WTOP Caps Blog
Posted on: Tuesday 5/14/2013 8:26am
WASHINGTON - What is it about Washington sports teams?
It doesn't matter the team, the arena, the players, the coaches.
I truly hate to say this, but they all gag in the playoffs.
Each has done it in their own unique, frustrating and crushing way.
In just the past year alone, we have seen the Nationals blow a six-run lead in the decisive game and the Redskins unable to hold on to a 14-point advantage and then lose their star quarterback.
However, those are just one-game disappointments for the Nats and 'Skins.
The Capitals have made playoff failure an art form.
Over the past 30 years they have blown 2-0 and 3-1 series leads nine times, lost in overtime, double-overtime, triple-overtime and quadruple-overtime. They have seen their own superstars disappear and journeymen goaltenders have career games against them.
Ten times in team history, the Capitals have jumped out to a two-games-to-none lead only to lose that series six times.
All-time, they are just 3-9 in Game 7s.
Starting in 2008 - the current Alex Ovechkin era - the Caps are 2-5 in the decisive game. That includes going 1-4 at home.
What's the point of busting your butt to gain home-ice advantage if you don't take advantage of it?!!
The Capitals don't show up when you would most expect them to show up.
How do you explain in 2009 getting blown out by the Penguins 6-2 in Game 7, or the next year dropping games 5 AND 7 to the Montreal Canadians, and laying an egg to the Rangers this time to the tune of 5-0?
ALL those games were played at Verizon Center.
New York usually doesn't score five goals in a week. In fact, they had a total of just two the previous three trips to DC.
This is the third-time in six-years the Capitals have been knocked out of the first-round. They haven't gotten past the second since their one-and-only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals 15 years ago.
Defenseman Mike Green and many other Capitals players felt this was the best- rounded, deepest team they've had in their six-straight trips to the playoffs.
And yet, it's the same old song and dance.
You could almost explain a one-goal loss to an unlucky bounce, a hot goaltender, or a bad penalty call. That's already happened to the Capitals.
But, no one saw a 5-0 spanking coming.
Are the Caps cursed or fundamentally flawed? I don't want to believe the first and don't believe the second.
What this current team needs is a killer instinct.
When you have a team down, take them out. No way should the Rangers have come back in this series. How could the Capitals go 0-for-3 in New York?
And, certainly there's no way the Rangers win two games in two nights in two different buildings, both by shutouts. Well, by doing so, they manage to get the first road Game 7 victory in their 87-year history.
Otherwise, I thought the Capitals had a very good chance to go far in these playoffs.
Top-seed Pittsburgh had its porous goaltending and defense exposed in a tough series with the Islanders and Boston needed a frantic finish to get past Toronto in seven games.
Washington can definitely compete with the Bruins and Penguins.
But, we'll never know for sure. Because, with the Capitals, it's always wait till next year.
Posted on: Saturday 5/4/2013 10:06am
WASHINGTON - Let's debunk one old myth right off the bat. Most of the Washington Capitals players have all their teeth.
However, hockey players still live up to the myth that they're really tough guys. They're a different breed. And with the start of the NHL playoffs this week, they're proving again just how tough they are.
They play through pain that would stop most of us cold.
Yes, they wear helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin pads and padded pants and gloves. But all, or some, of their face is exposed.
And wouldn't you know it on many occasions, a puck or stick will find its way to a player's head, usually causing an injury.
For the Capitals, that's when team dentist Tom Lenz jumps into action.
He's had to patch up some gruesome injuries during his seven years on the job.
"I've seen lips lacerated literally in half, injuries through the mouth, out the cheek, certainly lost teeth, fractured jaws. And these guys will continue playing," Lenz says.
Capitals center Eric Belanger lost a bunch of teeth in a game in the 2010 playoffs after having extensive mouth surgery just months earlier.
He didn't miss a beat.
The main objective for Dr. Lenz is to patch the players up and get them back on the ice as quickly as possible.
Lenz admires their pain threshold.
"They're at the far end of the spectrum as far as tolerance," he says.
Case in point: Former Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn played with a fractured jaw in the playoffs three years ago.
"A lot of times, players won't let anyone know what's going on," Lenz says.
Morrisonn's jaw was wired shut, but would take the wires off before the game so he could play. He was wearing no facial protection, not wanting to advertise his condition.
"He'd eat his meal on the plane afterwards and we'd force his jaw shut again and wire him up," Lenz says.
He adds the players just want to keep playing and contributing, despite the pain.
Think about that when watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy chair.
Posted on: Monday 2/25/2013 5:36pm
Ben Raby, wtop.com
ARLINGTON, Va. - Troy Brouwer and Alexander Semin were teammates for all of one season with the Washington Capitals. Apparently that was plenty of time for Brouwer to draw a few conclusions about the Russian sniper.
"Some nights you didn't even know if he was going to come to the rink," Brouwer said Monday. "It's tough to play alongside guys like those because you don't know what you're going to get out of them."
Brouwer's comments come as the Capitals prepare to face Semin and the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night at Verizon Center for the first of five meetings this season.
Semin signed a one-year, $7 million deal with Carolina last summer after spending seven seasons with the Capitals.
The 28-year-old was an enigmatic figure with the Caps, capable of scoring highlight reel goals in bunches one night only to take costly penalties the next. Semin rarely attended optional practices, declined interviews with the media and in recent years started to have his work ethic questioned by former teammates.
Brouwer said it can be frustrating to see a player with tremendous raw talent, but work ethic shortcomings.
"I know there are a lot of guys that work really, really hard to get where they are playing in the NHL, and some guys it's a little bit easier because of their skill-set. Every player's different, every attitude is different and every personality is different. That's why the world is the way it is."
Semin was a six-time 20-goal scorer with the Capitals from 2007-12, but his productivity peaked in 2009-10 with career-highs of 40 goals and 84 points. He followed it up with 54 points in each of the last two years.
"It was tough to lose his scoring ability when he wanted to play," Brouwer said. "But all in all I think we've been doing well without him."
Semin is fifth all-time in franchise history with 197 goals and he is Washington's 14th all-time leading scorer with 408 points in 469 games.
"Obviously you're going to miss a player of that talent," defenseman Karl Alzner said, "but I think we filled the hole that we did have. If we could have him on our team still, that'd be a bonus for us, but we're not that fortunate."
Among Semin's biggest supporters during his tenure with the Capitals was his countryman and team captain Alex Ovechkin. They remain in touch, Ovechkin said, about once a week.
"He read the game, he can pass the puck well he can shoot it and I like playing with him," Ovechkin said. "Sometimes I miss [him]. Right now I don't have any Russian [teammates] who speak [my] language."
Ovechkin added that he isn't surprised to see Semin succeeding in Carolina, where he has four goals and 14 points in 17 games. Semin's plus-10 rating is also second best among Eastern Conference forwards.
Ovenchkin expects Semin to have a big game Tuesday night.
"He [will] just want to show up and tell them like it was a mistake. Every normal player will do it. I think it's going to be good night for both teams tomorrow."
Catch the Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night at 7:05 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com Pregame coverage begins at 6:45 p.m.
Posted on: Saturday 1/12/2013 10:21pm
Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals will open an abbreviated 48-game regular season on the road Saturday, Jan. 19 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The team's 38th home opener is set for Tuesday, Jan. 22 against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Capitals released their schedule Saturday afternoon, shortly after the NHLPA voted in favor of ratifying the new collective bargaining agreement.
The abbreviated schedule is a result of the NHL's 113-day lockout and will see teams play exclusively within their conference.
"It's going be a sprint for sure," says first-year head coach Adam Oates. "But 48 games is still a lot of hockey. And there are a lot of bumps and bruises that go along with that. So I think it's still a long enough period of time to determine that it's a real season."
Oates played during the NHL's only other lockout-shortened season — a 48- game campaign in 1995 with the Boston Bruins — and finished tenth in league scoring that year with 53 points in 48 games.
The 1995 season played out over 15 weeks while this year's schedule is slightly more condensed with the same number of games to be played over a 14-week period.
"Guys know the importance of how quickly this is going to turn around," says forward Troy Brouwer. "Guys are going to have to be in shape because with a shortened season like this if you lose three games in a row out of the gates, you may not make the playoffs and that's right at the beginning of the season."
Washington will face opponents from the Atlantic and Northeast divisions three times each, while meeting divisional rivals Florida and Tampa Bay four times plus Carolina and Winnipeg five times each.
The Capitals are the only team in the NHL that will play three road games this season at Winnipeg's MTS Centre.
An unusual twist to the Capitals schedule has the team playing in Winnipeg on consecutive nights March 21 to 22. The back-to-back games in Winnipeg make up half of Washington's season-high four-game road trip which also includes games against the Pittsburgh Penguins (Tuesday, March 19) and the New York Rangers (Sunday, March 24).
The Capitals will also play consecutive home games against the same opponent when they host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, Feb. 21 and Saturday, Feb. 23.
Other highlights on the Capitals' schedule include a Super Bowl Sunday matchup against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Feb. 3 meeting will be the Penguins' only visit to Verizon Center during the regular season.
The Capitals end the season with a three-game homestand against Winnipeg (April 23), Ottawa (April 25) and Boston (April 27).
The complete Washington Capitals 48-game schedule is included below:
(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
Posted on: Friday 1/11/2013 3:17pm
By: Ben Raby, WTOP.com
ARLINGTON, Va. - Two days after seeing a medical specialist in Michigan, Nicklas Backstrom took part in an informal skate with 14 teammates Friday at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex and said afterwards that he expects to play when the NHL season begins next weekend.
Backstrom was injured Dec. 26 while playing for Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League with initial reports from Russia suggesting that Backstrom suffered a neck injury. There were also rumblings that the Caps' No. 1 center may have suffered his second concussion in less than a year.
The 25-year-old Swede missed 40 games with a concussion last season but Backstrom was relieved to learn this week that this was not another head injury.
"I feel good," Backstrom said after a 75-minute workout.
"I'm one hundred percent. I know [there is] a lot of speculation about what's going on and stuff, but it's something I wanted to check out. So, I went to Michigan and I got it checked out ... No concussion, so we can all be calm," he said.
Backstrom was confident that this was not another concussion. "The hit wasn't as bad as the one last year," he said. But, he decided to see renowned specialist Dr. Jeff Kutcher at the University of Michigan as a precaution.
"I think everyone in the league is going to be more serious about those things because it's your head," he explained. "You only have one head. You can't really do anything about it. You've got to make sure it's a hundred percent so you can perform out there."
Washington won 18 of 40 games without Backstrom in the lineup last season while the power play went 15 for 102 (14.7 percent) in his absence compared to 26 for 143 (18.2 percent) when was in the lineup.
Of the 26 power play goals the Capitals scored with Backstrom in the lineup last season, he had a point on 73 percent of them (three goals and 16 assists).
"That's something you don't want to go through, to be away for 40 games. You don't want to do that. Hopefully that's something I only do once in my career. I'm only looking forward and being positive about everything now."
"It's huge," teammate Roman Hamrlik said of Backstrom's return to the ice.
"He's one of the best players on the team and we need him desperately. It's a big thing to have him," Hamrlik said.
Backstrom enjoyed a solid stint in the KHL before the Dec. 26 injury, with his 10 goals and 25 points in 19 games both ranking second on Dynamo Moscow behind only Alex Ovechkin.
Washington's 2006 first-round pick is anxious though to turn the page and begin working fulltime with first year head coach Adam Oates, a former play-making No. 1 center himself.
"It's great that you can ask him questions and he can give you feedback. That's what we need. I think all of the players need a little bit of feedback so that we can help each other.
He's a smart guy. He was a unique player and a skilled guy, so I'm looking forward to playing [for] him. It's very fortunate for us to have him here as a coach," Backstrom said.
Backstrom and Hamrlik were joined on the ice Friday by forwards Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Joey Crabb, Matt Hendricks, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, Mike Ribeiro and Joel Ward, defensemen Jack Hillen, Tom Poti, Cam Schilling, Jeff Schultz and goalie Braden Holtby.
Forward Brooks Laich skated individually for about 45 minutes Friday morning ahead of his teammates.
(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
Posted on: Thursday 1/10/2013 9:45pm
Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Much has changed in the two years since Tom Poti last played for the Washington Capitals, but the veteran's passion for the game has never wavered.
Poti last played for the Capitals on Jan.12, 2011, when a nagging groin injury and broken pelvis forced him from the Capital's lineup.
The defenseman has since missed 143 games, but on Thursday at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Poti took part in an informal skate with 19 of his teammates as he attempts an improbable NHL comeback.
"I never wanted to give up," Poti told reporters Thursday. "Hockey is my passion and I still love it. I said to myself that I'm going to do everything possible to try to get back and try to get back on the ice and try to play and that's what I did the last two years."
Poti must still pass a physical before he can participate in next week's training camp, but the 35-year-old is confident that he has fully recovered.
"All I'm asking for is a chance," he says. "I don't want anything special, no handouts, no nothing. I just want to go out and play. And if they think I can play and think I can help the team then I'm willing to do whatever it takes."
While Poti was limited to just 21 games in 2010-11, he admits that he may have worsened his condition in trying to return to the lineup later that same season.
"I thought we had the team to do it all that year, so I kind of kept skating, kept myself in shape just in case we made a long run or something and they needed me," Poti says.
"I did more damage to myself by trying to come back that year than I should have. And my stubbornness kind of kept me from maybe playing last year. But you don't have many chances at the Stanley Cup, so it was kind of something I wanted to do and I don't have any regrets from doing it. But that definitely did set me back."
Poti failed his physical ahead of training camp in 2011, and remained at his home in Boston for the entire 2011-12 campaign. His rehab included everything from complete rest (four months without strenuous activity), to physical therapy and even acupuncture.
"It's good news and it's good for him that he's put all the work in," says General Manager George McPhee, who rewarded Poti two seasons ago with a two-year $5.75 million deal.
"I don't know if he's going to be able to play. If he can, that'd be great. I think it's a bit of a long shot, but if he can play, that'd be terrific. We wouldn't have any [salary] cap issues or anything like that, so that would be fine if he could do it."
"George has said all along that ‘if you could come back and play it would be great for us, it would be great for you' and they've never really closed the book on me and I appreciate that a lot," Poti added.
"It definitely helped to know that I had their backing and that they said that if you could get ready and play we'll make room for you. It was huge. I never closed the book on myself either. I could have stayed at home and collected a paycheck and been happy but hockey is what I love to do, it's in my blood and I want to play for as long as I can."
Elsewhere in the health ward
In addition to Tom Poti, Capitals forward Joel Ward is also coming back from offseason surgery. Ward underwent sports hernia surgery in July, but told reporters Thursday that he feels good and is anxious for the season to begin. "You can't worry too much," says Ward on playing in what should be an intense, lockout-shortened season fresh off surgery.
"I think you'll be a step behind if you worry too much. It's going to be very interesting to see how it goes the first couple of days. I think my adrenaline will be going and will take over for a fair bit and I'm just looking forward to getting back and playing. The only thing I never had really (since the surgery) was body contact and that's what I'm kind of looking forward to trying to get involved in, but everything else is good."
Ward had six goals and 18 points in 72 games last season and tied with Karl Alzner for the team lead with a plus-12 rating. He then netted the overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins.
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(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
Posted on: Wednesday 1/9/2013 4:15pm
Ben Raby, wtop.com
ARLINGTON, Va. - Fifteen members of the Washington Capitals took part in an informal skate Wednesday morning at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, but the team's No. 1 center was noticeably absent.
Instead, Nicklas Backstrom was in Michigan to meet with a medical specialist regarding an injury he suffered Dec. 26. Backstrom spent part of the NHL lockout with Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League, but has not played since the injury occurred.
There is still no official word as to what specifically is ailing the 25-year-old Swede. General Manager George McPhee said Tuesday he could not comment on Backstrom's health with the new collective bargaining agreement not yet ratified.
Initial reports suggested that Backstrom suffered a neck injury, although there is growing concern that the he may be suffering from his second concussion in less than a year.
"I think this team revolves around Nicky Backstrom," teammate Troy Brouwer said.
"I think the way he controls the play, controls the puck… When he's out there thinking clearly and making sure he makes smart plays, there aren't many players better than him."
Backstrom missed 40 games with a concussion last season after taking an elbow to the head in a Jan. 3 game against the Calgary Flames. The Caps went 18-16-6 without their No.1 center, who eventually returned to the lineup March 31 against the Montreal Canadiens.
"He has to make sure that he's fully healthy and make sure that he's ready to go because we don't want him to come back early just because it's the start of the season and miss more time," Brouwer said.
"We're anxious to get him back and we're anxious to make sure that he's playing with us, but at the same time, we want a fully healthy Nicky Backstrom because he's a phenomenal player when he is."
Backstrom was the only Capital to average more than a point-per-game last season (44 points in 42 games) and the versatile center has become a key cog in recent years on both of Washington's special teams units.
The Capitals' power play went 15-for-102 (14.7 percent) during Backstrom's 40-game absence last season compared to 26-for-143 (18.2) when he was in the lineup.
Of the 26 power play goals the Capitals scored with Backstrom in the lineup last season, he had a point on 73 percent of them (three goals and 16 assists). Backstrom's value can clearly be quantified, but his teammates also rave about the intangibles he brings which may be harder to measure.
"Nicky is one of our go-to guys in the locker room, go-to guys on the ice," said Matt Hendricks.
"He's a leader on our team and we're going to miss him. Without a doubt- we're going to miss the way he plays and the way he produces."
Backstrom was also enjoying a solid stint in the KHL this year where his 10 goals and 25 points in 19 games both ranked second on the team behind only Alex Ovechkin.
"I think he's doing well. It was not a dirty [hit]," Ovechkin said of the play that caused the injury. "But sometimes it's not hard hit, you just feel a little dizzy. We'll see how it goes."
"I think it's just a situation, you know, it's a contact game, it's a physical game. Even in KHL it's very good level out there. Again, it happens. So nothing you can do ... He just fell and hit into the boards."
(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
Posted on: Tuesday 7/17/2012 8:22am
Ben Raby , wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Defenseman Mike Green has no doubts that he can again produce the offensive numbers that made him one of the NHL's most gifted blueliners from 2008 to 2010.
The Washington Capitals also are banking on the two-time Norris Trophy finalist returning to his old form.
Green and the Caps agreed Monday on a three-year, $18.25 million deal that will keep the restricted free agent in Washington through the 2014-2015 season.
"I think they know what I'm capable of," Green said in a conference call Monday.
"I think, as happy as I am, that they're happy and they know that I'm committed to the hockey team and doing the right things to be the best that I can. It's win-win for everybody."
Green led all NHL defensemen in scoring in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, but injuries have limited the Calgary native to just 81 games combined in the two years since. The 26-year-old has battled head, shoulder and groin injuries and underwent sports hernia surgery last season.
"It was unfortunate the last couple years that I've suffered from injuries," he said.
"But I believe that I'm over them now. I think I got them all out of my system."
Along with the injuries, Green saw his offensive numbers fall drastically. After averaging 1.04 points-per-game from 2008-10, Green averaged just 0.38 PPG the past two years.
But the only active defensemen with multiple 70-point seasons didn't hesitate when asked if he could still produce 70 points in a season.
"A hundred percent and it'll be next year," he said. "There's no question about it. I feel like I'm just getting into my prime."
Earlier in the day, Capitals general manager George McPhee expressed similar optimism in a team-issued release.
"Mike is one of the best young defensemen in the National Hockey League and is just entering his prime. He will continue to be a key part of our team moving forward," McPhee said.
Under new head coach Adam Oates, and with former Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman having signed in Calgary, it's very possible that Green will in fact have ample opportunity to regain his scoring touch.
"I'm excited that Adam is here, actually really excited. From what I've heard and how he likes to coach fits my style of play and also a lot of the other guys. Hopefully there's a balance between [former coaches] Bruce Boudreau and Dale [Hunter]. I think Adam's the guy."
Green, who made $5 million last season, will make $6 million in each of the next two seasons and $6.25 million in the third and final year of his new deal.
Green also acknowledged that he originally sought a two-year deal - which would have offered him a shot at unrestricted free agency at age 28 - but that the Capitals offered him an extra year.
"I want to make sure that I'm healthy and in [a] good state to play in Washington. It's a very energetic team and whatnot. And I wanted to see if they wanted me there still and they did, which was very nice and very comforting."
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
Posted on: Friday 7/13/2012 1:16pm
ARLINGTON, Va. - The Washington Capitals have signed first-round draft pick Filip Forsberg to a three-year contract.
The team announced the deal Friday.
The 17-year-old Forsberg, the 11th overall pick in last month's draft, will earn $832,500 if he plays in the NHL and $70,000 in the AHL.
Forsberg was Sweden's youngest player in the 2012 World Junior Championship. Team Sweden won its first gold medal since 1981 and Forsberg had one assist in six games.
In 43 games with Leksand of Sweden's Senior League last season, Forsberg had eight goals and nine assists.
Forsberg is training with the Capitals in their development camp, and the team says he's expected to play for Leksand again this season.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
Posted on: Tuesday 7/10/2012 10:32am
Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Former Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin remains without a contract for next season and it is not yet known if the Russian sniper will return to the NHL or sign with a team in Russia's KHL.
The 28-year-old became an unrestricted free agent July 1 and is seeking a long- term deal after finishing second on the Caps last season with 21 goals and 54 points in 77 games.
The Carolina Hurricanes are one of the few NHL teams to have publicly expressed interest in Semin's services. Despite the interest, Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford reiterated today on Toronto's Sportsnet Radio Fan 590 that he is not interested in signing Semin to a long-term deal.
"They're aware that we're interested and they're aware that it's a short-term [offer] because we want to get to know him," Rutherford said in the radio interview.
"We all know his ability, but you'd also like to know exactly what you're getting if you're making a big investment...I was willing to go ten years with Jordan Staal but here's another very talented player that right now I'm only willing to go one year with...But in Semin's case, they're aware that we're interested in him but of course at this time they aren't interested in a short-term deal."
Semin's 197 career goals rank fifth all-time in Capitals history but his plays away from the puck and his work ethic have been questioned throughout his career.
"If it's just about money for him then he can go to Russia and make a lot more money than he's going to make here on this contract," Rutherford said.
"This is a guy that's got options, but if he wants to play in the National Hockey League and have a chance to win a Stanley Cup someday then he's obviously going to have to stay here. And I think with we're at and our process of rebuilding our team, adding a guy like Semin would give us a better chance to do that."
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)