<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - Capital Games]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/capital-games http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com en-us Sat, 19 Apr 2014 10:58:36 -0400 Sat, 19 Apr 2014 10:58:36 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA['Game Over' for Green With Caps?]]> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:08:41 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/195*120/4779696931.jpg

Mike Green's career trajectory encapsulates the rise and fall of the Washington Capitals.

The defenseman took the NHL by storm as a faux-hawked dynamo in 2007, his smooth-skating ability and penchant for late-game dramatics (which earned him the nickname "Game Over Green") leading the Capitals back to respectability from the back end.

As Washington established itself as a regular-season juggernaut, Green continued to set records and accumulate accolades. His eight-game goal-scoring streak in 2008-09 remains the longest by a defenseman in NHL history and the two-time Norris Trophy candidate is one of 17 defensemen all-time to score at least 30 goals in a season.

Yet Green is no longer the one-man breakout that he used to be. His offensive flair has become overshadowed by tentative play and frequent turnovers when he has been healthy enough to remain in the lineup for long stretches. 

Much like the Capitals as a whole, Green's career sits at a crossroads.

“It was frustrating at times throughout the season," Green said Monday. "But as a professional you’ve got to stay strong and get through it. I wouldn’t say I was completely comfortable at times; it definitely took some time for me to get there.”

Green has been the constant in an ever-changing defensive corps, but he was supplanted by John Carlson as Washington's most relied-upon defenseman this season. The 28-year-old, frequently the Capitals' ice-time leader throughout his career, saw over two fewer minutes of ice time per game this season as he was relegated to the second power-play unit.

While Green drove possession better than anyone on his team this season, the underlying numbers did little to mask egregious defensive miscues that often led to goals against. 

Coach Adam Oates acknowledged throughout the season that he does not evaluate Green on offensive production, but on reliable all-around play. That message, however, did not always sink in. 

“He’s an enigma,” Oates said. “I felt that in the course of the season people want that [production] every night from him, and I’m trying to fight him back. ‘No, we just need you to be a solid player. The league is too good. You’re not going to score a goal every single night.’ It doesn’t work like that. I need him to be a consistent hockey player. The more we can get him to understand that will be good for us.

“If he’s cheating to get 30 goals, that’s a terrible message. He’s got magical skills, we know that. But we need him to be consistent every night."

A rotating cast of partners did not lend itself to developing that consistency. At various points throughout the season, Green played with Jack Hillen, John Erskine, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov. Green spent most of his time with Orlov (40.4 percent of his even-strength minutes), whose similar high-risk, high-reward nature did not complement Green well and often led to odd-man rushes in the opposite direction.

“We had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup,” Green said. “The most partners I've ever had in a season, and it was tough to sort of catch our ground and run with it.”

At this stage of Green's career, however, Oates believed that the nine-year veteran should have been the stabilizing force on the blue line during a tumultuous season. 

“He’s had a lot of partners, but he’s also supposed to be the guiding light,” Oates said. “He’s the veteran. He’s the guy we count on. He’s supposed to take care of them, not the other way around.”

At one time, it would have been nearly unthinkable to imagine Green anywhere else but Washington, but the Capitals have some pivotal decisions to make as they sift through the ruins of their lost season.

Green, a franchise pillar for nearly a decade, has one year remaining on a three-year contract that will swallow $6.083 million of salary cap space next season. Compared to past injury-plagued seasons, Green remained relatively healthy this season, missing only 12 games with a concussion and fractured ribs. Yet that might not be enough to justify the cost of a player who no longer resembles the one that earned that contract. 

If it is indeed "Game Over" for Green's tenure in Washington, it will truly mark the end of an era created by endless possibilities, but defined by disheartening disappointment. 

“We all play for one reason, and that’s to give ourselves a chance to win a Stanley Cup," Green said. "And we fell short.”


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wizards Face Bulls in NBA First Round]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 09:56:34 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/175*120/462545999.jpg

Making their first playoff appearance since 2008, the Washington Wizards clinched the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, setting up a matchup with the fourth-seeded Chicago Bulls.

Over the past week, a lot of attention has been focused on whether or not local fans are truly excited about the Wizards' postseason inclusion, so allow this primer to at least attempt to titillate you for what lies ahead.

Series Schedule

  • Game 1: Wizards at Bulls -- Sunday, 7 p.m. (CSN)
  • Game 2: Wizards at Bulls -- Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. (CSN)
  • Game 3: Bulls at Wizards -- April 25, 8:00 p.m. (CSN)
  • Game 4: Bulls at Wizards -- April 27, 1:00 p.m. (ABC)
  • Game 5 (if necessary): Wizards at Bulls -- April 29, TBD (TBD)
  • Game 6 (if necessary): Bulls at Wizards -- May 1, TBD (TBD)
  • Game 7 (if necessary): Wizards at Bulls -- May 3, TBD (CSN)

Season Series

  • Jan. 13: Wizards 102, Bulls 88
  • Jan. 17: Wizards 96, Bulls 93
  • April 5: Bulls 96, Wizards 78

A Load of Bull

The Wizards are in for a stiff test against the stingy Bulls, who allowed a NBA-best 91.8 points per game this season and held opponents to 43 percent shooting from the field, second-best.

Chicago is led by center Joakim Noah, the gangly center who has garnered some attention for MVP. Joining Noah are point guard D.J. Augustin (14.9 PPG, 5.0 APG), power forward Carlos Boozer (13.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG), shooting guard Jimmy Butler (13.1 PPG) and power forward Taj Gibson (13,0 PPG, 6,8 RPG). 

As a result, the Bulls are an Eastern Conference-best 22-9 since the All-Star break

For the Wizards to make this a competitive series, they will have to endure the Bulls' physicality. Noah, Boozer and Gibson will clog up the paint to prevent John Wall from slashing to the basket by any means necessary.

As simple as this sounds, Washington will simply have to outscore Chicago; the Wizards are the more offensively gifted team. Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza will need to stretch the defense by hitting threes, which the Wizards did quite well this season (38 percent, tied for fourth-best).

Did You Know?

The Wizards have won just one playoff series in the past 30 years. It came in 2005. As a fifth seed. Against the Chicago Bulls. 


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Capital Letters: The Waiting is the Hardest Part]]> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:09:54 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/Breakdown-Day-12-of-12.jpg

Welcome back to "Capital Letters," a sporadic feature where I answer any and all questions relating to the local professional hockey team.

Summer, summer, summertime. Time to sit back and unwind...and watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home. Your questions.

For those of you hoping to unburden yourself of forward Brooks Laich's onerous contract this summer, I'm afraid I've got some BAD NEWS

The oft-injured forward did not pass his exit physical, leaving his compliance buyout status in question.(Apparently, the Capitals may ask Laich to undergo another physical prior to the buyout period before making a decision. I have not confirmed that personally.)

Washington has one use-it-or-lose-it buyout available in June, so if Laich is exempt there are not many available alternatives. (Only contracts entered into before or on Sept. 15, 2012, are eligible.)

Then there is defenseman Mike Green, who signed a three-year, $18.25 million contract on July 16, 2012 (which is before Sept. 15, 2012). He has one year remaining on that deal with a $6,083,333 salary cap charge. That is a lot of scratch for a player who is no longer the faux-hawked dynamo he used to be. 

Here is the question you have to ask yourself though: If [insert Capitals general manager here] buys out Green, where does that leave your already thin defensive corps? Thinner. Famished even. 

Sure, Green was at times a skating turnover machine that was supplanted by John Carlson as Washington's most relied-upon defenseman and even called an "enigma" by coach Adam Oates on Monday, proving that non-Russians can be described in such a way. (More on that last point Friday.)

But Green drove possession better than anybody else on his team and compared to past injury-plagued seasons, he remained relatively healthy, missing just 12 games (though he missed the last four of the season with fractured ribs). 

Without bogging you down with the particulars, Green still has value. How much is unknown, but at least the Capitals will receive tangible assets to go along with cap relief if they do in fact trade him. 

That being said, I believe that if Green is traded, it will have less to do with the Capitals salvaging whatever value they can get for him and more to do with shaking up a core that is in dire need of a retooling. It is obvious that the Capitals' current roster has gone stale and Green's departure would certainly put the rest of the team on notice.

Let me preface this answer by saying that Monday was a weird day. General manager George McPhee did not speak to reporters after meeting with owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick. That is unlike McPhee, who usually entertains our questions for upwards of 30 minutes on breakdown day.

Oates did address the media though and he sounded like a man whose job status is in serious limbo. Oates' fate is intertwined with McPhee's, so until the front office situation is settled, the coaching staff will remain in the dark.

Questionable personnel decisions seemed to speak to a difference of opinion between Oates and McPhee, and now both of their heads are being called for by a disillusioned fan base that is prepared to march on Kettler Capitals Iceplex with torches and pitchforks. (DISCLAIMER: Please do not march on Kettler Capitals Iceplex with torches and pitchforks.)

It seems very unlikely that Oates and McPhee will return to their respective posts next season, but what if they did? We know that Leonsis is a patient man. For as long as he has owned the Capitals (and before), McPhee has been the chief architect.

Knowing that (and you can throw in a requisite Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld mention as well), I would not be completely shocked if the Capitals stick to the status quo.

Leonsis will conduct a "comprehensive review of what transpired this year" and the most logical conclusion should point towards cleaning house because missing the playoffs should not sit well with a man who claimed that his team would make the playoffs "10 to 15 years in a row."

In an attempt to assuage your fears, I believe that neither McPhee nor Oates will return next season. I also have a hard time imagining a scenario in which Oates stays and McPhee goes, though there is more of a chance (albeit an incredibly slim one) that McPhee stays and Oates goes. Leonsis' unpredictability makes any outcome seem plausible. 

Either way, a decision needs to be made as soon as possible. The organization is only digging itself a deeper hole by lollygagging. 

There were three rookies in the NHL who appeared in all 82 games this season: Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, Tampa Bay's Tyler Johnson and Washington's Tom Wilson. One of these things is not like the other.

Two are Calder Trophy frontrunners who played integral roles on their respective clubs. One punched faces. 

Wilson finished the season averaging 7:56 of ice time per game. Only two rookie forwards who appeared in at least 50 games -- Edmonton's Luke Gazdic and Winnipeg's Anthony Peluso, both of whom are also face-punchers -- saw less ice time nightly.

Wilson never saw time above the fourth line, primarily as a result of a logjam on the right side. Oates acknowleged on multiple occasions that Wilson would not overtake Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer or Joel Ward on the depth chart barring injury.

All three had impressive individual seasons; Ovechkin led the league in goals for the fourth time, while both Brouwer and Ward each set career-highs in that category. It would take removing one of them to give Wilson a chance to play in a more offensive role. 

So who I would "pull the trigger on" between Brouwer and Ward? Neither. And here is why.

As I stated in my answer to the second question, it is unlikely that Oates will return, meaning that his preference for placing players on their strong sides that, for lack of a better term, handcuffed the Capitals will be gone as well. 

If that is the case, then Wilson could potentially see more ice time in more pivotal situations and in turn develop into the multifaceted player that Washington hoped he would be upon drafting him. 


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.



Photo Credit: Chris Gordon/Russian Machine Never Breaks]]>
<![CDATA[Handicapping Caps' Free Agents]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:09:04 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/199*120/478767165.jpg

Now that the Washington Capitals' offseason has begun, the time for armchair roster retooling draws nigh.

The Capitals have three pending unrestricted free agents to consider re-signing: forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Dustin Penner, and goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

Grabovski is the likeliest of the three to remain in Washington next season and the only member of the Capitals' opening night roster that is not signed through next season. Signed to a one-year, $3 million contract last summer after being bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Grabovski scored 13 goals and earned 35 points in 58 games.

When not hampered by a sprained left ankle that cost him most of the season's second half, the 30-year-old was Washington's best forward at driving possession with a 51 percent Corsi percentage and his two-way presence fit seamlessly into the lineup.

Grabovski has expressed interest in remaining in Washington, but until the respective fates of general manager George McPhee and coach Adam Oates are determined, he is going to take a wait-and-see approach.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen here, so it’s made me disappointed too,” Grabovski told reporters Tuesday. “I want to know, first before I sign, who’s going to be coach, who’s going to be general manager, because nobody knows and lots of stuff is being said.

“I just don’t want to have same experience I have before in Toronto when Ron Wilson is gone just after I sign and they bring in a coach who don’t really want me. For me it’s important that people believe in you and trust. Adam Oates, he bring me here with McPhee. They trust me as a player and I do my best in the half season I played. I can do better. People trust me, I feel this and I play better, good hockey.”

Grabovski is believed to be seeking a four- to five-year contract worth around $5 million. If he does not re-sign with the Capitals, they will once again be without a second-line center unless Oates (or his potential successor) believes forward Evgeny Kuznetsov could fill that role and mitigate the loss. 

>> The likelihood of Penner returning is slim. When McPhee acquired the 31-year-old from the Anaheim Ducks ahead of the trade deadline, he brought up the name of former Capitals forward Mike Knuble, who once thrived on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin by complementing their finesse with his net-front presence.

Penner never received that same opportunity in Washington, playing primarily on the fourth line. This after spending the majority of his even-strength ice time skating alongside star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the Ducks' top line.

When asked about the possibility of returning to the Capitals, Penner answered bluntly.

"I need a job next year," he said. "I’ve played fourth line on other teams. I just play the position I’m given. I don’t worry about where I think I should be or where my dad thinks."

Asked where his father thinks he should play, Penner was once again straightforward.

"First-line left winger," he deadpanned.

>> Halak was recently at the center of a dust-up with Oates, who revealed that the goaltender was not "100 percent comfortable" facing his former team in St. Louis on April 8. Yet that awkward incident did not seem to phase Halak, who at least outwardly did not rule out potentially re-signing with the Capitals.

"We have a really good group of guys over here," Halak said. "I came here to make the playoffs and obviously we didn’t make it. I've got unfinished business here and I wouldn’t be against coming back so we’ll see what the future brings."

Even then, it seems doubtful that Halak will return. Arriving at the trade deadline, Halak was expected to bolster the Capitals' crease as they chased a playoff spot. The 28-year-old was far from a cure-all despite respectable numbers, sporting a 5-4-3 with a 2.31 goals against average and .930 save percentage. 

The Capitals rode Halak down the stretch, starting him in 11 of 13 games between March 8 and April 4, but he went winless in five straight during a time when Washington could ill afford to do so. Halak's .918 even-strength save percentage was also lower than those of Braden Holtby (.930) and Philipp Grubauer (.926).

Holtby, whose struggles with stylistic changes this season were well-documented, finished strong with a 3-0-1 record, 1.71 goals against average and .947 save percentage in April. Coupled with Grubauer, the Capitals could have a young, reliable and affordable tandem (a combined salary cap charge of roughly $2.4 million compared to Halak's $3.75 million) next season. 

>> The salary cap is expected to rise to somewhere between $68-$71 million next season. That leaves Washington with roughly $11-$14 million in space with which to work this summer. 

Washington could also make more space by using its second compliance buyout, available to them in June. The most logical candidate is forward Brooks Laich, who has been ineffective during two injury-plagued seasons. He has three years remaining on a six-year contract signed in 2011 that carries a $4.5 million salary cap charge.

Where things get complicated is that Laich, who recently underwent groin surgery, did not pass his exit physical, leaving his buyout status in question. 

"With my whole heart I believe that I'll be 100 percent ready to resume my career and excel at the game, not just participate, come training camp," Laich said. "I believe that with my whole heart."


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps Search for When Season Went Awry]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 10:55:46 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/188*120/479830615.jpg

As the Washington Capitals sifted through the ruins of their lost season, naturally they searched for the specific moment when it went awry.

There are several instances that can be pinpointed, but perhaps the freshest in the Capitals' minds was the stark juxtaposition between their successful California road trip last month and the ill-timed slide that immediately followed.

On March 18, Washington embarked on a grueling three-game road trip through California two points behind the New York Rangers, who at the time held the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks were among the top eight teams in the NHL and had been unkind to visiting teams who faced them in succession. Of the 15 teams that did so before Washington, only four earned at least four of a possible six points.

The Capitals far exceeded expectations with a 2-0-1 record on the trip, leaving them lingering on the cusp of the playoff picture upon their return home.

In their first game back at Verizon Center, the Capitals led the Kings 3-1 entering the third period and seemed poised to vault themselves back into the mix. But they ultimately blew their 13th two-goal lead of the season (and sixth in the third period) before falling 5-4 in a shootout, the first loss in a debilitating five-game skid that proved fatal.

"I thought we lost that [swagger], that cockiness. I thought we just got too complacent," forward Joel Ward said. "We went in there in California and knew what was at stake and played desperate and cocky, but at the same time I thought we had a little bit of extra cockiness that we had a good feeling that we were going to win. We came back home, we might have thought we just expected to win all of a sudden. We lost that and we just got in a rut and we couldn't dig ourselves out of it. 

"I think the games that we've won in the course of the years I've been here, we've had a pretty good little cockiness, a little swagger and we lost it at times and gained it at times, but we couldn't put it together for the full time at the end."

The Capitals will spend the next several months processing what went wrong, an empty feeling that will surely linger knowing just how close they were standings-wise to potentially salvaging the season. 

“Yeah, I mean we came home, we had a 3-1 lead against [Los Angeles], we blew it. That hurt," coach Adam Oates said. "And then obviously [a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 29] hurt and [a 5-0 loss to the Dallas Stars on April 1] hurt. Otherwise, for a 20-game window we played pretty good, but it was still collectively throughout the year, I think. Those games are magnified because the first 50 we didn’t do a good enough job.”


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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wizards Lose OT Scoring Touch Again]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:35:56 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/172*120/454029493.jpg

The Washington Wizards overcame a 20-point first-half deficit against the Charlotte Bobcats to force overtime Wednesday, but once they got there, their offense dried up in a 94-88 loss.

Washington missed all eight of their field-goal attempts in overtime, marking the third time they have missed all of their field-goal attempts in an overtime period this season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

  1. Dec. 6, 2013 v. Milwaukee: 0-for-6
  2. Feb. 5 v. San Antonio: 0-for-11 in second overtime
  3. April 9 v. Charlotte: 0-for-8

Only one other team in the NBA has gone "0-fer" in overtime this season; the Phoenix Suns shot 0-for-7 from the field on Jan. 13 against the New York Knicks.

It was a disheartening loss for the Wizards, who allowed the Bobcats to overtake them for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Both teams have identical 40-38 records, but the Bobcats won the season series and therefore own the tiebreaker.

Finishing seventh or eighth will likely mean an early exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat, but the Wizards are apparently not playing well enough to even beat the worst teams in the Association.

"The way we play right now," center Marcin Gortat said, "we ain't going to beat anybody, including [NBA worst] Milwaukee."


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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps Sit at Crossroads Following Elimination]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 15:30:54 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/168*120/450965945.jpg

The Washington Capitals were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention Wednesday, guaranteeing their exclusion from the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007 and solidifying a discouraging though not entirely unexpected fall from grace.

This season has completed the Capitals' steady devolution from a viable Stanley Cup contender into a fringe playoff team.

Washington was simply a team that could not get out of its own way. From routinely failing to break out of their own zone cleanly (which was largely a product of a makeshift and overmatched defensive corps) to countless blown two-goal leads and quick-response goals against, the Capitals' nightly mistakes developed into bad habits.

The Capitals became a one-dimensional team with a potent power play. Even-strength play was a glaring weakness. Most damning of all, Washington's years-long identity crisis manifested itself once again as what kind of team it wanted to be was interchangeable on any given night.

After each of the Capitals' recent early-round flameouts, members of the front office wrapped the franchise's postseason appearance streak -- six straight years, the fourth-longest streak in the NHL entering this season -- around themselves like some sort of security blanket.

That shield no longer exists, and the time has come for a significant overhaul.

General manager George McPhee, widely believed to have an expiring contract, deserves credit for once restoring the Capitals back to respectability, but a fresh perspective is sorely needed.

Coach Adam Oates was lauded for his integral role in revitalizing forward Alex Ovechkin last season, but his questionable personnel decisions, stubborn and seemingly defiant demeanor and recent candidness this season have undone any goodwill.

The players believe that the talent to change the team's downward trajectory resides within the locker room, but that is obviously not the case. The roster that has remained largely unchanged must be reconstructed, which will prove easier said than done considering only one player that was on Washington's opening night roster -- forward Mikhail Grabovski -- is an unrestricted free agent.

It was in the best interest of the organization to miss the postseason. There are no excuses to bandy about, and bit by bit the Capitals can restart.

For the past few years, the Capitals have implored their fan base to do its part in "building America's Hockey Capital." Yet before construction can begin in earnest, serious remodeling is necessary because the cracks in the facade are simply too large to gloss over.


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dianna Russini Joins the Globetrotters]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 21:29:25 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Dianna+Russini+with+the+Globetrotters.jpg The Harlem Globetrotters spent some time in the DMV recently. News4 Sports anchor Dianna Russini was invited to be a part of the team -- and she wasn’t very good.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington.com]]>
<![CDATA[Halak's Agent "Bewildered" By Comments]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:24:48 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/172*120/482915265.jpg

The Washington Capitals found themselves in a peculiar situation Tuesday in St. Louis when coach Adam Oates revealed that goaltender Jaroslav Halak would not start against his former team because he "wasn't 100 percent comfortable" doing so.

In Halak's place, Braden Holtby made 28 saves in the Capitals' 4-1 victory against the Blues, who traded Halak in late February after three-plus seasons, to keep their faint playoff hopes intact for at least one more day.

Washington's impressive performance in the face of mathematical elimination, however, became secondary to the ongoing melodrama. Halak claimed that he never told Oates he would not play, an assertion understandably defended by his agent, Allan Walsh. 

"Jaro never said at any time he didn't want to start against St. Louis," Walsh said in a statement. "A private conversation between a player and coach should stay private and not be discussed with the media. I am bewildered that a coach would break that trust, especially when those comments the coach publicly attributed to Jaro are not accurate. It's the coach who makes the decision on who plays in the games, not the players."

The entire story is not known and will likely never be known. Regardless, it is yet another controversy stemming from Oates' candidness.

Last week, Oates shared his belief that right wing Alex Ovechkin "quit" on the fourth of the Dallas Stars' five goals during Washington's 5-0 loss before discussing the play in question privately with his superstar captain.

When reached Wednesday, the Capitals declined to comment on the situation. The team received a day off Wednesday and will reconvene Thursday for a morning skate prior to its game against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Upon his hiring in June 2012, Oates emphasized the importance of communication in building a foundation of trust with his players, and recent developments seem to fly in the face of that ideal. 

Speculation has already begun to swirl that Oates may not be retained after two seasons in Washington.

Judging by the events of the past week (and more importantly the overall uninspired play that will likely guarantee the Capitals' exclusion from the postseason for the first time since 2007), such speculation is not completely unjustified. 


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Capitals Goalie Uncomfortable About Facing Former Team]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 21:05:42 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000006058427_1200x675_220669507929.jpg New Washington Capitals goalie Jaroslav Halak was allowed to sit out Tuesday night’s game because he felt uncomfortable facing his former team, the St. Louis Blues. News4's Dianna Russini reports.]]> <![CDATA[RGIII Takes Apparent Shot At Shanahan]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 20:17:09 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/175*120/459727729.jpg

Robert Griffin III recently made off-the-field headlines when he unveiled a new personal logo on Instagram in between shilling Subway on Twitter.

Of course, new coach Jay Gruden was asked about RGIII's preparation during an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

“He works out more than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Gruden said. “If I ever felt like that was an issue, or if he was spending more time trying to create logos than he was working out and getting himself ready to play, then there’d be an issue. But there’s no issue in my mind."

Griffin threw his support behind Gruden by retweeting ProFootballTalk's promotion of the story, and in doing so took a thinly veiled jab at the Redskins' previous regime.

It would be difficult to believe that Griffin was not needling former coach Mike Shanahan, whose relationship with the star quarterback fractured during a tumultuous 3-13 season. 

Who knows. I'm going to get a Flatizza.


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Desmond's Inside-The-Park Homer That Wasn't]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 09:31:35 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/186*120/482755703.jpg

The Washington Nationals had their home opener spoiled by the Atlanta Braves on Friday in a 2-1 loss. At the center of the game was an inside-the-park home run from Ian Desmond that was ultimately overturned

In the fifth inning, Desmond ripped a a shot down the left-field line that came to a stop underneath the padding of the outfield wall. Braves outfielder Justin Upton raised his hands to indicate a ground-rule double, but Desmond never stopped running, sliding into home to tie the game.

 

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez requested a review, a new rule implemented this season, and it was determined that the ball was lodged in the padding of the wall. The run was taken off the scoreboard and Desmond was forced to return to second base, where he was caught in a rundown attempting to steal third.

It can certainly be argued that Desmond was robbed; look at how easily Upton was able to pick up the ball despite being it underneath the wall.

Regardless, here is the first example of the downside of instant replay.


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<![CDATA[In Slight Defense of Ovechkin's Defense]]> Fri, 04 Apr 2014 10:44:04 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/481894191.jpg

Throughout his career, Alex Ovechkin's once-in-a-generation offensive ability has mitigated his defensive shortcomings. A historical anomaly, however, has recently brought the latter to the forefront.

Ovechkin currently leads the NHL with 48 goals and has the worst plus-minus among 864 players at minus-36. He would become the first player since the league began tracking plus-minus in 1967-1968 to earn that dubious distinction.

Among NHL statistics, plus-minus is certainly the most polarizing. It measures a player's individual goal differential during even-strength and shorthanded play, but does not take into account other factors such as the play of teammates both offensively and defensively.

To be fair, Ovechkin, who has not scored at even strength in a career-high 16 straight games, is receiving little scoring help from his teammates. The on-ice shooting percentage of Ovechkin's linemates this season was a miniscule 3.3 percent as of Tuesday, the lowest percentage in the NHL over the past seven years. 

Yet a lackadaisical and indefensible defensive effort such as Ovechkin's on the Dallas Stars' fourth goal Tuesday cannot simply be ignored. And coach Adam Oates did not, saying Wednesday that his superstar captain "quit on the play coming back."

Ovechkin was not made available for comment Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, Oates had not met with Ovechkin to discuss the play in question (despite addressing the media on the topic multiple times), but when he does, he plans to reinforce the need for Ovechkin to stay involved in the play regardless of what zone it is in.

“The message is the same message I tell him all the time,” Oates said. “It’s a shame because he actually pushed hard up the ice and I’m sure when he turned around he saw that we had three guys back and figured they were going to get the job done and they didn’t.

"It happens to everybody at times. No question. Every player has their momentary lapses. It’s just a reminder to him that you can’t. You’re in the spotlight. You can’t."

Ovechkin will never be confused with a defensive stalwart. His defensive acumen has definitely not improved, but it also has not necessarily regressed. 

His lack of even-strength production, his linemates' lack of even-strength production and the Capitals' inability to defend as a whole at even strength -- not to mention a .903 save percentage when he is on the ice during five-on-five play, lowest among Capitals skaters with at least 57 games played -- have all accentuated his defensive flaws. 

That is not to say Ovechkin does not deserve criticism for efforts such as the one shown above, because he does. To call Ovechkin defensively deficient may be generous. 

Ovechkin's ghastly plus-minus, however, is a symptom of a larger, team-wide issue at even strength. 

“I’m trying to get him to play better and better five-on-five hockey no question," Oates said prior to the Dallas game Tuesday. "But I’m also trying to do the same thing with all of us.”


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<![CDATA[Penner's Skills Tested With Operation, Ping Pong]]> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 17:24:31 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000005919654_1200x675_215533123591.jpg One month ago, 31-year-old winger Dustin Penner joined the Washington Capitals after being traded by the Anaheim Ducks, hoping to make an immediate impact. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Canadian claims he’s ready to handle the pressure of playing in the Nation’s Capital. News4 Sports anchor Dianna Russini tests his skills. News4's Dianna Russini tested Washington Capitals forward Dustin Penner's composure, coordination and more with a series of challenges from childhood.]]> <![CDATA[Wizards Clinch First Playoff Berth Since 2008]]> Wed, 02 Apr 2014 21:22:01 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/215*120/478971565.jpg

By defeating the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, the Washington Wizards have officially clinched their first playoff berth since 2008.

Just one year ago, the Wizards were on pace to challenge for the worst record in NBA history. The emergence of John Wall and a strong supporting cast has guaranteed that Washington will play meaningful basketball in April for the first time in six years.

In each of their past three postseason appearances, the Wizards have lost in the first round. This season, they will likely face the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets.


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<![CDATA[Caps' Playoff Hopes in Serious Jeopardy]]> Wed, 02 Apr 2014 09:51:50 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/481901681.jpg

If for some reason the Washington Capitals needed assistance in manufacturing desperation in the midst of a playoff chase, then their game against the Dallas Stars provided such an opportunity.

Each team entered play Tuesday trailing the second wild-card spot in their respective conference by one point.

Yet only one team played with a heightened sense of urgency. In outclassing Washington in a 5-0 victory, Dallas displayed the kind of grit required to qualify for the postseason. The Stars simply played like they wanted it more, while the Capitals looked like a team resigned to its fate.

"There was zero urgency," said goaltender Braden Holtby, who came on in relief of Jaroslav Halak in the second period after the latter allowed three goals on 23 shots. "Playoff race like we're in, we lose 5-0. It's awful. There's no words for it."

All season, Washington has been victimized by self-inflicted errors and Tuesday was no different. Dallas took advantage of several turnovers and lackadaisical defensive play, pouncing on Washington midway through the second period with two goals in 34 seconds.

The Capitals' top-ranked power play, one of their few sources of strength, set a disturbing tone by allowing two shorthanded breakaway opportunities in the first 32 seconds of its first opportunity of the game. Stars forward Ryan Garbutt, who had one of the early chances, capped off the lopsided victory with a shorthanded goal in the third period, sending disenchanted fans to the exits.

“There wasn’t one part of the game tonight that was good enough — 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill, everything," forward Eric Fehr said. "It looked like we weren’t prepared. We talked about everything, but it looked more like a preseason game for us than a game that we needed to win to make the playoffs.”

It was only two weeks ago that the Capitals kept themselves relevant in the Eastern Conference by earning five of a possible six points during a grueling California road trip. Defenseman John Carlson called that stretch "the best hockey we have [played] in years" and it is hard to argue against such an assertion.

Since then, the Capitals have lost four straight, the most recent of which was easily their most embarrassing performance of the season.

Washington now trails the Columbus Blue Jackets by two points in the wild-card race with one fewer game left and without the benefit of a tiebreaker. The Capitals will likely have to win all six of their remaining games to give themselves even the faintest chance of appearing in their seventh straight postseason.

Frankly though, after such an indefensible performance in the biggest game of the season to date, they do not deserve to.


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<![CDATA[Sources: Redskins Sign DeSean Jackson]]> Wed, 02 Apr 2014 00:07:30 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/184*120/180159191.jpg

The Washington Redskins have agreed to terms with former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, according to News4's Dianna Russini and multiple media reports.

More to come.


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<![CDATA[Sources: Browns, 49ers Interested In Jackson]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 14:10:33 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/169*120/454327715.jpg

Former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson is visiting with the Washington Redskins on Tuesday after dining with coaches and clubbing with players Monday evening.  

As one would expect, Jackson's services are in demand. According to our Dianna Russini, the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers are two teams that will compete with Washington for Jackson.

Jackson's acquisition would give the Redskins a deep threat that they have been lacking. Jackson has caught 21 touchdowns of 30-plus yards since 2008, tied with Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace for the most over that span.


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<![CDATA[Nationals Open Season Monday Against Mets]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 09:03:05 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/181*120/181382264.jpg

For the Washington Nationals, last season started so perfectly.

Stephen Strasburg struck out seven and recorded 19 consecutive outs. Bryce Harper hit two home runs in his first two at-bats of the season, eliciting "MVP" chants from the crowd, one that had been inundated by high expectations. 

It was never that perfect again. The "World Series or bust" Nationals failed to live up to their lofty standards. Bravado was not enough to clinch a postseason appearance one season removed from being the best team in baseball.

Under new manager Matt Williams, Washington has taken a more businesslike approach. The Nationals are once again World Series favorites, but they are not taking that as gospel.

"I think a lot of it has to do with how much talent is on our roster and how good we look on paper," Strasburg told reporters. "That's not going to carry you the whole way."

The Nationals boast one of the most complete lineups in baseball, not to mention a rotation featuring Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann that any other club would and should be envious of. 

Monday afternoon, the Nationals will start anew, opening against the New York Mets at Citi Field with an opportunity to replicate last season's Opening Day magic. This time, however, they will attempt to replicate that magic into October.


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<![CDATA[Sources: DeSean Jackson To Visit Redskins]]> Sun, 30 Mar 2014 06:56:44 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/171*120/180159574.jpg

According to our Dianna Russini, former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson will visit the Washington Redskins on Monday. 

The Eagles released Jackson on Friday two years after signing him to a five-year extension. He excelled under coach Chip Kelly's high-powered offense, setting career highs in receptions (82) and yards (1,332). 

Yet according to a report from NJ.com, the Eagles were concerned about Jackson's apparent connections to Los Angeles gang members and that was enough to let him go. 

Following his release, Jackson provided the following statement:

"First I would like to thank the Eagles organization, the Eagles fans and the city of Philadelphia for my time in Philly. I would also like to thank [former] coach Andy Reid for bringing me in.

"Secondly, I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field. I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang. I am not a gang member, and to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible.

"I work very hard on and off the field and I am a good person with good values. I am proud of the accomplishments that I have made both on and off the field. I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community and have a positive impact on those in need. It is unfortunate that I now have to defend myself and my intentions. These reports are irresponsible and just not true. I look forward to working hard for my new team."


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<![CDATA[Colbert Rant on Redskins Inspires "#CancelColbert"]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 16:01:38 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/188*120/466773805.jpg

Stephen Colbert took the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to task on his show Wednesday evening, leading to a controversial tweet that has sparked a demand to #CancelColbert.

On air, he chastised team owner Daniel Snyder for his charitable endeavors aimed at helping Native Americans -- which one Native American activist has called "somewhere between a PR assault and bribery."

Snyder last week announced the creation of the foundation to focus on what "tribal leaders tell us they need most," but has said in the past that he will never change the name of the team, which some say is a racial slur.

Among Colbert's choice lines:

"Folks, the PC Police continue to hammer the Washington Redskins over their so-called 'offensive' name. Though, if you’ve seen them play recently, their name is the least offensive thing on the field."

Playing off the segment, the show's verified Twitter account sent out a controversial tweet that has since been deleted.

I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.— The Colbert Report (@ColbertReport) March 27, 2014 

Ching-Chong Ding-Dong is a satirical Asian caricature that Colbert has assumed in the past.

Damage control was done shortly thereafter. 


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<![CDATA[Laich "Mentally, Physically Liberated" Following Surgery]]> Thu, 27 Mar 2014 19:28:13 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/181*120/4642641011.jpg

After the Washington Capitals took their team photo Thursday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, forward Brooks Laich took his first strides on the ice since undergoing groin surgery on March 17.

Laich, a fiery competitor, will readily admit that grappling with a nagging groin injury for the past two seasons has been one of the most trying experiences of his life. After a year and a half, Laich is hopeful that he can finally put his well-documented injury woes behind him.

“I feel like I had chains around my body and now somebody just came and cut them off and now I’m free to move about in any direction at any time I want. And it’s completely liberating," Laich said. "That’s honestly how I feel — mentally and physically liberated and free to get on with my hockey career and excel in the sport, not just participate.”

Laich's latest procedure to release a tight adductor was more invasive than the one he had last April, and as soon as nine hours after going under the knife, he felt immediate relief from the pain that has made it difficult for him to even turn over in his sleep.

According to Laich, he waited this long to have the surgery because he was unsure whether the pain he was experiencing was residual soreness from the previous procedure. After groin specialist Dr. Michael Brunt informed Laich that no amount of rehab or rest would have completely healed the injury, Laich knew that he had no other choice.

"We tried everything and I got to the point where I needed something nuclear to fix this," Laich said. "Last Monday we did something aggressive and proactive and my body and my head are honestly telling me this is behind me and now it’s just a matter of getting myself back to the speed and the explosiveness.

"It hampered my hockey career and it hampered my life outside of hockey. I need to get back to being a person able to thrive at a career, not just to scratch out another year."

The recovery timetable for Laich, who admitted Thursday that he was playing games at "maybe 10 percent" before ultimately being shut down two weeks ago, was originally set at four to six weeks. Yet the 30-year-old did not rule out a potential return within the Capitals' final nine games of the regular season. 

He has gradually ramped up his off-ice workouts and plans to skate on his own prior to Washington's practice Friday.

“There’s a chance, but it’s also very optimistic," he said. "Number one goal, I realize the gravity of the situation we’re in [in the standings], but my goal is ultimately the longevity of my career. 

"I need to get back to being healthy and have this completely behind me, which I feel I’m on the track. Then my body will tell me, ‘Okay, I’m very comfortable’ and I can really push it and let’s get back into the lineup. I have my eye on the season, I’m still in hockey mode, but I can’t guarantee anything today.”


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<![CDATA[Harper Ejected From Spring Training Game]]> Thu, 27 Mar 2014 08:08:37 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/478173843.jpg

Spring training is almost over, but apparently Bryce Harper is in midseason form.

The fiery outfielder was ejected from the Nationals' game against the Cardinals on Wednesday after voicing his displeasure over a call at first base.

"The umpire told me that [Harper] said something to him," manager Matt Williams told reporters. "The question I had is, `Did he say something?' I didn't see him make a gesture to him or anything, but he said the magic word."

It certainly was not "abracadabra."

Harper retreated into the dugout, but was told that he had to leave the playing field immediately, so he collected his belongings and slowly made his way towards the visiting clubhouse beyond the left-field wall. 

"Usually if you get thrown out of a game, you go right down the [dugout] tunnel to the clubhouse," Williams said. "But here, most spring training places, you don't go from the dugout to the clubhouse. You have to walk down the line. I just didn't want him to be embarrassed about it, that's all. I asked [umpire C.B. Bucknor] to get the game going, and [Harper] would go between innings."

Harper did not speak to reporters, but if he did, I am sure it would not have been very nice.



 


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<![CDATA[SI Predicts World Series For Nationals]]> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:45:35 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/181*120/180647746.jpg

When Sports Illustrated's annual MLB preview hits newsstands this week, it will tell readers that the Washington Nationals are primed to win the World Series.

It was one year ago that Sports Illustrated predicted Washington to win the World Series. With "World Series or bust" bravado, the Nationals fell incredibly short of expectations, failing to even qualify for the postseason. That cover jinx may be real after all.

Matt Williams has not made any ridiculous claims (yet), so perhaps the Nationals will be silently motivated to prove doubters wrong. We will find out soon enough.


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<![CDATA[Caps Fritter Away Much-Needed Point]]> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 09:54:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/181*120/480565355.jpg

Following an indefensible 5-4 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday in which the Washington Capitals blew a two-goal third-period lead, Capitals forward Dustin Penner, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, offered a frank assessment of what had transpired.

“We got a little content with the lead, maybe that’s indicative of a young team," he said. “When you have a 3-1 lead going into the third you shouldn’t have to score a shorthanded goal [from forward Evgeny Kuznetsov] to tie it up.”

The problem, however, is that the Capitals are not a young team.

They are a veteran-laden team that at this point of the season should simply know better.

Holding a 3-1 lead entering the third period at home after a wildly successful road trip through California, Washington should have been 20 minutes from procuring a playoff spot for the first time in over two months. Instead, the Capitals, who now find themselves in a four-team pileup at 80 points, squandered a point that may prove pivotal in determining their postseason fate in three weeks.

“We had control of that game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We had two points in our hands and the fact that we don’t have it now is frustrating. I hope it doesn’t come down to that.”

Perhaps the largest indictment of this Capitals team is that the blown lead seemed almost inevitable.

Washington blew its 13th two-goal lead of the season and sixth in the third period alone. As a result, Los Angeles forward Marian Gaborik's game-tying goal midway through the third period was met with a collective sigh of resignation from the Verizon Center crowd.

"We took our foot off for a second," Alzner admitted. "[Tonight] we shut our brains off for a second and good teams do that to you."

Conversely, "good teams" do not shut their brains off in the midst of a frantic playoff push. The Capitals may do just enough in their final nine games of the season to back into a seventh straight postseason appearance, but the one point they frittered away Tuesday -- not to mention the potential loss of center Nicklas Backstrom to an upper-body injury -- may very well prevent them from doing so.

“You never know when it comes down to it if it’s in or out by one point,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “You never know. Hopefully it doesn’t.”


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<![CDATA[Basketball and Family: 2 Home Teams for U.Md.'s Frese]]> Tue, 25 Mar 2014 18:14:24 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Brenda+Frese+with+sons+and+team+032514.jpg University of Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese balances her push to a sixth Sweet 16 appearance with her other home team: Her husband and two sons. Jason Pugh reports.]]> <![CDATA[Caps' Grabovski Practices For First Time In Month]]> Tue, 25 Mar 2014 11:44:15 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/181*120/1846327161.jpg

Washington Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski, hampered by a sprained left ankle, fully participated in practice Monday for the first time in nearly a month.

The 30-year-old has missed 20 of the past 21 games with the injury, originally suffered on Jan. 24 against the New Jersey Devils and aggravated on Feb. 27 against the Florida Panthers in Washington's first game following the Olympic break.

“Feel better, feel excited,” Grabovski said. “I don’t know right now, just felt a little bit better. First practice with the team, we’ll see this week how I’m going to feel and what coaches have to say.”

Considering Grabovski's lengthy absence, it will likely take several full practices before coach Adam Oates reinserts him into the lineup. Oates, however, did not rule out a potential return Saturday against the Boston Bruins. 

Grabovski's presence in the lineup has been sorely missed and there is still work left to be done as he must build strength back in his ankle, but his return to practice was certainly encouraging. 

“Not pain but just not comfortable a little bit. I still have tape, I tape my ankle but every day better and team help me recovery faster,” Grabovski said. “Little bit nerves today because guys kind of push me a little bit. They joking but it helps me be in team, feel the team around. Right now really excited to just skate, it was really positive to see my friends on the ice.”


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<![CDATA[Harper Most Overrated Player in MLB?]]> Mon, 24 Mar 2014 14:57:56 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/189*120/474403279.jpg

In one week, the Washington Nationals will open the 2014 season against the New York Mets, and the most overrated player in baseball -- according to an anonymous poll of his peers -- will be in the lineup.

The player in question is Bryce Harper, who was voted as such by 143 fellow baseball players in an ESPN poll.

Of course, 143 is a small sample size when compared to how many players are employed by MLB clubs, but has Harper, at the tender age of 21, already irked his contemporaries?

I am not sure I would classify Harper as "overrated." Yes, he ran into a few walls last season, but I think "overrated" here may mean "overhyped" because he definitely is that. Anyone on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 years old can attest to that.

That is, if I could find anyone else.


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<![CDATA[GW Coach Takes Father to NCAA Tournament]]> Fri, 21 Mar 2014 19:20:07 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Jack+Lonergan.jpg Basketball is a family affair for George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan, who brings his father Jack Lonergan to tournaments with him.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington.com]]>
<![CDATA[Gortat Injures Back Dunking In Warmups]]> Fri, 21 Mar 2014 10:26:20 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/179*120/458763823.jpg

Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat was a late scratch from the lineup on Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers after hurting his back dunking during pregame warmups.

Don't believe me? You can find the visual evidence at the bottom of the page.

From The Post:

Gortat wasn’t feeling soreness in his back before the game and thought he would get it loose during his pregame warm-ups. But he made it worse when he stretched out for dunk and felt a jolt in his back.

“I pulled all the way to the end and I couldn’t move it, so, I had kind of had like a block in my back, I guess a back spasm,” Gortat said. “I’ll be back. It’s not a big deal. Just got to get a few exercises. Get a few treatments and I’ll be back.” 

Without Gortat, who missed his first game of the season, Washington fell 116-103 to Portland.


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<![CDATA[AU Eagles Prepare for First Game Against Wisconsin]]> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 20:32:23 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000005824727_1200x675_200434755511.jpg The American University Eagles prepare for their first NCAA Tournament game against the Wisconsin Badgers.]]> <![CDATA[Capital Letters: What's to Laich?]]> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 12:27:49 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/181*120/184807278+%281%29.jpg

Welcome back to "Capital Letters," a sporadic feature where I answer any and all questions relating to the local professional hockey team.

California trips, they're unforgettable, 3-2 wins, Ovechkin on top. Your questions.  

Everyone and their mother wants to know what the immediate future holds for Brooks Laich (except for my mother, who could probably care less). 

Here is what we do know: Laich underwent surgery Monday to "release a tight adductor," as described by the team. Recovery time for such a procedure is generally four to six weeks, which means barring a lengthy playoff run, Laich's season is likely over.

After missing four games between 2007-12, the former ironman is now a clunker; over the past two seasons, Laich will have missed 70 of 130 regular-season games. And he has three years remaining on a six-year contract with an annual salary cap charge of $4.5 million.

That is an expensive contract for a player that has proven incapable of staying in the lineup, which has many wondering if the Capitals should exercise their second compliance buyout on Laich.

If the Capitals were to buy out Laich, they would be forced to pay him a total of $8.33 million spread out over the next six seasons. The problem, however, is that injured players cannot be bought out.

Things get a little murky from here. The NHL's buyout period typically begins on either June 15 or 48 hours following the completion of the Stanley Cup Final, whichever comes later. If we simply use the aforementioned timetable as a guide, Laich will have definitely recovered by then. Of course, nothing is ever that concrete.

It might depend on when the Capitals' season ends. Players undergo exit physicals, so if the Capitals do not qualify for the postseason and their season ends April 13, Laich may not pass that physical. If Washington finds a way to get it together and make some noise in the playoffs, then he may be able to return, theoretically leaving him susceptible to a buyout. And if he ends the season on injured reserve, then I believe nothing I just said matters (not that it does to begin with).

Regardless, Laich's fate will something to keep an eye on during the offseason. When healthy, Laich has proven to be a dependable and versatile two-way forward, but it has been two years since we have really seen that guy. 

By the way, if Laich is not bought out, then someone else might be. The Capitals will have to use or lose their remaining buyout this summer. Keep in mind that contracts eligible for buyouts had to be entered into on or before Sept. 15, 2012, leaving few options.

I am going to take this question in a slightly different direction because I can. You better be okay with that.

Let us go back to March 5, when the Capitals acquired Jaroslav Halak from the Buffalo Sabres. With two capable goaltenders (the other being Braden Holtby; remember him?) now on the active roster, general manager George McPhee was asked how the workload would be split.

"Both guys will start games," he said. "We'll see where it goes."

I get it. I get jokes.

See, it is funny because Halak has started six straight and six of seven since arriving in Washington, the one he did not start being his first game in Boston on March 6 after coach Adam Oates decided to give him a night off after some extensive travel.

In all, Halak is 4-2-0 with a 2.35 goals against average and .931 save percentage with the Capitals. On Tuesday, he made a season-high 43 saves in an impressive performance during Washington's 3-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks. Must be nice to be on the opposite end of Halak frustrating a Bruce Boudreau-coached team for once. 

That leaves Holtby as the understudy, though he really has taken on that role for several months. Since starting 22 of the Capitals' first 27 games of the season, Holtby has 17 starts in the team's past 43 games.

Back to McPhee for a moment.

“We love Braden Holtby,” he said the day of the trade. “Love his talent, love his character, love the way he battles. He’s going to be here a while, a long time."

I believe that. I believe Holtby is Washington's "goaltender of the future." It is just that he has struggled this season (largely because of the adjustments that goaltending coach Olie Kolzig asked him to make) and the Capitals are riding Halak's hot hand.

Of the Capitals' final 12 regular-season games, I can see Holtby maybe getting two or three starts as of now. And if this team makes the playoffs, you better believe Halak is getting all of the starts. 

I am of the mind, though, that Halak will not be here next year. He is being shellacked (sHalaked?) by shots at a rate that he has never experienced before and his asking price may be too pricey. Next season, it should be Holtby and Philipp Grubauer minding the Capitals' net. Knowing Holtby's competitive fire, he should have no problem getting motivated.

When discussing what kind of player is on top of the Capitals' wish list, what do we always say? A steady top-four defenseman, preferably one that is left-handed and can provide some stability to counteract Mike Green's more freewheeling style.

Problem is, those do not exist in large quantities. When you think about it, how many teams in the NHL actually employ four top-four defensemen? The Chicago Blackhawks? The New York Rangers? The Pittsburgh Penguins? Not very many.

In a perfect world, every team would have four such defensemen, but then I would also be blessed with dashing good looks. The Capitals have three defensemen who can possibly be labeled as such -- Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner -- and a dozen who are better suited as bottom-pairing blue liners. 

Taking a look at which qualified defensemen are available via free agency this summer, there are not a whole lot. The best may be Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, a physical defenseman who despite his shortcomings has proven shutdown ability. Carolina's Ron Hainsey is another option, though any defenseman described as "brittle" in a scouting report may not be someone you want to lust after.

They could always re-sign Scott Hannan. Just do not ask him to make any important line changes.

To get that game-changing defenseman, the Capitals will probably have to trade for him. It will be costly, but then again, so is fielding the defense that Washington has this season.


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[American U. Departs for NCAA Tournament]]> Tue, 18 Mar 2014 18:33:37 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000005807862_1200x675_199262787942.jpg When American University hired men's basketball coach Mike Brennan, he immediately told the team that this season wasn't about wins and losses but improving the program. Well, the team exceeded all expectations and is heading west to continue their unbelievable run in the NCAA Tournament. News4's Dianna Russini reports.]]> <![CDATA[T-Shirt Puts G'town in the Field of 68 Instead of GW]]> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 09:34:09 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/NCAA+Tournament+T+Shirt+Georgetown+George+Washington+error.jpg

Georgetown’s men’s basketball team did not make the NCAA tournament, but its logo did for a short while.

A T-shirt featuring the logos of all 68 tourney-bound teams that was on sale online snubbed ninth-seeded George Washington University, featuring Georgetown’s G instead of GW.

The NCAA quickly learned of the mistake and took the shirts down, replacing them with the D.C. "George" actually going to the dance.

Georgetown will play in the NIT postseason tournament.

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<![CDATA[AU, GW Receive NCAA Tournament Bids]]> Mon, 17 Mar 2014 10:01:35 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/179*120/478766343.jpg

The NCAA selection committee unveiled the 68-team bracket for this year's tournament Sunday evening, and two local universities officially received their itineraries. 

American University and George Washington University are Washington's representatives (Georgetown was not invited to the tournament for the third time in 10 years and first time since 2009, which is fine because the Hoyas would probably lose to another double-digit seed anyway). 

For more on what to expect from the Eagles and Colonials, here is your handy guide to next week's Madness:

American

Seed: No. 15 in West Region

Opponent: No. 2 Wisconsin

Game site/time: Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wi.; 12:40 p.m. Thursday (truTV)

Record: 20-12 (13-5 in Patriot League)

How They Got In: Won Patriot League tournament, earned automatic bid

What You Need To Know: One year after finishing 10-20, the Eagles will make their third-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since back-to-back trips in 2008 and 2009.

Under first-year head coach Mike Brennan, American was arguably the most unselfish team in the country; the Eagles recorded an assist on 65.7 percent of their field goals this season, the highest in the nation. The Eagles also allow just 58.6 points per game, sixth-fewest in the country.

That being said, expect a low-scoring game against the Badgers, who under head coach Bo Ryan have proven capable of being one of the NCAA's stingiest teams. This will likely be a grind-'em-out affair, and if American can prevent Wisconsin from pulling away early, it should make for an entertaining contest.

“We have played well defensively,” Brennan told reporters, “but playing a team like Wisconsin, you have to have almost a perfect game to give yourself a chance to be in it at the end.”

George Washington

Seed: No. 9 in East Region

Opponent: No. 8 Memphis

Game site/time: PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.; 6:55 p.m. Friday (TBS)

Record: 24-8 (11-5 in Atlantic 10)

How They Got In: At-large bid

What You Need To Know: This second-round game will feature two teams looking to snap lengthy tournament droughts. The Colonials are making their first appearance since 2007, but have not won a tournament game since 2006. Meanwhile, the Tigers are in for the eighth time in nine years, but they have not advanced past the first weekend since 2009.

George Washington features five players who average double figures and could be bolstered by the return of one of them, forward Kethan Savage, who broke his foot on Jan. 18. Forward Isaiah Armwood's prior tournament experience will surely help; he went twice with Villanova before transferring to George Washington.

As for Memphis, it sputtered down the stretch, winning four of its final eight games. Yet the Tigers did defeat powerhouse and defending national champion Louisville twice this season, so they are no pushover.

Other "Local" Schools

Mount St. Mary's, located in Emmitsburg, Md., will be one of eight teams to take part in a play-in game. The Mountaineers will face Albany for the opportunity to face No. 1 Florida in Orlando.

The University of Virginia earned a No. 1 seed after winning the ACC regular-season and tournament titles. They will face the winner of the aforementioned Memphis/George Washington game on Sunday in Raleigh. 


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<![CDATA[Caps' Laich May Be Out Rest Of Season]]> Mon, 17 Mar 2014 09:24:21 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/475394497.jpg

Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich will not accompany the team on its weeklong road trip through California this week and will travel to St. Louis to see a doctor about his ailing groin.

Laich has been hampered by the groin injury in question for the past two years. He missed all but nine games last season and 18 so far this season, including three of the past six games. For the second time in a week, the 30-year-old will visit groin specialist Michael Brunt, who performed abdominal surgery on him last spring.

"We talked and we shut Brooskie down," coach Adam Oates said following the Capitals' 4-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Wasn't feeling good. He's going to go to St. Louis and see the same doctor."

According to Oates, it is possible that Laich may undergo a minor procedure if Brunt feels that is the best course of action. If Laich does have surgery, it is likely that he will miss the final 13 games of the regular season.

Laich, considered one of Washington's leaders, has three years remaining on a six-year contract with an annual salary-cap charge of $4.5 million. Considering his failure to remain in the lineup, Laich is a potential candidate for a compliance buyout this offseason. Injured players, however, cannot be bought out.


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<![CDATA[Penner Continues To Adjust To Capitals]]> Sun, 16 Mar 2014 09:57:04 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/171*120/477027059.jpg

In 49 games with the Anaheim Ducks this season, left wing Dustin Penner spent the majority of his even-strength ice time alongside forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, two Olympic gold medalists who are among the top six scorers in the NHL. 

Since being acquired by the Washington Capitals on March 4, Penner has yet to receive a similar opportunity. Through six games, Penner has played on the second line with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer, and if practice on Saturday is any indication, he may start Washington's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday on the fourth line.

Yet the 31-year-old said it does not matter where or with whom he plays at this point in his career, instead focusing on what he can do to better help the team. 

"I'm not getting enough scoring chances, but I like the way I've skated," Penner said when asked for a self-assessment. "I wanted to come in here and first of all be defensive, try to help them knock the goalie down. As a player, just something that's ingrained in me is never being a liability on the ice."

Earlier this week, coach Adam Oates explained his reasoning behind not playing Penner with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, saying that he does not mesh well with the team's offensive catalysts because "he's not the fastest guy in the world"  and that his bruising style of play is better suited elsewhere in the lineup. 

Penner has been a non-factor through his first six games with Washington while seeing nearly one fewer minute of ice time per game than he did in Anaheim, but Oates attributes that to the ongoing adjustment process that the forward is experiencing.  

"I thought he had a couple opportunities that if he was in a little better position, he could have got 2-on-1s down the ice," Oates said of Penner's play during the Capitals' 4-3 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday. "I think that's also him learning our system in terms of how fast you've got to get across the ice, and I think he wasted some chances because of that, but I also think he did some good things in the game, so I think there's a little system stuff there too."

Penner, who had six points in his first seven games with the Los Angeles Kings upon being traded by the Edmonton Oilers in February 2011, is still looking for his first point with the Capitals. The two-time Stanley Cup champion, however, is concentrating on attaining team success.

"At this time of year, individual points mean less and team points mean way more," said Penner, a pending unrestricted free agent. "The only way individual points help now is for teams that aren't in it and guys [who] need contracts."


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<![CDATA[Backstrom Gets Late Olympic Silver ]]> Fri, 14 Mar 2014 18:44:09 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/178*120/Nicklas+Backstrom+469527473.jpg

The International Olympic Committee announced Friday that Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom will receive his silver medal after being suspended for the gold-medal game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Last month, Backstrom tested positive for elevated levels of pseudoephedrine, a banned substance by the IOC and World Anti-Doping Federation found in his allergy medication. Sweden lost to Canada by a 3-0 score.

From the IOC Disciplinary Commission:

The IOC Disciplinary Commission (DC), composed of Anita L. DeFrantz (Chairperson), Nawal El Moutawakel and Claudia Bokel, found that the provisional suspension was fully justified, not only due to the presence in excess of the applicable decision limit of PSE in his urine sample, but also due to the fact that the athlete conceded at the hearing, which took place shortly before the final match, that he had also taken medication containing PSE earlier that day.

The IOC DC took into account in particular that the athlete had been cooperative, had disclosed the medication in question in the doping control form and had relied on the specific advice of his team doctor that the intake of the medication would not give rise to an adverse analytical finding. There was also no indication of any intent of the athlete to improve his performance by taking a prohibited substance. Based upon these mitigating circumstances, the IOC DC considered that the athlete should be entitled to receive the silver medal and diploma awarded for men’s ice hockey.


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<![CDATA[A Winning Caps Casino Night]]> Thu, 13 Mar 2014 21:15:04 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000005758443_1200x675_194554947961.jpg Everybody is a winner when the Washington Capitals host their biggest fundraiser of the year. News4's Carol Maloney reports on Caps Casino Night.]]> <![CDATA[Ex-D.C. United Player Shawn Kuykendall Dies]]> Thu, 20 Mar 2014 08:09:57 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000005743665_1200x675_193415235772.jpg

Shawn Kuykendall, a former midfielder for D.C. United and American University, lost his yearlong battle with thymic cancer early Wednesday morning. He was 32 years old.

D.C. United selected Kuykendall in the fourth round of the 2005 MLS Supplemental Draft. He was a standout at American, where he finished his collegiate career ranked second in school history in assists (29) and seventh in goals (23). He was named Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year in 2004. He later joined the Eagles' coaching staff.

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<![CDATA[Caps' Road Remains Unkind During Stretch Run]]> Wed, 12 Mar 2014 13:29:39 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/193*120/477989387.jpg

The Pittsburgh Penguins completed a home-and-home series sweep of the Washington Capitals on Tuesday in a 2-0 victory, further damaging Washington's rapidly fading playoff hopes.

With 15 games remaining, the Capitals, winless in five of their past six games (1-4-1), find themselves trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers by three points in the Metropolitan Division and wild-card race, respectively, with each team holding two games in hand.

In order to extend their season, the Capitals will have to find some success on the road, which has been unkind to them throughout the season. Only three teams have won fewer road games than Washington's 12: the Edmonton Oilers (11), Calgary Flames (11) and Buffalo Sabres (seven), all among the worst teams in the league.

Including their 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 6, the Capitals have been shut out in consecutive road games for the first time since Nov. 19-22, 2010. They have been held scoreless away from Verizon Center for 126 consecutive minutes, and since forward Eric Fehr scored on a third-period breakaway in Boston on March 1, they have gone 189:07 without a 5-on-5 goal.

The problem lies in how the Capitals have started their past three road games; Washington has been outscored 7-1 and outshot 76-28 in the first and second periods combined. 

“I think maybe we just was a little bit tired, maybe we was a little sleepy but the situation is we were just not ready for the first period,” forward Alex Ovechkin told reporters following another slow start against the Penguins. “It’s hard. The team feel great, we have good mood but soon as they drop the puck we kind of was shocked. They put pressure on our D and we didn’t handle it, we make mistake and they score.”

Eight of Washington's final 15 games are on the road, and the next three may hammer the first nails into its proverbial coffin. On Sunday, the Capitals will embark on a weeklong road swing through California to face the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

The Ducks and Sharks are two of the three best home teams in the NHL, not to mention two of the top four teams in the league overall. The Capitals have dropped 17 of their past 18 games against the Sharks dating to the 1999-00 season and have not won in San Jose since Oct. 30, 1993. The Kings are the league's hottest team, having won eight straight.

So far, 14 teams have traveled to California to face the Ducks, Sharks and Kings in succession, and only three teams have left with at least four of a possible six points. 

Barring an eleventh-hour turnaround of miraculous proportions, Washington's streak of six consecutive postseason appearances, the fourth-longest active streak in the NHL, will come to an end within the next few weeks. 

Do not cry for them though, because they might already be dead


Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.



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<![CDATA[Report: Redskins Re-sign Moss ]]> Tue, 11 Mar 2014 19:54:26 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458910817.jpg

The NFL's free-agency market officially opened Tuesday afternoon, and the Washington Redskins have apparently wasted little time re-signing one of their veterans.

Wide receiver Santana Moss will reportedly remain with the Redskins on a one-year contract.

Moss, who turns 35 in June, will enter his 14th NFL season and his 10th with Washington. He caught 42 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns last season.

More to come.

RELATED STORY:


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<![CDATA[Caps Agree To Terms With Kuznetsov]]> Sat, 08 Mar 2014 23:40:18 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/178*120/1024222991.jpg

The Washington Capitals agreed to terms with forward Evgeny Kuznetsov on an entry-level contract Saturday, signaling the end of a nearly four-year wait for the highly touted prospect.  

Per the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, Kuznetsov will sign a two-year deal that is believed to have an annual worth of $900,000 -- the maximum base salary for a player drafted in 2010. He will skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Sunday morning and will reportedly make his debut on Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kuznetsov, selected 26th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, scored eight goals and earned 21 points in 31 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League this season as he missed considerable time following shoulder surgery and knee surgery. In five KHL seasons, Kuznetsov scored at least 17 goals three times.

The 21-year-old, whose arrival stateside has been anxiously awaited by the Capitals fan base, possesses high-end skill that should bolster Washington's forward depth. Expectations, however, should be tempered as he becomes accustomed to the North American style of play and culture. 

“I think you’ve got to be realistic about it," coach Adam Oates said last week. "It’s tough. Anything’s a bonus. It will be nice life for the guys, I’m sure, but in fairness to him he’ll have to go slow. I saw him play this summer, get some latest video if we could and obviously his reputation is very good. Still you’re going to the NHL, he’s never played over here. I don’t want to get everybody too pumped up before he has a chance to get acclimated to the league.”

If and when Kuznetsov does join the Capitals' lineup (likely in a top-six role at left wing or center), he will be thrust into a postseason chase; Washington entered play Saturday three points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. 

“I think when you 21 years old you have to understand especially right now when we fight for playoffs and every points counts,” forward Alex Ovechkin said recently. “He just have to play his game and help us.”


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<![CDATA[Behind the Wheel of the Capitals' Ice Resurfacer]]> Fri, 07 Mar 2014 19:03:33 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Washington+Capitals+Zamboni.jpg News4's Dianna Russini gets behind the wheel with Jamie Gibson, the driver of the Washington Capitals' ice resurfacer.]]> <![CDATA[Halak Won't Mask Caps' Defensive Woes]]> Thu, 06 Mar 2014 15:03:58 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/469719469.jpg

In discussing his rationale behind acquiring goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee explained that the veteran provides "an upgrade on the [team's goaltending] tandem."

"He's played well in Montreal, he's played well in St. Louis and we hope he can come here and play well," McPhee added. "He's a good goalie and he can get hot."

What Halak's arrival does not address, however, is Washington's glaring need for a defensive upgrade, something that is seemingly obvious to everyone but the franchise's chief architect.

The Capitals' 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers was the latest team-wide exercise in defensive futility. Despite nearly rallying from a 4-0 deficit, sloppy puck management, egregious turnovers and blown coverages once again doomed Washington. 

Expecting Halak to immediately conceal a blemish that has become impossible to hide is shortsighted. It may not matter how competent of a goaltender he is when the defense in front of him is porous. 

For three-plus seasons, Halak had the benefit -- or honor, really -- of playing behind one of the NHL's stingiest defenses.

In each of the past three seasons, the Blues have finished either first or second league-wide in shots against per game, a trend that is likely to continue this season as they currently rank second in that category at 26.4 per game. Meanwhile, the Capitals, a team apparently content with getting outshot, have allowed 33.4 shots per game, fourth-most.

Since 2010, the Blues have allowed at least 35 shots in a single game just 30 times in 273 total games, Halak having been in net for 16 of them. The Capitals have done so 31 times this season alone.

Halak and his new stablemate, Braden Holtby, have played an almost identical amount of even-strength minutes this season  -- roughly 1,695 to 1,691, respectively -- in the same number of games (40), and the discrepancy in shots faced is fairly noticeable, perhaps providing some indication of just how much more Halak, who may make his team debut Thursday against the Boston Bruins, will be tested in Washington. 

Holtby has been challenged by 151 more shots than Halak, and their save percentages are more or less the same (Holtby's 92.4 percent to Halak's 92.5 percent). To Halak's credit, he has a career 26-5-4 record, 2.28 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and four shutouts when facing more than 33 shots.

The Capitals can only hope that the 28-year-old's past success when facing a heavy workload comes into play down the stretch.

One thing is for sure though: Jaro, I have a feeling we are not in St. Louis anymore. 

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<![CDATA[Capitals Acquire Jaroslav Halak From Sabres]]> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 22:52:32 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/179*120/454242037.jpg

The Washington Capitals waited until the NHL's 3 p.m. trade deadline had come and gone before announcing a certainly intriguing transaction, acquiring goaltender Jaroslav Halak and a 2015 third-round draft pick from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla.

"We've been thinking about it this week," general manager George McPhee said of adding Halak. "We looked at all opportunities and where we can upgrade on our team and what's available and what's the price. The more we thought about this, the better it looked. And we were able to accomplish it."

Halak arrives in Washington having just been traded last Friday to the Sabres from the St. Louis Blues as part of a package for goaltender Ryan Miller. In 40 games with the Blues this season, Halak earned a 24-9-4 record with a 2.23 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and carries a $3.75 million salary-cap charge.

The Capitals' crease has been in a state of flux all season, from Braden Holtby initially serving as the clear-cut starter to a three-player logjam created by the emergence of Philipp Grubauer.

Halak will be expected to provide a steady presence in goal while splitting time with Holtby. The two have the makings of a formidable tandem; Holtby and Halak rank 11th and 12th in the NHL in even-strength save percentage at 92.6% and 92.5%, respectively

"Both guys will start games," McPhee said. "We'll see where it goes."

As for Neuvirth, he had become a victim of circumstance over the past three seasons. After starting 45 games for Washington in 2010-11, he has started only 53 since as untimely injuries or illnesses prevented him from ever wrangling the starting position. Neuvirth's agent requested a trade on his behalf in December, and Neuvirth himself informed McPhee that he was uncomfortable in the backup role. 

"[Neuvirth] wasn't happy being a No. 2, and so we tried to accommodate him," McPhee said.. "We brought in an experienced guy. I think it's an upgrade on the tandem, which is what we wanted to accomplish."

It was nearly four years ago when Halak, then 24 years old, backstopped the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens to an unprecedented comeback against the top-seeded and Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, Halak stopped 131 of Washington's 134 shots in the final three games as Montreal rallied, becoming the first-ever No. 8 team to do so from a 3-1 deficit.

Having been felled by Halak's inspired play in the past, the Capitals hope to benefit from it as they attempt to secure their seventh straight playoff berth.

"He’s played well in Montreal, he’s played well in St. Louis and we hope he can come here and play well," McPhee said. "He’s a good goalie and he can get hot. The objective was to try to upgrade the tandem and we did.”


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<![CDATA[Caps Acquire Klesla From Coyotes For Erat]]> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 09:30:11 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/171*120/466136101.jpg

The Washington Capitals have acquired defenseman Rostislav Klesla, forward prospect Chris Brown and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for forward Martin Erat and minor-league forward John Mitchell.

Klesla, a veteran of 659 NHL games, has one goal and four points in 25 games this season. When healthy, he is a solid shutdown defenseman that can fill a need on the left side of Washington's defensive depth chart. The 31-year-old, once considered one of the Coyotes' top defensemen, fell out of favor in Phoenix, which waived him in November. Klesla, averaging a career-low 16:31 of ice time per game, went unclaimed and has spent 21 games in the minors.

Both he and Brown, who led American Hockey League rookies last season with 29 goals, will report to the Hershey Bears.

Erat's departure ends a tumultuous year for the 32-year-old, who joined the Capitals from the Nashville Predators at last season's trade deadline. A top-six fixture with the Predators, Erat never truly settled in as the Capitals' coaching staff struggled to find a place for him, leading him to make public his desire for a trade in November.

Even after receiving more of a prominent role, Erat was steadfast in that desire. In 62 total games with the Capitals, Erat scored twice and earned 25 assists, numbers that did nothing to dispel the belief that acquiring him for highly-touted prospect Filip Forsberg last year was a colossal mistake.

“I think it’s all about how the coaching staff trusts you, you know,” Erat said in a conference call on Tuesday. “And if you get time on the ice, I get my confidence. I feel pretty confident I’ll get my scoring touch back.” 

Earlier on Tuesday, the Capitals acquired forward Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks for a 2014 fourth-round draft pick. After these moves, the Capitals have roughly $1.8 million in salary cap space, according to CapGeek


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<![CDATA[Caps' Orlov Suspended for Two Games]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 18:06:12 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/186*120/476128101.jpg

The NHL Department of Player Safety has suspended Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov for two games for boarding Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn.

Midway through the third period of the Flyers' eventual 5-4 overtime victory on Sunday afternoon, Orlov, seeking retaliation for a heavy hit that Schenn delivered seconds earlier, drove the Flyers forward into the corner boards, drawing a five-minute major. 

"While it is true that Schenn takes a look over his shoulder and is aware that Orlov is behind him, this does not give Orlov the green light to finish his check from behind and with such significant force," the league explained. "The onus is upon Orlov to avoid this check entirely or, at the very least, to minimize it. Instead, recognizing that it is Schenn, Orlov retaliates for the earlier hit by exploding up and into the hit to deliver a violent check."

Without Orlov, the Capitals will be without one of their top-four defensemen in their rematches against the Flyers on Wednesday and the Boston Bruins, who they defeated 4-2 this past weekend, on Thursday. 

In what could be a corresponding move, Washington recalled Jack Hillen from his conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. The 28-year-old has not played in an NHL game since fracturing the tibial plateau in his right leg on Oct. 3. 

If Hillen is not ready to be activated from long-term injured reserve, other possible replacements include Nate Schmidt, who has appeared in 29 games for Washington this season, or Julien Brouillette. 


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<![CDATA[Report: Redskins To Franchise Brian Orakpo]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 13:25:18 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/452948831.jpg

The Washington Redskins are apparently prepared to place their franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo if the two sides cannot come to terms on a new contract by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, according to a report from ESPN.

The three-time Pro Bowler led Washington defenders with 10 sacks last season after missing 14 games in 2012 with a torn pectoral muscle. 

If Orakpo is franchised, then he will earn about $11.5 million next season.

By doing so, the Redskins would have the right to retain him by matching any contract offer from another team. If Orakpo were to accept an outside offer, the Redskins would receive two first-round draft picks as compensation. 


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<![CDATA[Capitals Continue to Squander Two-Goal Leads]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 13:03:43 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/186*120/476137405.jpg

The Washington Capitals' propensity for relinquishing two-goal leads has made an unwelcome return since the team reassembled last week following the NHL's Olympic hiatus.

In three games, the Capitals have blown three such leads, most painfully a 4-2 advantage on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation. The Flyers ultimately prevailed in a 5-4 overtime victory, a comeback win that prevented the Capitals from attaining a playoff position for the first time since Jan. 18.

"I'm just more frustrated with the way we played those last 10 minutes," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "It was embarrassing.

"I don't know what it is. We didn’t play a game today that we should have won. We were lucky to get to overtime. When the game is on the line like that and we have the lead, we have to lock down and play defensive hockey, and we aren’t doing that.”

In all, the Capitals have blown a total of 11 two-goal leads this season, including four in which they led by two in the third period alone:

  • Nov. 9 v. Phoenix Coyotes -- Blew 3-1 lead, lost 4-3 in shootout
  • Nov. 27 v. Ottawa Senators - Blew 3-1 lead, lost 6-4
  • Dec. 21 v. New Jersey Devils - Blew 4-2 lead, lost 5-4 in overtime
  • Dec. 23 v. Anaheim Ducks - Blew 2-0 lead, lost 3-2
  • Jan. 4 v. Minnesota Wild - Blew 2-0 lead, lost 5-3
  • Jan. 9 v. Tampa Bay Lightning - Blew 3-1 lead, won 4-3
  • Jan. 28 v. Buffalo Sabres - Blew 2-0 lead, won 5-4 in overtime
  • Feb. 2 v. Detroit Red Wings - Blew 4-2 lead, won 6-5 in overtime
  • Feb. 27 v. Florida Panthers - Blew 2-0/4-2 leads, won 5-4
  • March 2. v. Philadelphia Flyers - Blew 4-2 lead, lost 5-4 in overtime

“We’ve done it too many times," forward Eric Fehr said. "We almost don’t want two-goal leads the way we’re playing with them right now. I don’t know what it is, if we shut our brains off for a little bit or think the game’s over. In this league we should have learned by now the games are far from over.”

Washington has been able to salvage at least one point in seven of the aforementioned games (4-3-3), but it could not afford to essentially hand two points to Philadelphia, a fellow Metropolitan Division inhabitant who is also jockeying for postseason positioning in the Eastern Conference.

It is human nature for a team with a multi-goal lead to "relax" or "take its foot off the gas" in an effort to protect that lead.

The Capitals are no different; Washington has taken 44.1 percent of shots when leading by two goals or more this season as compared to 48.3 percent when the score is "close," which is defined as "game situations where the score is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods."

Yet the discrepancy between Philadelphia and Washington's shot attempts once defenseman Dmitry Orlov gave the Capitals the 4-2 lead late in the second period is startling.

In 26:22 of game time, the Flyers outshot the Capitals 19-4 -- including the final 13 -- with a 43-11 advantage in total shot attempts.

“Even though we are up, we still have to play desperate a little bit, just wanting to really finish them off, I think," forward Joel Ward said. "We kind of let [Philadelphia] off the hook a little bit. We have done that the last couple of games, which is frustrating. I think at times we may sit back a little bit, and you just can’t do that in this league, especially with guys like that on the opposition.”

To be fair, nine of the shots and 17 of the attempts came during the five-minute power play caused by Orlov's undisciplined and retaliatory boarding penalty that earned him a phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.

Regardless, a team struggling to keep their tenuous postseason hopes alive simply cannot give points away.

“It hurts because we blew a lead and it’s the wrong way,” coach Adam Oates said. “At this point in time you’re supposed to be better than that.”


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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>