Sunday, June 29, 2014

Washington Capitals: The 2014 Draft -- The Morning After

Another NHL draft is in the books, and if the commentary during the televised proceedings yesterday was any indication, all 30 teams will be contending for a Stanley Cup in a few years.  Meanwhile, the cousins and I watched with a keen eye as the Caps drafted five wingers and a goalie, and we have a few comments of our own.

That’s right… five wingers and a goalie.  And they traded up to get that goalie, then traded up again to get a winger with the pick they got in return and… an AHL goalie.

Caps fans are generally of a mind that the team’s needs do not generally involve wingers or goalies, but rather defensemen and centers.  Here are the details…

  • Round 1/13th overall: Jakub Vrana (LW/RW)
  • Round 2/39th overall: Vitek Vanecek (G).  The Caps held the 44th overall pick in the second round but traded it, and the 74th overall pick in the third round, to Buffalo for the 39th overall pick, with which they selected Vanecek.
  • Round 3/89th overall: Nathan Walker (LW).  The Caps traded back into the third round by shipping off their two fourth round spots (104th and 118th overall) to the New York Rangers for the 89th overall pick, with which they selected Walker.
  • Round 4: no pick in this round.
  • Round 5/134th overall: Shane Gersich (LW)
  • Round 6/159th overall: Steven Spinner (C/RW).  The Caps moved up with a trade, but the pick did not appear to be the reason.  Washington moved their sixth round pick (164th overall), one of two seventh round picks (192nd overall), and a seventh round pick in 2015 to Winnipeg for this pick and Eddie Pasquale, a goaltender who played for the St. John’s IceCaps for the past three seasons.
  • Round 7/194th overall: Kevin Elgestal (RW)

So there it is, your 2014 Washington Capitals Draft Class.  Now, to the particulars...  

Washington Capitals fans being the way they are, there will be much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over the next few days, so guys… rend and gnash away.   Let’s start with the top pick, Jakub Vrana.

Fearless:  No rending or gnashing here, cousin.  True, the Capitals expressed a view before the draft that you need to draft your centers.  And, if you look at the Caps’ organization, top to bottom, the only incumbent or prospect top-six center is Nicklas Backstrom, drafted in 2006.  Re-signing Mikhail Grabovski would address that issue in the short term, but the club still has the long term issue of who will be a top-six center 3-5 years down the road.

That said, was there a center available at 13 that the Caps might have reasonably selected ahead of Vrana?  The obvious comparisons are Dylan Larkin, taken two spots later by the Detroit Red Wings, Nick Schmaltz, taken 20th by the Chicago Blackhawks, and Robert Fabbri, taken 21st by the St. Louis Blues.  NHL Central Scouting had all three ranked in the 17-21 range among North American Skaters.  On the other hand, Vrana was ranked fourth among European skaters.  Two of the three ahead of him (William Nylander and Kevin Fiala) had already been selected.

If the club is going to go for the best player available and not for position need, this is what happens.

Cheerless: …

Hey!...Get up!!

Cheerless:  Huh…whut?  Ugh… cheap wine and a Capitals draft ain’t somthin’ you want to put together.  What’re we talkin’ about?

Caps…first round pick…Jakub Vrana…

Cheerless:  Oh…yeah.  What is it with this team and European wingers in early rounds? Since 2010… Evgeny Kuznetsov, Stanislav Galiev, Filip Forsberg, Andre Burakovsky, and now Vrana.  The good is that he has a “very good offensive mind and is hungry from circles down in offensive zone. Good shot and is a player you have to respect because he can score or make a play. Ability to be dangerous quickly. One shot and score capability.”  On the other hand, he “has experienced some bouts of inconsistency in his game and has yet to really develop the defensive awareness that scouts were hoping for…”  Gosh, now who does he sound like?  Maybe another 13th overall draft pick?...

Peerless:  If Caps fans thought that there was going to be a sea change in draft philosophy with the departure of George McPhee, consider this pick pretty solid evidence that it isn’t happening, at least not to start.  Go back through the Caps’ "first" first round picks dating from the selection of Alex Ovechkin in 2004: Ovechkin, Sasha Pokulok, Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner, Anton Gustafsson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, Andre Burakovsky, and now Vrana.  The progression has been toward drafting skilled European forwards with that first pick available.  One would like to think (or, more precisely, hope) that the recent picks – Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Vrana – will develop into top-six wingers.  But the history before that in “first” first round picks is checkered, especially past the lottery picks.  There are, of course, no certainties in the draft, even in the first round.  There are no guarantees, either, but this pick is not outside what we have come to know about drafting by the Caps over the last decade.  The takeaway here might not be the player as much as the process and whether it reflects a business-as-usual approach or a new direction.

Next up…goalies.  Guys, the Caps got two goalies out of this draft, one drafted and the other obtained in a trade that swapped picks.  Any thoughts?

Cheerless: Same ol’, same ol’… 2001, pick a goalie (the late Robert Mueller, may he rest in peace).  2002, pick two goalies (Maxime Daigneault, Robert Gherson).  2004, another goalie (Justin Mrazek).  2005...yup, another goalie (Daren Machesney). 2006, two more goalies (Semyon Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth).  2007…another goalie (Dan Dunn).  2008…goalie (Braden Holtby).  2010…a goalie (Philipp Grubauer).  2011…goalie (Steffen Soberg).  2012…again, a goalie (Sergei Kostenko). 

This year, Vitek Vanecek.  And, they used two picks to move up five spots to get him.  The eighth-ranked European goalie by NHL Central Scouting.  Not one of the seven ahead of him was taken earlier.  The first of the seven ranked ahead of Vanecek was taken 61st overall, 100 spots later, give or take (22, actually).  How about some comparisons.  Last year’s eighth-ranked CSS goaltender was Rene Svoboda.  He was not drafted.  In 2012 it was Igor Ustinsky…undrafted.  2011: Nicklas Lundstrom… fifth round by St. Louis.  2010: Pavel Francouz…undrafted.  2009: Benjamin Conz…undrafted.  Why Vanecek, why burn a draft pick to move up five spots, and did the Caps think that any of Ottawa, New Jersey, Nashville, or Arizona were going to pick him?  None of them picked a goaltender as it turned out, the Caps being the last of four teams to pick a goalie in the span of six spots.  They really loved this guy.

Fearless:  Let’s go back a few years, to Draft Day 2010.  The Caps held the 116th overall pick in the fourth round.  They saw a goalie they wanted, so they packaged that pick and the 146th pick (fifth round) and sent them to the Toronto Maple Leafs to move up… four spots.  They used that pick on Philipp Grubauer, who Caps fans seem to like these days, four years later.  Was Montreal, New Jersey, or Vancouver salivating over Grubauer in 2010?  And, if your memory is cloudy, Grubauer was the 15th ranked North American goalie in that draft (he was playing for Windsor in the OHL). 

Peerless:  The “how” and the “who” are two entirely distinct issues here.  The latter first.  Clearly the Caps saw something in Vitek Vanecek, but what?  Or, perhaps more precisely, “when?”  Let’s start with the fact that he was the eighth-ranked European goalie.  He actually dropped a spot from the Central Scouting mid-term rankings.  Central Scouting is but one scouting source, but it does speak to a lack of volatility in his ranking, that he was not a highly ranked goalie who had a bad second half of the year.  On the other hand, no goalie in the 2014 World U-18 tournament faced more shots than did Vanecek (194 in seven games), and no goalie played more minutes (437).  His overall statistics were not noteworthy (2.74 GAA, .897 save percentage), but he was sturdy enough to help the Czechs to a silver medal. 

As to the “how,” that is the curious part.  First, let’s not make too much out of burning that third round pick in the package to move up and get Vanecek.  Remember, this was not thought to be a particularly deep draft, so a third rounder in 2014 might not have the value of a 2013 third rounder (74th overall pick: John Hayden) or a 2015 third rounder, for that matter.  That said, burning a draft pick for a goalie, even if the Caps have a recent history of this, appears odd.  Look at the goalies for this year’s Stanley Cup semi-finalsts.  Jonathan Quick was a third rounder (72nd overall) in 2005.  Henrik Lundqvist was a seventh rounder in 2000.  Carey Price was a first rounder – a fifth overall pick in 2005, as a matter of fact – but Corey Crawford was a second round pick in 2003.  Looking at it from another perspective, one can find capable goalies in most any year in or after the second round:

  • 2001: Peter Budaj (63rd overall), Craig Anderson (73rd), and Mike Smith (161st)
  • 2002: Josh Harding (38th)
  • 2003: Crawford (52nd), Jimmy Howard (64th), Jaroslav Halak (271st), and Brian Elliott (291st)
  • 2004: Pekka Rinne (258th)
  • 2005: Quick (72nd) and Ben Bishop (85th)
  • 2006: Steve Mason (69th), James Reimer (99th), and Chad Johnson (125th)
  • 2007: none…a really bad year for goalies; none drafted have played as many as a dozen NHL games
  • 2008: Braden Holtby (93rd)
  • 2009: Robin Lehner (46th), Darcy Kuemper, 161st, and for that matter, Eddie Pasquale (117th), the guy the Caps obtained in a later trade on draft day that involved swapping picks

Goalies can be found in the draft.  Maybe Vanacek is the one who makes this list a few years from now, maybe not.  But goalies can be found without expending draft picks.  That said, we get the Caps taking a goalie.  They do this every year (more “same of the same”).  It is the trading up and burning a pick to do it that is confounding.  Perhaps Vanecek is the next Michal Neuvirth (taken 34th in 2006, 159 NHL games, including playoffs).  Or maybe he is the next Jeff Frazee (taken 38th by New Jersey in 2005, one NHL game played).  We won’t know for a while.  Keep in mind, Philipp Grubauer was drafted in 2010, and only now, with the 2014-2015 season approaching, are we thinking of him as the full-time starter with the Hershey Bears and possibly a back-up in Washington.

What did you guys think about the rest of the draft?

Fearless:  Well, it seems every pick has a story.  Nathan Walker, born in Wales, raised in Australia, played in the Czech Republic, took a turn in the Caps’ development camp in 2013, signed with Hershey last season. His is quite a journey.  Shane Gersich has a pretty good pedigree, what with the Broten brothers being uncles  Steven Spinner is a high-schooler, but his selection might the understory of that pick.  The Caps got a backup for Grubauer in Hershey as part of the trade for the pick that netted Spinner.  It seems only Kevin Elgestal lacks a story line as the Caps’ last pick in the 2014 draft.

Cheerless:  zzzzzzzzzzz…

Peerless:  Guess yesterday was just too much for him.  Actually, Fearless, you missed a story line with young Mr. Elgestal.  When he was taken with the 194th pick, the Caps continued a curious avoidance of drafting Canadians.  Going back over their last 19 picks dating back to the selection of Thomas DiPauli (USA) with the 100th overall pick in 2012, the Caps drafted only three Canadians – Jaynen Rissling (2012), Madison Bowey (2013), and Tyler Lewington (2013).  In the meantime, the Caps have taken nine Americans among those 19 picks:

  • Thomas DiPauli
  • Austin Wuthrich
  • Connor Carrick
  • Riley Barber
  • Zach Sanford
  • Blake Heinrich
  • Brian Pinho
  • Shane Gersich
  • Steven Spinner

The Caps have not taken more than two Canadians in any draft since 2009 (four).  We don’t want to make too much of that other than being just one of the trivial story lines that attach to the draft.

In the end…

This draft looks like any other of those since the 2004-2005 lockout for the Caps.  Of the 67 draft picks taken from 2005 through last year, the Caps selected:

  • 15 centers, three of whom would be moved to wing (Filip Forsberg, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov), five of whom were taken in the first round (Forsberg, Johansson, Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Anton Gustafsson)
  • 20 wingers, two of whom were taken in the first round (Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson)
  • 24 defensemen, four of whom were taken in the first round (two of whom are cornerstones – John Carlson and Karl Alzner – two of whom are not…Sasha Pokulok and Joe Finley)
  • 8 goaltenders, one of whom was taken in the first round (Semyon Varlamov)

This year, five forwards (no pure centers) and a goalie.  Although the team seems to have the idea that you need to draft your centers, for the nine drafts preceding this one the Caps have not found an answer to their hole at center except for a lottery pick in 2006 (Backstrom).  In those same nine drafts they have not addressed persistent lack of depth on defense, either.  It would seem that 2014 is no different.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider that none of the players drafted this past weekend are likely to contribute to the big club for years to come, if at all.  However, not having done so in previous drafts reduces the Caps to having to fill such deficiencies years later through trades or free agent signings.  That has not worked, either.  The holes remain from positions not being adequately addressed in drafts past.

Yesterday was not about filling holes in the here and now, in 2014.  It was about what this team might look like in 2019, although it still looks like it has a hole in the middle.  It did serve as a reminder that there are those holes that need filling now and that there is a lot of work to be done over the next three months to opening night of the 2014-2015 season.  For the future, we are left with hope that actions taken yesterday bear fruit five years from now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Washington Capitals: The Peerless Prognosticator Brings You the Mockiest of the 2014 Mock Drafts

It’s time for The Peerless’ peerless prognostication for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.  The draft, which will be held this Friday and Saturday in the cheesesteaky, soft pretzelly goodness that is south Philadelphia at CoreStates/First Union/Wachovia/Wells Fargo Center, is a celebration of hope, an orgy of optimism, a carnival of cheerfulness.

Actually, we eagerly anticipate the reception the Phans of Philly will bestow upon Commissioner Gary Bettman as he confidently strides to the podium to announce the first overall selection.  If those folks would boo Santa Claus, well, it should be entertaining.

The object of the exercise, though, is for 30 young men to model the latest in NHL on-ice fashion as those chosen in the first round of the draft.  And so we offer you our scientific take* on who will go where when the teams take their turns on the clock on Friday night.  When the booing of the Commish fades, here is how the first round will unfold.

1.  Florida Panthers -- Aaron Ekblad, D (Barrie/OHL)

2.  Buffalo Sabres – Sam Reinhart, C (Kootenay/WHL)

3.  Edmonton Oilers – Sam Bennett, C (Kingston/OHL)

4.  Calgary Flames – Leon Draisaitl, C (Prince Albert/WHL)

5.  New York Islanders – Michael Dal Colle, LW (Oshawa/OHL)

6.  Vancouver Canucks – Nicholas Ritchie, LW (Peterborough/OHL)

7.  Carolina Hurricanes – William Nylander, RW (Sodertalje/SWE-2)

8.  Toronto Maple Leafs – Jake Virtanen, LW (Calgary/WHL)

9.  Winnipeg Jets – Nikolaj Ehlers, LW (Halifax/QMJHL)

10.  Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa) – Haydn Fleury, D (Red Deer/WHL)

11.  Nashville Predators – Brendan Perlini, LW (Niagara/OHL)

12.  Arizona Coyotes – Kasperi Kapanen, RW (Kalpa/FIN)

13.  Washington Capitals – Kevin Fiala, LW (HV-71 Jr./SWE-JR)

14.  Dallas Stars – Alex Tuch, RW (USA-U18/USHL)

15.  Detroit Red Wings – Jared McCann, C (Sault Ste. Marie/OHL)

16.  Columbus Blue Jackets – Julius Honka, D (Swift Current/WHL)

17.  Philadelphia Flyers – Sonny Milano, LW (USA-U18/USHL)

18.  Minnesota Wild – Dylan Larkin, C (USA-U18/USHL)

19.  Tampa Bay Lightning – Robert Fabbri, C (Guelph/OHL)

20.  San Jose Sharks --  Anthony DeAngelo, D (Sarnia/OHL)

21.  St. Louis Blues – Thatcher Demko, G (Boston College/Hockey East)

22.  Pittsburgh Penguins – David Pastrnak, RW (Sodertalje (SWE-2)

23.  Colorado Avalanche – Adrian Kempe, LW (Modo Jr./SWE-JR)

24.  Anaheim Ducks – Jack Dougherty, D (NTDP-18/USA)

25.  Boston Bruins – Ivan Barbashev, LW (Moncton/QMJHL)

26.  Montreal Canadiens – Jakub Vrana, C (Linkoping/SWE-2)

27.  Chicago Blackhawks – Nikita Scherbak, LW (Saskatoon/WHL)

28.  Tampa Bay Lightning (from NY Rangers) – Roland McKeown, D (Kingston/OHL)

29.  Los Angeles Kings – Brendan Lemieux, LW (Barrie/OHL)

30.  New Jersey Devils – Joshua Ho-Sang (C/RW (Windsor/OHL)

This looks like a draft that has no “generational” player, but rather a consistently well thought of top-five in Ekblad, Reinhart, Draisaitl, Bennett and Dal Colle.  Ekblad was the consensus first overall pick in the mock drafts we looked at, and Dal Colle showed up almost without exception at number five.  In between the other three players jockeyed for position, but almost without exception were in the 2-4 slots.

As for the Capitals, they will likely be in a no-man’s land part of the draft.  The 11-15 neighborhood since the 2004-2005 lockout has produced such players as Anze Kopitar (11th overall in 2005), Ryan McDonagh (12th overall in 2007), and Erik Karlsson (15th overall in 2008), stars all.  It has also offered up Marek Zagrapan (13th overall in 2005), Kyle Beach (11th overall in 2008), and Derek Forbort  (15th overall in 2010), none of whom have dressed for an NHL game to date.

Over that same period the Caps have had only one draft pick in this neighborhood, that being Sasha Pokulok (selected 15th overall) in 2005.  Even though the lack of changes in the front office make the Caps’ recent draft history more relevant than it might be if there had been wholesale changes, there just is not a lot to go on here.

Kevin Fiala fell out of the chute to the Caps on the basis of the way we compiled the assorted mock drafts, not as the product of keen analysis (hey, did that ever stop us?).  But this pick does make some sense.  The under-25 group at left wing at the moment look to be Marcus Johansson (a converted center), Evgeny Kuznetsov (who might be called upon to play center, given the Caps lack of organizational depth at the position), and Andre Burakovsky.  And after the top three centers in this draft (Reinhart, Bennett, and Draisaitl) the talent seems to drop off quite a bit.

As for defense, another position on the Caps’ “to-fill” list, it would appear that Julius Honka would be available if the team chooses to go in that direction.  His would be a logical pick here for similar reasons to those of Fiala.  While both are a bit undersized for their position, they share a quality that seems to be gaining importance in the way the game is being played in the NHL – speed.  For example, Goran srubb, NHL Director of European Scouting said of Fiala
"He impressed with his explosive skating, great puck-handling skills and overall quickness and speed. He has great offensive instincts and is full of surprises in the offensive zone…”

NHL Central Scouting’s Peter Sullivan had this to say about Honka…
“Let’s just say that when you go to a game and you see his name in the lineup, you’re excited to watch the game because he’s got about four or five different gears. You think he’s just skating normally and he puts it in another gear, then another gear…”

There are a host of other concrete reasons to look hard at Honka as well.  Whether Fiala or Honka, both have size issues, but the Capitals had one of the bigger teams in the NHL in recent seasons.  It has not been a harbinger of success.

*  If by “scientific” you mean “look at a bunch of other mock drafts and mash them all up.”

Washington Capitals: A Look Back at a Silly Little Draft Post

We were rummaging through some odd posts we made on some other Web sites before we became respectable and established this site that is read by several each day.  One of them was our take on the 2006 draft, the one that netted the Caps Nicklas Backstrom in the first round.  We prognostified something, well...different.  Which is to say...ok, "stupid" in a number of cases...

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR! Yes, he’s back, he’s rested, he’s as incomprehensible as ever. And for your edification, enjoyment, and excitement, he brings you the only mock draft you’ll ever need. The Peerless prefaces all of this by remarking that he has seen exactly NONE of these players in person, but it’s not like he’s going to get fired for any especially boneheaded picks (but being Peerless, we don’t have to worry about that, do we?). So, here we go . . . as always, do not use these picks for any cash wagers, it just cuts into my take . . .

1. St. Louis . . . “With the first pick overall in the 2006 National Hockey League Amateur Entry Draft, the St. Louis Blues select . . . defenseman, Erik Johnson.” Well, that was a surprise, wasn’t it? He’s at the top of just about every meaningful prospect list. Who am I to argue?

Squirrelly (or just plain Silly) Trade Possibility . . . St. Louis trades the #1 pick to Philadelphia for the Flyers' first, Ben Eager, and Mike Richards. Philadelphia selects Erik Johnson. St. Louis selects Mark Mitera with the Flyers’ pick.

2. Pittsburgh . . . Phil Kessel, C. If the Penguins draft any more centers, they’ll start to look like the center-crazed Flyers. Kessel can be a wing, he can be a thigh and a breast, he can be fryer parts for all the Penguins care . . . they need a goal-scorer, and this guy also provides insurance against a Malkin no-show.

STP . . . Pittsburgh trades the #2 pick to Phoenix for the Coyotes' first and Enver Lisin. Pittsburgh selects Kyle Okposo, Phoenix selects Kessel.

3. Chicago . . . Jordan Staal, C. The Hawks would go for Kessel, if available, but The Peerless, if you’ve read this far, has Kessel gone by now. So, the Hawks go for a player with some degree of name recognition. They need it; folks are starting to wonder if the Hawks have moved.

STP . . . Chicago trades the #3 pick to Colorado for the Avalanche's first and second picks this year and a first next year. Colorado selects Staal, Chicago selects Artem Anisimov with the Avalanche pick.

4. Washington . . . Jonathan Toews, C. There is a temptation to select Niklas Backstrom with this pick, but the Caps used their top three picks last year -- Sasha Pokulok, Joe Finley, Andrew Thomas - on NCAA players. Maybe it’s a GPA thing.

STP . . . Washington trades the #4 pick to Nashville for Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Nashville selects Backstrom.

5. Boston . . . Niklas Backstrom, C. Boston needs forwards. Lucky for them, the best player left is a forward.

STP . . . Boston trades the #5 pick to Vancouver for Todd Bertuzzi, Vancouver’s 3rd rounder in this draft (82nd overall) and a second rounder in 2007. Why? Why not?

6. Columbus . . . Peter Mueller, C. This selection fulfills a childhood desire to dress up in a red, white and blue sweater with a bug on it.

STP . . . Columbus trades Jan Hrdina to Washington for Dainius Zubrus. The trade hockey fans across the continent have been waiting for over the past five years is finally consummated.

7. NY Islanders . . . Derick Brassard, C. Mike Milbury is seen being physically restrained by Islanders staff in his efforts to get to the podium and announce the selection of Eeku Heikkinen (The Peerless’ choice for the best name in the draft). Fans can hear shrieks of ‘EEEEEEEEK-oo EEEEEEEEK-oo” from the wings.

STP . . . The Islanders trade Alexei Yashin to the California Golden Seals for a conditional draft pick. It is three days before the league realizes there is a problem here.

8. Phoenix . . . Jiri Tlusty, LW. As Gary Bettman experiences difficulty with the microphone, Wayne Gretzky offers assistance . . . “you have to take the microphone thusly.” This is recorded as the Coyotes’ selection, and thusly, Tlusty is selected.

STP . . . Phoenix trades Paul Mara to Washington for the Capitals’ two second round picks in this draft (34th and 35th overall picks), just so Mara can hear Alex Ovechkin describe over and over how he scored that goal after Mara was draped all over him last January.

9. Minnesota . . . Kyle Okposo, RW. Seems a pretty good fit for Jacques Lemaire’s club. And, he hails from St. Paul. They can keep an eye on him while he’s at U-Minn.

STP . . . The Wild trade Marian Gaborik to Atlanta for Andy Sutton and Jim Slater, which will allow journalists to use the line all year, “goal scored by Marian (Gaborik) from Marian (Hossa).

10. Florida . . . Bryan Little, C. It would figure that Florida has four forwards (Roberts, Nieuwendyk, Gelinas, Stumpel) with an average age of 37. The team meal is the early bird at Stuckey’s.

STP . . . Florida trades Roberto Luongo to Detroit for the rights to the last production Hummer H1.

11. Los Angeles . . . Michael Frolik, RW. The sports headlines write themselves in Tinsel Town . . . “Frolik Frolics with Terrific Tally in Final Frame.”

STP . . . Los Angeles trades this pick and an opportunity to be adopted by Angelina Jolie to St. Louis for the #1 overall pick.

12. Atlanta . . . James Sheppard, LW. What with Peter Bondra a sure bet to return to DC (...two, three, four), the Thrashers need to be thinking about the future.

STP . . . Atlanta trades this pick to Carolina for Cory Stillman in the hopes that the Cup will follow him around the Southeast Division.

13. Toronto . . . Bob Sanguinetti, D. With Carlo Colaiacovo, these two constitute the most inches of jersey name plate for defensemen in the National Hockey League. If you can’t have a cup in 40 years, you can have something.

STP . . . The Leafs don’t make any trades, secure in the thought that they have all the ingredients they need to assume their rightful place as Stanley Cup champions. Leafs’ personnel are led out of GM Place in straight-jackets.

14. Vancouver . . . Chris Stewart, RW. Bye Todd.

STP . . . Vancouver trades Todd Bertuzzi to Colorado for “future considerations.” Hilarity ensues.

15. Tampa Bay . . . Jonathan Bernier, G. When the coach kneecaps one goalie with his comments and doesn’t particularly want to play the other one, you’ve got a “situation.” Tampa will be sniffing for a goalie in trade or an FA, but they need a longer term solution, too.

STP . . . Tampa trades this pick to Dallas for the Stars first in this draft (27th) and Vojtek Polak. Tampa selects Riku Helenius, Dallas picks Cory Emmerton.

16. Montreal . . . Nigel Williams, D. Montreal has a lot of young guys, but seems to lack a guy to compliment Mike Komisarek as a physical presence, and Williams seems to have more offensive upside.

STP . . . Montreal offers this pick, their first rounders for the next three years, Chris Higgins, Alexander Perezhogin, and a brick from the old Forum to Pittsburgh for Sidney Crosby. The Pens say, “no thanks,” but do offer Shane Endicott for that package.

17. Minnesota . . . Riku Helenius, G. To get in line behind Josh Harding.

STP . . . The Wild trade their butt-fugly jerseys for burlap wheat sacks with arm holes cut out. It starts a trend.

18. Colorado . . . Cory Emmerton, C. I saw a picture of this kid and wondered if his voice has changed yet.

STP . . . Colorado trades Steve Konowalchuk to Washington for Jonas Johansson and a second round pick in 2007. Konowalchuk retires to collect hub caps in Telluride.

19. Anaheim . . . Ty Vishart, D. Well-regarded prospect pool, but another defenseman can’t hurt.

STP . . . The Ducks trade the term “mighty” for another adjective . . . “dead,” “lame,” and “Peking” are rejected.

20. San Jose . . . Patrik Berglund, C. Insurance against losing a top center down the road to free agency.

STP . . . No thanks, we’re fine.

21. NY Rangers . . . Chris Summers, D. Larry Brooks would rather the Rangers just buy a forward as a long term strategy (he pretty much makes this point in his blurb in The Hockey News). Hey, here’s an idea . . . draft somebody.

STP . . . What?! Whaddya mean the Blue Jackets won’t take Colton Orr for Rick Nash?!?!

22. Philadelphia . . . Mark Mitera, D. At least he won’t be a free-standing sculpture suitable for display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

STP . . . Philadelphia trades this pick to Houston for Yao Ming.

23. Washington . . . Artem Anisimov, C. OK, it’s a stretch, but his name is an anagram for “A Vomit Seminar.” Here’s hoping that’s his effect on opponents with sick skills and not fans.

STP . . . The Caps trade the 34th and 35th picks in this draft to Vancouver for the 14th overall pick. Washington picks Nigel Williams, Vancouver picks Michael Grabner and Mike Forney.

24. Buffalo . . . Dennis Persson, D. Not a deep team at this position, now or down the road. Unless you’re thinking “Norris” and “Nathan Paetsch” should occupy the same sentence, in which case . . . seek help.

STP . . . A three way deal . . . Buffalo sends a 2-CD set of highlights of their second round playoff series to Ottawa for an autographed picture of John Muckler. Buffalo sends the picture to the Islanders for a puck signed by Ted Nolan.

25. New Jersey . . . Ryan White, C. One of the class of player referred to as “two way forward.” Calgary probably would have taken this guy with the next pick . . . nyah, nyah.

STP . . . OK, so let’s go with that. New Jersey and Calgary trade places for the cost of the Flames’ second rounder (59th overall). Calgary takes White, Jersey takes Michael Grabner with the 26th pick.

26. Calgary . . . Michael Grabner, RW. Fast and a scorer. Calgary was 28th in goals scored this year. They could use some help there, even if this guy won’t contribute for a few years yet.

STP . . . I’ll go with that New Jersey one.

27. Dallas . . . Ondrej Fiala, C. I hope you’ll pardon me for a moment. I sprained my face trying to pronounce his name.

STP . . . No, the Stars are not taking Terrell Owens off your hands, Tuna.

28. Ottawa . . . Yuri Alexandrov, D. Hey, does it matter? Really? They have the most talent in the league and go toes up every spring.

STP . . . trade some speed for heart.

29. Detroit . . . David Fischer, D. At least they won’t need to sew a new name plate on the jersey when Jiri has to leave the game much too soon.

STP . . . Kirk Maltby for a case of glucosamine to keep Chelios upright this year.

30. St. Louis . . . Nick Foligno, LW. Pretty good blood lines; his father was a gritty sort. With as much skill as the Blues need, they’ll need this, too.

STP . . . Trade this pick and the #1 overall this year, plus Timofei Shishkanov (who The Peerless picked solely on the basis of liking to say, “Timofei Shishkanov”) and a 2007 second round pick to Pittsburgh for Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh selects Erik Johnson and Eric Gryba.

And, the most intriguing player perhaps in this draft is a 6’2”, 180 pound center out of Russia described by Central Scouting as having “excellent vision ... soft hands - a very good passer and playmaker … very good puck control … has a good selection of shots. very good over-all skill level …Physical, tall and hard working forward.” He is the 30th ranked European skater at Central Scouting, perhaps a middle-round pick.

Viktor Tikhonov, the grandson of the Soviet coaching legend.

Happy Draft Day, Caps fans!!!

Yes...Happy Draft Day, Caps fans.  We'll be posting something about this year's draft soon.

Washington Capitals: The 2013-2014 Season -- Ten Games that Mattered: Milestones, Part II

In looking at ten games that mattered to the Washington Capitals in the 2013-2014 season, we covered those ten that mattered in the team’s fortunes, and we covered those first five in the 2013 portion of the season that mattered in terms of individual milestones.  Now, we close out the “Games That Mattered” series with games from the 2014 portion of the season in which individual milestones were reached.

February 8, 2014: Washington 3 – New Jersey 0

When the Capitals hosted the New Jersey Devils on February 8th, it would be their last game before the break for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  The Caps were struggling heading into the break, stuck in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and 13th place in the Eastern Conference, but just three points out of seventh place.  Every point mattered.  They mattered to the Devils, too, who were tied with the Caps in standings points.  It meant that this game played like a playoff game, or perhaps just a boring game.  The teams were scoreless through two periods, Braden Holtby stopping all 19 shots he faced, and Cory Schneider turning aside all 16 shots coming his way.

Ten minutes of the third period elapsed without either team lighting the lamp.  Then, the Caps had a faceoff in the Devils’ end to the left of Schneider.  Nicklas Backstrom won the draw from Adam Henrique back to Patrick Wey at the right point.  Wey sent the puck D-to-D to Julien Brouillette at the left point.  Brouillette walked the puck down the left wing boards a couple of steps, then wristed the puck at the New Jersey net.  Martin Erat waved at the puck looking for a deflection but had the effect of distracting Schneider just enough to allow the puck to sail by his blocker and in for Brouillette’s first NHL goal.

That would be all that Holtby would need, but there were still a couple of milestones to record.  Martin Erat got his first goal of the season (only his second with the Caps) into an empty net with 1:47 left.  It was enough time for the Devils to pull their goalie again and for the Caps to make them pay again.  It started with the Devils’ Marek Zidlicky trying to backhand the puck up ice from just outside his own blue line to teammate Jon Merrill at the red line. Merrill and the Caps’ Troy Brouwer jostled for the puck, Brouwer prying it out from Merrill’s skates along the wall near the players’ bench and flipping it into the air toward the Devils’ net.  Zidlicky tried to knock it out of mid-air, but swung and missed, the puck settling into the back of the net for Brouwer’s 100th NHL goal in the 3-0 Caps win.

Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

March 1, 2014: Washington 4 – Boston 2

The Caps embarked on what would be a grueling March schedule by visiting the Boston Bruins, carrying a three-game winning streak to Beantown.  Things do not come easy for visitors to Boston, but the Caps did have their highly-ranked power play in their corner.  It cashed in late in the first period.  If you ordered it in a bar, you would have asked for “the usual.”  In this case it was Nicklas Backstrom off the right wing wall to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle for a one-timer that beat goalie Tuukka Rask to the short side.  It was Ovechkin’s 799th career point.

He got number 800 early in the second period on another power play.  It was “the usual” with a twist.  It started when goalie Braden Holtby skated into the corner to his right to play the puck up the wall to Joel Ward.  After skating the puck down the right wing to the Boston blue line, Ward sent the puck to Marcus Johansson in the middle.  Johansson took a step in, then backhanded a pass to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle for a one-timer that knuckled over Rask’s left shoulder to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.

Then it was time for someone else to reach a milestone.  Mid-way through the second period the Bruins won a center ice faceoff.  The puck came back to Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who tried to slide it off to his partner, Matt Bartkowski.  However, Joel Ward stepped between them and stole the puck, breaking in on Rask.  As Ward skated in Rask overcommitted to his left, leaving it only for Ward to pull the puck to his backhand and slide it past Rask’s extended right pad to make it 3-0.  It was Ward’s 18th goal of the season, setting a new career high.  It would be the game-winning tally in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Bruins.

Photo: Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

March 5, 2014: Philadelphia 6 – Washington 4

The Caps win over Boston on March 1st tied their longest winning streak of the season – four games.  It did not get to five.  The Philadelphia Flyers put an end to the fun with a 5-4- overtime win on March 2nd in which the Caps blew a 4-2 lead in the third period.  The Caps had a chance to get even in the back half of the home-and-home in Philadelphia on March 5th.

It did not go well, especially at first.  The Flyers jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the game was 32 minutes old, chasing starting goaltender Braden Holtby. Then the Caps mounted a charge.  Barely two minutes after the Flyers’ fourth goal the Caps scored on a power play.  It was an innocent enough looking play, starting when Jason Chimera took the puck off the left wing wall and passed it out to Alex Ovechkin at the left wing point.  Ovechkin passed across to Mike Green at the opposite point where Green faded back and wristed a shot at the Flyers’ net.  Goalie Steve Mason seemed to have the shot lined up, but defenseman Andy McDonald might have gotten his hand on the puck as it was sailing by, deflecting it just enough to elude Mason and get the Caps on the board.  For Chimera it was his 300th point in the NHL. The odd part of the moment was that the goal was originally credited to Joel Ward, thus taking Chimera off the scoring line (Green and Ovechkin with the original assists).

After Alex Ovechkin got the Caps within two 6:35 into the third period, the Caps struck again just 2:50 later.  Late in a 4-on-4 situation, Troy Brouwer got things going when, from his own blue line, he sent the puck up to Jack Hillen just as he was being spilled to the ice when his skate and that of Claude Giroux got tangled up.  Hillen chased down the puck along the back wall and nudged it along to Nicklas Backstrom.  Coming out from behind the Flyers net Backstrom returned the puck to Hillen at the right wing wall along the goal line extended. 

As this was going on the Flyers lost track of Brouwer, last seen tumbling to the ice at his own blue line.  He got up and made his way back on the weak side of the play.  It was there that Hillen found him with a pass that Brouwer one-timed past Mason to get the Caps within a goal at 4-3.  For Brouwer it was his 200th NHL point.  It would be as close as the Caps would get, though.  After the Flyers and Caps exchanged goals mid-way through the period the Flyers cashed in on an empty net goal with 52 seconds left for the 6-4 win.

Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

March 14, 2014: Washington 4 – Vancouver 3

The Caps needed a win…badly.  Losers of five of their previous six games (1-4-1), including both ends of a home-and-home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps took the ice against the Vancouver Canucks.  The Canucks were made to order for the struggling Caps.  They had a 2-4-1 record in tier previous seven games, their wins coming against hapless Calgary and Winnipeg. 

It was the Caps getting the early lead on a goal by Joel Ward.  It was matched, however, by a Vancouver goal by Jordan Schroeder barely three minutes later.  That was how the teams went to the first intermission, an interlude that would be followed by “The Evgeny Kuznetsov Show.”  Seven minutes into the second period Vancouver’s Tom Sestito made the mistake of hooking Tom Wilson, not for how Wilson might respond (he didn’t), but for what followed with Sestito in the penalty box.  A minute into the ensuing power play Joel Ward won a faceoff in the Canucks’ end back to John Carlson at the right point.  Carlson fed the puck to Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer that sailed high and wide past goalie Eddie Lack.  The puck skittered along the glass, dropping at the feet of Kuznetsov along the right wing boards.  He fed Carlson, and Carlson gave Ovechkin another chance.  He did not miss, one-timing the puck past Lack to give the Caps the lead and Kuznetsov his first NHL point.

Then fans got a glimpse of Kuznetsov’s vision and skill.  It started in the Caps’ end when Mike Green sent the puck across to Jack Hillen.  From there Hillen sent the puck ahead to Jay Beagle heading out of the defensive zone.   At the red line Beagle fed Kuznetsov at the Canucks’ blue line in front of the players’ bench.  After taking a couple of steps down the left wing Kuznetsov would up for a slap shot.  However, with Beagle charging for the net a passing lane opened up, and Kuznetsov took advantage of it, hitting Tom Wilson in stride with a pass.  Wilson snapped the puck over Lack’s glove and in to give the Caps a 3-1 lead 12:35 into the second period.

The two-goal lead did not hold up, though.  Vancouver scored a pair of goals 3:06 apart early in the third period to tie the game.  The tie would not last another three minutes.  Kuznetsov did the heavy lifting, working the puck around the back of the Vancouver net with Canuck defenseman Alexander Edler hanging on.  He put on the brakes in the left wing corner, spun the other way and hit Nicklas Backstrom at the near post.  Backstrom circled back around the Vancouver net and found Mike Green at the top of the right wing circle.  Green slid to his left, then wristed the puck through a clot of bodies past Lack to give the Caps their last lead of the night, Kuznetsov getting his third point of the contest.  When it was over, Kuznetsov had his first NHL point and first multi-point game in the Caps’ 4-3 win.

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

March 30, 2014: Nashville 4 – Washington 3 (OT/SO)
April 13, 2014: Tampa Bay 1 - Washington 0 (OT/SO)

The last “game” that mattered individually among the Capitals in their 2013-2014 season is a two-fer, a reminder of the passage of time.  On March 30th Mike Green appeared in his 500th NHL game.  It was a long night for the nine-year veteran.  He led all players for both teams with 34:08 of ice time, the most ice time he logged all season by more than three minutes and a career high in the regular season.  He also had an assist on the evening, but the Caps dropped a 4-3 trick shot competition to the Nashville Predators.

When Nicklas Backstrom took the ice on April 13th against Tampa Bay, it was his 82nd game of the season.  In doing so he became the third player in franchise history to appear in 82 games four times in his career, tying Dale Hunter and Brook Laich for the all-time franchise lead.  It was the first time he played in all 82 games of a season since the 2009-2010 campaign.  For Backstrom it was as frustrating a night as it was for everyone else, given that no goals were scored by either team in the hockey portion of the evening.  He did tie for the team lead in shots, though, and won 12 of 20 faceoffs in addition to tying for the team lead in blocked shots (three).

Photo: John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

And with that the 2013-2014 season is over so far as our look back is concerned.  It was a disappointing season, but one that had its moments, too.  Let’s hope there are more good ones than bad ahead as we look forward to the 2014-2015 season.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Washington Capitals: The 2013-2014 Season -- Ten Games that Mattered: Milestones, Part I

Last Friday we wrapped up our look at ten games that mattered in the 2013-2014 season for the Washington Capitals.  Seven wins, three losses on the road to what would be a disappointing season.  Those were games that mattered in the schedule.  But there were ten other games that mattered from an individual standpoint, milestone achievements in the careers of several Capitals that deserve a measure of recognition.  In Part I we look at the milestones achieved in the 2013 portion of the season.

October 14, 2013:  Washington 4 – Edmonton 2

It was one of those plays on which a player knows his place.  The Caps had just taken a 2-1 lead over the Oilers ten minutes into the second period when they worked the puck in the Oiler zone three minutes later.  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin combined to work the puck off the wall in the left wing corner, nudging it out to the top of the left wing circle.  Marcus Johansson cocked his stick as if to attempt a one-timer, but yielded to Ovechkin coming off the wall. 

Ovechkin curled around Johansson and fired a shot that went wide.  Johansson, who filled in on the weak side as Ovechkin circled to the middle for his shot, continued around the net to put himself in position to collect the errant shot.  Johansson followed along the wall until he had a passing lane to Ovechkin.  His pass was one-timed past goalie Jason LaBarbera to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.  It was the game-winning goal and Johansson’s 100th NHL point.

November 2, 2013: Washington 3 – Florida 2 (OT/SO)

The Panthers had just tied their contest with the Caps at a goal apiece eight minutes into the second period.  But just 36 seconds later the Capitals got the lead back.  It started when the Caps pressured Scott Gomez into giving up the puck in the offensive end.  Michael Latta scooped it up and turned up ice.  Latta carried it all the way into the Florida end where, from the left wing, he spotted John Carlson cruising down the middle.  Latta slid the puck across, and Carlson wristed it over goalie Scott Clemmensen’s blocker to restore the Caps’ lead, record his first goal of the season, and mark the ledger with his 100th NHL point.

It was a lead the Caps could not hold. Tomas Fleischmann scored on a power play with less than three minutes left in regulation time to tie the game.  The Caps, however, made good on all three attempts in the freestyle portion of the contest, and they had the second of what would be a four-game winning streak to open November.

November 5, 2013: Washington 6 – New York Islanders 2

The Caps and Islanders spent the first 25 minutes going back and forth.  The Isles opened the scoring in the first period, then the Caps hit for a pair 75 seconds apart early in the second period.  The Islanders tied the game just 17 seconds after the Caps’ second goal, and it looked as if this would be a high scoring game.  It would be, but not for both teams.  Marcus Johansson gave the Caps the lead 6:50 into the second period, setting up the critical moment. 

Tom Wilson started it by skating the puck out of his own end up the left wing.  At his own blue line he backhanded a cross-ice pass to Steve Oleksy, who carried it down the right side.  When Oleksy gained the offensive zone he passed the puck back to Wilson heading for the net.  Wilson received the puck but was hooked off his skates by a diving John Tavares just as Wilson was going to shoot.  The puck followed the sliding Wilson, enabling him to fling the puck out from the seat of his pants through the legs of the Isles Josh Bailey and out to Alexander Urbom.  From the top of the left wing circle Urbom let fly with a slap shot that beat goalie Evgeni Nabokov for Urbom’s first goal with the Caps and Wilson’s first NHL point.  

The game turned into a laugher from there, the Caps carrying a 5-2 lead into the third period.  With the clock ticking down to four minutes left the Caps had one more score left in them.  With Thomas Hickey in the box on a holding penalty, the Caps had a faceoff to Nabokov’s right.  Mikhail Grabovski would take the draw, Alex Ovechkin was at the top of the circle, and Tom Wilson was on the left wing hash marks.  Grabovski fought Casey Cizikas to a draw on the faceoff, allowing Ovechkin to step up and gather the puck.  Wilson circled out and around the faceoff circle and filled in the slot.  As Ovechkin inched down the wall he spied a lane to Wilson and used it.  Wilson redirected Ovechkin’s pass past Nabokov for his first NHL goal.  Wilson would complete the “Tom Wilson Hat Trick” with a ten-minute misconduct penalty with seven seconds left.  What a night… first point, first goal, first misconduct penalty.

November 12, 2013: Washington 4 – Columbus 3 (OT)

If you are going to score a milestone goal, make it count.  That was the case when the Caps hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets in November.  The Jackets appeared to be in position to steal a game from the Caps, scoring two goals less than three minutes apart mid-way through the third period to take a 3-2 lead.  But the visitors didn’t have quite so firm a grip on that lead. 

With less than two minutes left the Caps were pressuring the Columbus net.  Nate Schmidt fired a shot from the left wing circle that was deflected, but not past goalie Sergey Bobrovsky.  Joel Ward jumped on the loose puck and sent it back out to Schmidt.  From there it was out to Mike Green at the top of the zone, then over to Jason Chimera who fired.  His shot was stopped by the skate of defenseman James Wisniewski, but Wisniewski could not find the puck.  Mikhail Grabovski did.  He jumped in and roofed a shot over Bobrovsky’s left shoulder to tie the game with just 1:45 left.  It was Grabovski’s 100th NHL goal, and it sent the game to overtime where Alex Ovechkin would win it 94 seconds into the extra frame.

December 20, 2013: Washington 4 – Carolina 2

Mention the number “400” in Carolina, and chances are that thoughts turn to an upcoming NASCAR race.  In December, though, the number “400” had a hockey theme, and it would be shared by two Capitals.  For Mikhail Grabovski it was his 400th NHL game.  It would not be an especially memorable one in terms of his numbers (no points in 14 minutes), but for a teammate it would be a more memorable night on the ice, if in a bit of an odd way.

The Caps took a 3-2 lead against the Hurricanes into the third period.  Neither the Caps nor the Hurricanes could add to their totals in the first 19 minutes of the period, though.  Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer turned aside all 13 Carolina shots he saw over those 19 minutes, while Carolina netminder Cam Ward was a perfect 9-for-9 on Capitals’ shots.  In the 20th minute the Hurricanes pulled Ward for an extra attacker.  They managed to apply pressure in the Caps’ end with Eric Staal working the puck around the wall and out to Justin Faulk at the left point.  Faulk wristed a shot at the Washington net, but it was blocked in front by Martin Erat.  From the low slot in front of Grubauer, Erat flipped the puck out to Nicklas Backstrom at the blue line.  From there Backstrom threw the puck out into space in the neutral zone where Alex Ovechkin chased it down.  Shrugging off a diving attempt by Staal to interrupt his progress, Ovechkin skated in and scored the empty net insurance goal, his 400th NHL goal scored in the building in which he was drafted by the Capitals in 2004.  He became the sixth-fastest player in NHL history to score 400 goals, doing it in 634 games.  Only Wayne Gretzky (436), Mike Bossy (506), Mario Lemieux (508), Brett Hull (520) and Jari Kurri (608) were faster to 400.  It was the 22nd empty net goal of his career but the only one Ovechkin would have in the 2013-2014 season.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Washington Capitals: The 2013-2014 Season -- Ten Games that Mattered: Capitals at Blues, April 8th

The last of the ten games that mattered to the Washington Capitals in the 2013-2014 was quite literally the last game that mattered.  A playoff spot was still possible, and there was still a player on the brink of a momentous achievement.

April 8, 2014: Washington (35-30-13) at St. Louis (52-19-7)

Result: Capitals 4 – Blues 1

The Background:  With just four games left in the 2013-2014 season the Capitals’ post season hopes were hanging by a thread.   On the day the Caps would face the Blues, Washington was four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the last playoff spot.  It was likely that the Caps would have to win out to have even the slightest chance at overtaking Columbus.  They were on shaky ground in terms of any likelihood of sweeping their last four games.  The Blues were waking up with the best record in the Western Conference, even after losing consecutive games to Colorado and Chicago.  The Caps came into this game on a win over the New York Islanders, but that went to the Gimmick and broke what had been a five-game losing streak for the Caps (0-3-2).

Why It Mattered:  Scottrade Center was not a good place for the Capitals to spend a hockey game.  In their previous ten trips to St. Louis, Washington had a 1-8-1 record.  On the other hand, the Blues had 28 wins at home going into this game, tied for second most home wins in the league.  The Caps played the Blues even for much of the first period, though.  Through the first 16 minutes the Blues held a 7-5 lead in shots, but the game was scoreless.  Then, with 3:37 left in the opening frame Derek Roy was sent to the penalty box for hooking Alex Ovechkin, unleashing the Caps’ lethal power play… you would think.

In the first 90 seconds of the Caps’ man advantage the Blues recorded the only two shots on goal, although one was officially recorded as being from 163 feet.  In the 91st second, things changed on an odd play that ended in familiar fashion.  It started when Jason Chimera left the puck for Evgeny Kuznetsov along the right wing wall  Kuznetsov, occupying the spot Nicklas Backstrom would usually man, scanned the ice and tried to hit Joel Ward in the middle of the Caps’ 1-3-1. The pass was slightly off the mark, and Ward had no play but to try to stop the puck with his skate.  What he ended up doing was kicking it back to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone.  Carlson laid the puck out for Alex Ovechkin at the left wing faceoff circle, and Ovechkin one-timed the puck past goalie Ryan Miller, off the far post and in to give the Caps a 1-0 lead that they took to the first intermission.  It was Ovechkin’s 50th goal of the season.

The Blues tied it early in the second period when Maxim Lapierre put back a rebound of a Steve Ott shot past goalie Braden Holtby at the 2:39 mark after the Caps failed several times to clear the puck out of their own end.  That might have swung the momentum to the home team, but neither team could light the lamp over the next six minutes.  It would be the Caps breaking the tie in the ninth minute of the period.  With the teams playing 4-on-4 the play started with Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr heading up ice on a 2-on-2 rush.  Grabovski curled in front of Fehr and wristed a shot at Miller, but he fanned on the attempt.  He recovered the puck in stride and turned around the left wing faceoff circle, then stepped up to the faceoff dot where he fired a slap shot at Miller.  The shot beat Miller cleanly past his blocker.

The Caps added to their lead late in the second period when Nicklas Backstrom made the pipe his friend as Ovechkin did in the first period.  Backstrom worked a give-and-go with Ovechkin, starting the sequence when he passed the puck to Ovechkin on the right wing at the red line.  Ovechkin skated the puck down the wall into the Blues’ zone and waited until the defense backed off.  Backstrom eased off the throttle a bit to give Ovechkin a passing lane, and Ovechkin found him, Backstrom one-timing a snap shot off the post past Miller and in, making it 3-1.

The Caps ended any thought of a Blues comeback in the first minute of the third period.  With Jaden Schwartz in the penalty box for the Blues, Backstrom converted on the power play when he took a cross-ice feed from Ovechkin, took a step inside to change his shooting angle, then wristed the puck past Miller for game’s last tally just 16 seconds into the period.  The Blues outshot the Caps, 9-1, over the rest of the period, but Holtby turned all of them aside, the Caps skating off with a 4-1 win.

The Takeaway:  The win kept the Caps in the playoff hunt, if only briefly.  The Blue Jackets won their game against the Phoenix Coyotes on the same night, then beat the Dallas Stars on the following night to clinch the last playoff spot and eliminate the Capitals.  It meant that the Caps would be shut out of the post-season for the first time since 2007.

There was the matter of Ovechkin’s 50th goal, though.  It was the fifth time in nine seasons he hit that mark.  Since he came into the league in 2005-2006 he had more 5-goal seasons any other player in the league, more than twice as many as Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, or Steven Stamkos (two apiece).

For Holtby it was a fine performance in an unexpected start, given to him when his partner in the pipes, Jaroslav Halak might or might not have begged off facing his former team.  

In the end…

After this, the Caps had only to play out the string.  It was not a long string, just three games.  To their credit, the Caps went 2-0-1 in those games, the extra time loss coming in a double shutout in the season’ finale against Tampa Bay that the Caps lost, 1-0, in the Gimmick.  On this night, though, the Caps would show, if just for one more time, what was possible when the big guns – Ovechkin (1-2-3) and Backstrom (2-0-2) – were producing, and the team was getting solid goaltending (28 saves on 29 shots for Holtby).  In that sense the game mattered out of a sense of hope that the Caps could piece together more results like this in 2014-2015.

Photo: Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images