red balloon in the second it took Ward to bury the puck in the back of the net and shock Thomas, the Bruins, their fans, the city of Boston, the National Hockey League and the entire sports world.

There are so many intangibles that decide a season and a playoff series. So many ups and downs. Many Caps fans, including myself, wanted General Manager George McPhee fired after being convinced the season was lost following a few late season collapses. I was 100 percent convinced the Caps would miss the playoffs and that McPhee's offseason pickups were busts. Well, with the most important goal in franchise history, Ward proved the critics wrong. Now McPhee looks like a genius for paying so much for Ward after his excellent postseason with Nashville last year.

And then there is the mid-season coaching change from Bruce Boudreau to former Capital tough guy and franchise hero Dale Hunter. He implemented a more conservative, grinding, defensive style that was very hard for many of the offense-first stars like Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom to adjust to. There were times when the Caps just looked lost out on the ice under the new system. How could this team try to be the mid-90s New Jersey trap defense team? Well, it took until they barely made the playoffs as a seventh seed and drew the defending champs for every player to buy in and boy did they buy in. The Capitals beat the Bruins at their own game. The Bruins kept punching and the Caps kept fighting back, surprising the Bruins. They must have been thinking, "who is this team?" Hunter did what I thought was impossible -- turn a run-n-gun regular season powerhouse and perennial playoff failure, into a team capable of beating the defending Stanley Cup champions.

I also have to mention the selfish move Thomas made when he snubbed President Obama during the Cup celebration last January at the White House. Was it karma that the man who disrespected the nation's first black president was beaten by a black man? There will be many questions in the offseason about Thomas' divisive political statements.

This win was for all the long-suffering Caps fans. Enjoy it everyone. It's OK to smile and relax until round 2.

Yes, we did beat the Bruins!

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Capitals And Bruins Battle To A Game 7

  • Monday, April 23, 2012 3:57 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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History was made Sunday night in the first-round series between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins. The 4-3 overtime final in favor of Boston marked the first time ever that all six games of an NHL playoff round have been decided by one goal. That's how close it's been, folks. These are two evenly matched teams battling for every inch of ice and for hockey fans and sports fans in general, this is the first-round series to watch.

The Bruins' Tyler Seguin scored in the extra frame to force a Game 7 Wednesday night at TD Garden in Boston. It has been a roller coaster series with everything you expect from two teams that never say die -- hard hits, intense battles on the boards, creative play making, chirping, lucky bounces and great goaltending.

Let's discuss the goaltending for a moment. The Caps' 22-year-old rookie netminder Braden Holtby has come of age in this series. He is mature beyond his years and his confidence and composure against the defending Stanley Cup champions is magnificent to watch. Holtby is the main reason the Caps are in this series, as he has stonewalled the Bruins' relentless offensive zone pressure time and again. Win or lose this series, the Caps have their goalie of the future, and it is a very bright future indeed for young Holtby. And let's give credit to Tim Thomas. Yes, his off-the-ice political statements have tarnished his reputation, but Thomas is still one of the best goaltenders in the league. The reigning Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner has made some spectacular stops in this series and kept the Bruins in it.

History has not been kind to the Capitals in Game 7s during the Oveckhin era, earning the Caps the unfortunate reputation as choking when it counts the most, of coming up small in the big games. Game 7 losses to the Flyers, Canadiens and Penguins have not instilled the confidence in Capitals Nation that this team will pull off a major upset against the Bruins on Wednesday. On the other hand, Boston has come up clutch in Game 7s. Last year Boston beat Montreal 4-3 in OT and Tampa 1-0 at TD Garden and then defeated the Canucks in Vancouver 4-0 to win the Stanley Cup.

So, the Boston Bruins should be heavily favored to beat the Washington Capitals Wednesday night. Order will be restored. The champs will move on after a scare from a seventh seed and the NHL playoffs can move on without those curious Caps. But maybe, just maybe, Washington can prove the critics wrong and reverse decades of playoff failure that have come to define this franchise. It's unlikely, but crazier things have happened. All it takes is a lucky bounce.

Tim Thomas Throws Another Tea Party

  • Friday, April 20, 2012 6:20 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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You would have thought Boston Bruins goalie Tim "Tea Party" Thomas would have learned his lesson about crossing the politics-sports line after he snubbed President Obama by skipping out on the team's Stanley Cup celebration at the White House. The disrespect shown to the Office of the President of the United States of America, his teammates, the Bruins organization that is paying him millions of dollars, and the National Hockey League, was inexcusable.

So Thomas doesn't want to talk about the White House snub with the media. Fine. But then why would he visit the right-wing, anti-government, anti-tax FreedomWorks organization and pose for a picture with a Ron Paul for president bumper sticker? This happened last Tuesday in D.C. between Games 3 and 4 of Boston's first-round series with the Washington Capitals. Of course this picture went viral through social media and stories were written about it. By the way, the chairman of FreedomWorks is controversial conservative Dick Armey.

Thomas is a hypocrite of the highest order. He won't talk to the media about his political views and wants to keep the focus on the ice, but then he pulls this stunt. Maybe if he had been practicing his saves instead of paying a visit to a divisive organization like FreedomWorks, he would have stopped Alex Semin's game-winning goal. Caps fans have been mocking Thomas with Obama signs. Expect more mockery on Sunday.

Shanahan Gets it Wrong With Backstrom Suspension

  • Wednesday, April 18, 2012 3:45 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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NHL Chief Player Disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan is having a terrible postseason. He is sending mixed signals about what merits a suspension and what doesn't. Take for example his one game suspension of Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom for a cross-check to the face of Boston's Rich Peverly at the end of game three.

But before we go there, let's turn back the clock to the slap on the wrist, the measly $2,500 fine issued to Nashville's Shea Weber for one of the dirtiest and most blatantly dangerous plays in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Weber twice purposefully and forcefully slammed the head of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg into the glass. Luckily, Zetterberg wasn't injured. But how this wasn't a suspension is beyond me. But the fact is that what Weber did was almost criminal and the tape doesn't lie.

Pittsburgh's Aaron Asham was suspended four games for his vicious and potentially lethal cross-check on the Flyers' Brayden Schenn. The tape clearly shows how violent and dangerous the attack was. The two attacks by Weber and Asham were similar in their intent to cause serious harm. But how could Shanahan come away with such vastly different punishments?

Which brings us to Backstrom. Again, the tape doesn't lie. First, Peverly wasn't even close to being injured on the play. Second, Backstrom is not a repeat offender. Third, Backstrom was standing up for his teammate Alex Ovechkin, who had just been tripped by Peverly. Fourth, the Bruins have been employing dirty and unsportsmanlike tactics this whole series by targeting Backstrom's head (Backstrom recently returned from a head injury with concussion-like symptoms and has always suffered from headaches). All this context should have been taken into consideration, plus the fact that clearly what Backstrom did, including the fact that there was a defensive counter cross-check from Peverly, was nothing compared to the violent attacks by Weber, Asham and James Neal.

The inconsistency of Shanahan's decisions this post-season is creating confusion among the players and fans and is beginning to tarnish the league's image. There just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to how the league is dishing out fines and suspensions. And it obviously is not a deterrent, as Phoenix's Raffi Torres' sickeningly violent hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa last night demonstrated. Torres left his feet and Hossa had to be carried off on a stretcher.

Really, however, it is the players who need to police themselves. NHL players are supposed to be professionals and there needs to be more respect for the health and safety for their fellow players. That is really the biggest problem right now, is the lack of respect for each other that leads to these recklessly dangerous hits to head.

But Backstrom should not be put in the same category. Regardless, it is just more adversity for the Caps. Adversity has been the theme of the entire season and the Caps have been forced to play without their number one center before. At least the Bruins will have one less head to target.

Caps Going To Make Bruins Earn It

  • Sunday, April 15, 2012 4:19 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Washington Capitals fans are humble. Crushing defeats (see Pittsburgh 2009), epic playoff collapses (see Montreal 2010) and stunning sweeps (see Tampa Bay 2011) will do that to a fan base. So Caps fans are realistic about the team's chances against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. They know the battle won Saturday is a small victory in a war that favors Boston. The Caps beat the Bruins in Boston 2-1 in double overtime, thanks to a game-winning goal from Nicklas Backstrom and another brilliant 43-save performance in the net from 22-year-old goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Caps split the first two games on the road, and by doing so made a statement to Boston that they are going to have to earn their ticket to the second round. If anyone thought Boston was going to steam roll over the Caps, the past two games have proven that Washington is mentally and physically tough and is prepared for a long series. But these are still the defending champs. They have been through the hard fought battles. They have won the wars of attrition. They will not back down. And they are still the favorites to win the series.

Win or lose this series, there is a certain pride Caps fans can take in finally watching their team turn into a playoff hockey contender, instead of the regular season powerhouse and playoff pretender of the past few years. There was even a point in the broadcast when NBC commentators Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire were comparing the Caps' stifling defense to the mid-90s New Jersey Devils. A long way from the run-n-gun Caps of a few years ago, isn't it? Credit for this transformation goes to head coach Dale Hunter, who has instilled a more playoff-type system, and we are seeing the wonderful results of that the first two games. The Caps are dancing with the big bad Bruins, matching their work ethic and intensity, and it is a pleasure to watch. The odds are still very much stacked against the Caps winning this series, but they have shown their fans and the hockey world that they will not go quietly into the night. That they will fight to the bitter end.

Game 3 is at the Verizon Center on Monday night and if the first two games are any indication, it's going to be a whale of a hockey game between two tough teams full of heart and character. This Caps fan can't wait for the puck to drop. Who knew the playoffs could be this much fun?

Caps Clinch Playoff Berth

  • Friday, April 6, 2012 2:58 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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What a night in Chinatown. Wow. I was rocking the red with more than 18,000 Washington Capitals fans at the Verizon Center in a must-win game for the Caps in the second-to-last game of the regular season. When the night began, the Caps held a very tenuous lead for the eighth and final playoff spot with Buffalo breathing down their necks. The Caps and Sabres were tied at 88 points with the Caps owning the tiebreaker. The Caps played the Panthers while the Sabres played at Philadelphia.

Many anxious Caps fans were wondering which team would show up. Would it be the desperate team that eked out recent shootout wins against Boston and Montreal? Or would it be the team that laid an egg against the Sabres 5-1 at home and blew a lead late against the Lightning and Steven Stamkos? The Caps started strong with goals by Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich to take a 3-0 lead and chase Panthers goalie and former Capital Jose Theodore out of the net. Curiously, only minutes later Cats coach Kevin Dineen put Theodore back in the game. A very curious coaching decision not keeping Scott Clemmensen in the game.

Then a freak accident injured Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth as a Panthers player seemed to have fallen on Neuvirth's leg. Neuvirth was in obvious pain as he was helped to the locker room. In a season of adversity for the Caps, this was but another chapter. Number one veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun is already out for the season and now the Caps would have to rely on backup netminder Braden Holtby to keep their posteason hopes alive.

The Cats clawed their way back into the game, and after scoring an early goal in the third period to make it 3-2, Caps fans were nervous given the history of the Caps blowing leads and choking in big time games. The Panthers also have a recent history of taking games into overtime. But 18,000 plus fans at the VC had one eye on the ice and one eye on the out of town scoreboard, so when the Sabres-Flyers game became final with Philly winning 2-1, a thunderous roar came up from the stands and the Caps players definitely noticed.

Did Caps fans will their team to victory? Perhaps. All I know is that the energy in the building was amazing after finding out the Sabres had lost with about seven minutes left in the Caps game and a 3-2 lead. The Caps players seemed to have fed off the energy because they survived some great chances by the Panthers and then Alex Semin scored the biggest goal of his career with a backhand shot top shelf over Theodore's shoulder as four Panthers stood and watched helplessly as Semin worked his magic.

As the seconds ticked down, the Verizon Center was rocking as Caps players saluted the fans at center ice and celebrated an improbable playoff berth in this roller coaster season. Buffalo had a great run and they will be competitive for years to come. But tonight the Caps showed heart and character, two words not usually associated with this team.

Congrats to the Panthers, who also clinched a playoff spot because of the Buffalo loss. On Saturday the Caps have a chance to win the Southeast Division by beating the Rangers at MSG and the Panthers losing to the Hurricanes at BankAtlantic Center in regulation. Either way, the Capitals and Panthers will be dancing into the NHL playoffs.

Here is video of the sights and sounds from the end of the game last night at the Verizon Center as the Caps and their fans celebrated the team's fifth straight posteason berth in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Washington Votes For Hockey

  • Monday, April 2, 2012 9:25 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Detroit is Hockeytown, home to the storied Original Six Red Wings franchise and a strong tradition of grassroots hockey. And Washington, D.C. will never be mistaken for Detroit. But the fastest sport in the world has been slowly and steadily gaining a foothold in the nation's capital, largely thanks to the success of the Capitals and star Alex Ovechkin. Although this season has been a roller coaster ride for Caps fans, with the team's playoff hopes coming down to the last few games of the season (the Caps lost a tough game at Tampa tonight), the fact that there are 18,000 plus Caps fans rocking the red at the Verizon Center every game night is a rather new phenomenon in a city and region where the professional football team is number one by a wide margin, followed by high school and college hoops.

The Caps' slogan is "Building America's Hockey Capital," and that is exactly what is happening at the youth hockey level as the number of youth athletes has taken off in the past decade, especially with the addition in 2006 of the Kettler Capitals IcePlex -- the Capitals practice facility built on top of the parking garage at the Ballston Commons shopping mall in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Kettler offers two ice skating rinks for youth hockey leagues when the Caps are not practicing. The Washington Post recently wrote up a story about how Ovie and the Caps have made playing hockey popular in D.C.

And then there is White House Hockey, which I participate in. For over ten years, pick-up roller hockey games have been played on a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the Treasury Department building and the White House. This portion of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to vehicular traffic following the Oklahoma City bombing and then permanently closed after 9/11. It is now a pedestrian mall filled with thousands of tourists from around the world. Playing pick-up roller hockey on the weekends creates a surreal, only-in-Washington scene where one or two competitive hockey games are being played while tourists, locals and demonstrators pass by on foot, bicycle and even Segway (there is a company that provides Segway tours of the nation's capital). Many tourists stop to snap pictures or take video of the guys playing hockey. There are also frequent disruptions when protesters march to the White House and when vehicles enter the security checkpoint -- U.S. Secret Service and Metropolitan Police Department patrol cars, construction and delivery trucks heading to the White House gates and U.S. Government-plated vans and SUVs. I've even witnessed President Obama's motorcade leaving for church one Sunday morning and got a glimpse of the president in the back seat of the presidential limousine. The hockey games can be casual and fun, or intense and serious, depending on the personalities that show up that day.

Lastly, another sign of hockey growing in the nation's capital is the annual Lawmakers versus Lobbyists charity hockey game at the Verizon Center. The Congressional Hockey Challenge raises money for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club and Fort Dupont Ice Arena. Fort Dupont is an inner city ice rink located in the mostly African-American neighborhood of Anacostia. Recently national politics has been a rough-and-tumble activity comparable to a bench-clearing brawl, so the animosity between politicos translates perfectly to hard hitting hockey. This was evident when U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) showed up to the East Room of the White House at a recent event honoring the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Kerry was sporting a broken nose and two black eyes suffered during a pickup hockey game.

The fact is, no matter what happens on the ice with the Caps this season or future seasons, the foundation has already been laid for a strong grassroots hockey culture in D.C. Recreational ice, roller and street hockey in the nation's capital will continue to grow for years and decades to come.

Saturday Night Results: Eastern Conference Playoff Race Tightens?

  • Saturday, March 31, 2012 3:56 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks

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Tonight was huge for the two teams in the Eastern Conference locked in a fierce battle for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres both came into their games tied at 86 points with four games left to play in the regular season.

The Capitals own the tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins, but Buffalo had a chance to take a two point lead on the Caps as they faced off against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Center. Buffalo is banged up on the blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers both injured and it showed tonight as the Leafs scored four goals to defeat the Sabres 4-3 and deal a big blow to their playoff hopes. And Toronto did it with young goaltender Ben Scrivens, who was called up from the AHL Toronto Marlies because both Leafs starters are injured. It goes to show you never know what can happen on any given night. What an amazing upset by Toronto.

In Washington, the Capitals faced off against the Montreal Canadiens, another team like the Leafs that has had a disappointing season. But just like in Toronto, when the season is winding down, sometimes the most dangerous teams are the ones not making the playoffs that want to be spoilers. The Caps were cruising with a 2-0 lead and their number one center Nicklas Backstrom finally back in the lineup after recovering from a concussion suffered from a cheap shot to the head from then Calgary Flame, now Hab Rene Bourque. But it would be no cakewalk as the Canadiens kept chipping away and tied the game in the second period. Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth made some crucial saves down the stretch and the Caps and Habs went to a shootout. Caps winger Alex Semin scored the game winner in the shootout and the Caps secured two points.

Not only did the Caps gain two points on the Sabres with three games left in the season, but the Caps also put pressure on the seventh place Ottawa Senators, who won their game against the Flyers today in a shootout, and the Florida Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division and are in third place but lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets last night. The Caps are now only two points behind the Sens and Cats, who are at 90 points. The Caps play a tough game at Tampa Monday night, and then it sets up what could be an enormous game against Florida on Thursday night at the Verizon Center in what could determine which team takes the Southeast Division title. The Sabres get a rematch with Toronto and then two tough games against the Flyers and Bruins.

Washington, Buffalo, Ottawa and Florida are now in a heated battle for the playoffs and it sets up an intense and emotional last week of the season for fans of these clubs.

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