July 26, 2014

Washington Capitals make big moves in free agency to address defensive depth

The opening day of free agency has traditionally not been a day when the Washington Capitals have made much of a splash. This year, however, was a different story. New Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has already proven himself unafraid of taking risks – and spending a little money in the process.

Signing former Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen – and effectively locking up $68 million dollars between them — represents two of the largest deals of the beginning of free agency. Orpik’s contract was five years, $5.5 million and Niskanen’s contract is for seven years at $5.75 million. Both contracts contain a limited no trade clause as well.

Todd Reirden, newly appointed assistant coach in charge of defense, who worked with Orpik and Niskanen in his former position in Pittsburgh, was speculated to have influenced the signings of both players, but MacLellan told reporters the two players were on his radar long before Reirden’s hiring.

“It’s a big commitment by our organization and hopefully the players see the commitment by both ownership and management to address perceived needs that we do have,” MacLellan told reporters. “I’m excited about it and hopefully they are too.”

The money spent was also prioritized for Orpik’s signing, not Niskanen, as has been speculated. Orpik, according to MacLellan, was always the main target for the Caps. That Niskanen, who was courted by at least 10 teams, chose Washington as his destination was icing on the cake for the Capitals.

“The total dollars were centered around Brooks,” said MacLellan. “We needed to get him in first because we thought that was our greatest need. We tried to get him to stay as low as possible. We struggled with that first year for a while and then we ended up we felt we had to go there because it was getting so competitive.”

MacLellan feels that the Capitals addressed their greatest needs via free agency – goaltending and defense – not the draft, as had been widely panned. “I think we had some needs and we addressed them,” MacLellan said. “We had cap room. Ownership gave the green light to get to the cap and we spent the money where we thought we needed to spend it the most.”

“I like our defense. We have six really good defensemen. I think we have good balance now. I think we’re gonna let it play out and see how we’re doing,” said MacLellan. “We’ve added two new guys and I think it might take a little time to get the chemistry going.”

He elaborated a bit on what defensive pairings might look like with the additions of Niskanen and Orpik, as well. Orpik and Carlson were mentioned as a possible shutdown paring. Add Alzner/Niskanen and Orlov/Green to that equation, and the Capitals blue line looks the best it has in years.
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 Katie Brown is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Capitals. She grew up in Virginia and Maryland, currently resides in Arlington, VA, and developed a love for the sport of hockey as a youngster while watching her brothers play. She is co-host of Girls Just Wanna Have Puck podcast. You can follow Katie on Twitter @katie_brown47.

Capitals draft Australian Nathan Walker in third round of NHL Draft

Nathan Walker, the Washington Capitals’ third round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, is a familiar face to those who follow the team. Walker has been a part of the Capitals organization since signing with the Hershey Bears of the AHL in 2013 after attending Washington’s development camp.

The Capitals traded their 104th and 118th overall picks to the Rangers and moved up to 89th overall and selected Walker, who is the first Australian ever to be drafted into the NHL. Walker was born in Wales, but raised in Sydney, Australia. He moved to the Czech Republic at age 13 and became the youngest player in the Czech Extraliga league. He was listed as the top European skater in the 2012 NHL Draft, but was not selected that year.

In 43 games with the Bears, Walker scored 5 goals and had 6 assists and logged 40 penalty minutes.

Walker did not make the trip to Philadelphia, so he was not available to reporters for comment.

 

Washington Capitals trade up in second round, select goalie Vitek Vanecek

NHL Central Scouting has Czech goaltender Vitek Vanecek ranked as the eighth best European goalie in this year’s draft. The Capitals traded their 44th and 74th picks to Buffalo and moved up to 39th, where they selected Vanecek, a goaltender from the Czech Republic. The Capitals drafted Vanecek’s teammate, Jakub Vrana, 13th overall. Vrana and Vanecek were named two of the top 3 players on each team as selected by coaches of the Czech team at the U18 World Championship this year. Here’s what we know about Vanecek  (Hockeysfuture.com scouting report):

Vaněček is an athletic, 6-foot-1 and 181-pound goaltender who uses his reflexes, a quick glove and blocker to stone the opponents. He’s been able to make big saves all season long, relying on his reflexes and athleticism. On the other hand, he’s been suffering from inconsistency as he sometimes just has a bad day. Not only has Vaněček been an efficient netminder in junior hockey, but he’s also made the first couple of steps towards the professional leagues.

 

Capitals first round pick Vrana: “I want to be the best”

Jakub Vrana left the Czech Republic at age 15 to play in Sweden’s U18 league, and 3 years later, his parents made their first trip to the United States to see their son drafted into the NHL.

It was his mother’s first time in an airplane, and she was uneasy. “She was really nervous, but I tired to help her a little bit,” said Vrana.

Leaving home at such a young age was understandably difficult for him, but he understood it would pave the way for his career.

“I was there alone, in an apartment. I needed to learn a lot of stuff there, let’s say cooking, so I think that helped me a lot with life, too,” said Vrana. “Of course I miss my family, but the choice of why I go there is hockey, and I love hockey. I was really happy every day, with the practices and everything. “

Vrana says he doesn’t know many NHL players, but his playing style has been compared to Los Angeles Kings winger Marian Gaborik. He is confident he can put in the necessary work to make it to the NHL. “I just want to try to do everything to make the team,” he said.

“I think you can make better everything as a player, so I will work on everything. I want to be better at everything. I want to be the best.”

He’s not sure what it will take to make it in the NHL yet, though, since he hasn’t been tested.“I haven’t been in any camps yet, I haven’t tried it, so we will see. I will fight about my spot and do my best.”

The Capitals took Vrana 13th overall after trying to move up a couple picks to take defenseman Haydn Fleury, according to general manager Brian MacClellan. It obviously didn’t pan out, so Vrana was their choice.

There is a connection between the Capitals and Vrana, as well. While in the Czech Republic, Vrana played most of his young life at former Capitals defenseman Frantisek Kucera, who played 56 games with the franchise before being traded to Pittsburgh as part of the maligned Jaromir Jagr trade. Kucera’s brother, Vojtek is a Capitals scout.

“I know their one scout [Vojtek], his brother owned the rink where I played when I played in Czech, so I know him really well. It was nice to see him there, not only in the rink but every day I was in Czech.”

Regarded as a fast skater with a hard shot, Vrana considers himself a “finisher,” that is, he excels at scoring goals rather than setting them up. Though he’s struggled to find ice time with Linkoping this season (2 goals in 24 games), he said working on defense after practices has helped him improve in a weak area as well.

When asked about his emotional approach to the game, he quipped, “You never know when is going to be your last goal. You have to celebrate it.”

 

 

Todd Reirden named Washington Capitals assistant coach

On the heels of Mitch Korn’s appointment as head goaltending coach in Washington, former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden will now work alongside Barry Trotz as the new Capitals assistant coach.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have named Todd Reirden assistant coach, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today.

Reirden, 43, spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins and worked closely with Pittsburgh’s defensemen and power-play unit. Under his guidance, the Penguins’ power play scored the most power-play goals (164) and posted the highest power-play percentage (22.3%) in the NHL since 2011. Reirden oversaw a defensive corps that ranked seventh in goals (38) in 2013-14, sent three players to the 2014 Winter Olympics (Olli Maatta, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik) and ranked in the top 12 in goals against in three of his four seasons with the team. He also helped develop defenseman Kris Letang into a two-time NHL All-Star and 2013 Norris Trophy finalist and helped Matt Niskanen post the highest plus/minus (+33) among NHL defensemen in 2013-14.

Reirden joined the Penguins organization in 2008 as an assistant coach with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL and was promoted to head coach following Dan Bylsma’s promotion to Pittsburgh. In his two seasons as head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Reirden guided the team to a 55-43-8 record and has seen 36 of his former players reach the NHL, including 15 defensemen who played in the NHL during the 2013-14 season. During the 2009 playoffs, the Deerfield, Ill., native joined Pittsburgh’s extended playoff coaching staff and assisted with in-game adjustments, helping the team capture the Stanley Cup. Prior to joining the Penguins organization, Reirden spent one season as an assistant coach with his alma mater – the Bowling Green Falcons.

Reirden was selected by New Jersey in the 12th round, 242nd overall, in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. He recorded 46 points (11g, 35a) and 181 penalty minutes in 183 career NHL games with Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and Phoenix.

Mitch Korn announced as Capitals head goaltending coach

Confirming reports that had previously surfaced, the Capitals formally announced Tuesday that Mitch Korn would be joining the team as head goaltending coach, replacing Capitals alum Olie Kolzig. Korn worked alongside Barry Trotz in Nashville and brings 35 years of coaching experience to the Capitals.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have named Mitch Korn the team’s goaltending coach, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today.

Following the season Olie Kolzig expressed his desire to not continue as a full-time goaltending coach due to family reasons. Korn and Kolzig are currently discussing Kolzig’s level of time commitment and involvement with the organization.

“I am very pleased to join the Washington Capitals and continue to work alongside Barry Trotz,” said Korn. “I look forward to working with all of the talented goaltenders in the organization and helping them improve and succeed on the ice. I want to thank the Nashville Predators for a great 16 years and wish them the very best in the future.

“I have known Olie for many years and have a great appreciation and respect for the way he views the goaltending position. We will continue to discuss the best way for him to remain with the organization while doing what’s best for his family.”

Korn, 56, spent the past 15 seasons as the goaltending coach for the Nashville Predators and has more than 35 years of coaching experience. Korn worked with all netminders in the Nashville system during his tenure with the team and helped develop several into elite NHL goaltenders. Under Korn’s direction, Pekka Rinne was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2011 and 2012 and finished in the top 10 in Hart Trophy voting in both seasons. Korn also helped develop two-time Czech Olympian, 2010 World Champion and NHL All-Star Tomas Vokoun.

Before joining the Predators in 1998, Korn spent seven seasons (1991-98) with the Buffalo Sabres organization, where he worked with Hockey Hall-of-Famer and two-time Hart Trophy-winner Dominik Hasek. While working with Korn, Hasek captured four Vezina Trophies and led the NHL in save percentage five times. Korn also saw Buffalo’s goaltending tandem (Hasek and Hall-of-Famer Grant Fuhr) capture the NHL’s Jennings Trophy (lowest team goals-against average) during the 1994-95 season. Korn has also developed goalie coaches, with several whom have learned under him serving around North America, including five currently at the NHL level.

Korn began his coaching career at Kent State University in 1979 shortly after ending his playing career at the school. He worked at Miami University’s Goggin Ice Center in Oxford, Ohio, for 30 years and coached the school’s goalies until joining the Sabres in 1991. Korn, who runs goaltending and defensemen schools around the country in the off-season, also has contributed regularly to several hockey publications, including USA Hockey Magazine, Goalies’ World and In-Goal Magazine.

2014-15 Regular season schedule for Washington Capitals announced

The Capitals’ preseason schedule, Winter Classic opponent, and regular season schedule have all been released, but the venue for the 2015 Winter Classic is still a mystery. Tuesday, the NHL awards begin in Las Vegas, and the NHL draft kicks off Friday evening in Philadelphia. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the venue announced at one of those events.

Without further ado, find the schedule in entirety below.

OCTOBER
Thu, Oct. 9 Montreal 7 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 11 at Boston 7 p.m.
Tue, Oct. 14 San Jose 7 p.m.
Thu, Oct. 16 New Jersey 7 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 18 Florida 7 p.m.
Wed, Oct. 22 at Edmonton 9:30 p.m.
Sat, Oct. 25 at Calgary 10 p.m.
Sun, Oct. 26 at Vancouver 10 p.m.
Wed. Oct. 29 Detroit 7:30 p.m.

NOVEMBER
Sat, Nov. 1 at Tampa Bay 7 p.m.
Sun, Nov. 2 Arizona 7 p.m.
Tue, Nov. 4 Calgary 7 p.m.
Fri, Nov. 7 at Chicago 8:30 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 8 Carolina 8 p.m.
Tue, Nov. 11 Columbus 7 p.m.
Fri, Nov. 14 New Jersey 7 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 15 at St. Louis 8 p.m.
Tue, Nov. 18 at Arizona 9 p.m.
Thu, Nov. 20 at Colorado 9 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 22 Buffalo 7 p.m.
Wed, Nov. 26 at NY Islanders 7 p.m.
Fri, Nov. 28 NY Islanders 5 p.m.
Sat, Nov. 29 at Toronto 7 p.m.

DECEMBER
Tue, Dec. 2 Vancouver 7 p.m.
Thu, Dec. 4 at Carolina 7 p.m.
Sat, Dec. 6 at New Jersey 7 p.m.
Tue, Dec. 9 at Tampa Bay 7:30 p.m.
Thu, Dec. 11 Columbus 7 p.m.
Sat, Dec. 13 Tampa Bay 7 p.m.
Tue, Dec. 16 at Florida 7:30 p.m.
Thu, Dec. 18 at Columbus 7 p.m.
Sat, Dec. 20 at New Jersey 7 p.m.
Mon, Dec. 22 Ottawa 7 p.m.
Tue, Dec. 23 at NY Rangers 7 p.m.
Sat. Dec. 27 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
Mon, Dec. 29 at NY Islanders 7 p.m.

JANUARY
Thu, Jan. 1 Chicago 1 p.m.
Sun, Jan. 4 Florida 3 p.m.
Wed, Jan. 7 at Toronto 7 p.m.
Thu, Jan. 8 at Philadelphia 7 p.m.
Sat, Jan. 10 Detroit 7 p.m.
Mon, Jan. 12 Colorado 7 p.m.
Wed, Jan. 14 Philadelphia 8 p.m.
Fri, Jan. 16 at Nashville 8 p.m.
Sat, Jan. 17 at Dallas 8 p.m.
Tue, Jan. 20 Edmonton 7 p.m.
Tue, Jan. 27 at Columbus 7 p.m.
Wed, Jan. 28 Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
Sat, Jan. 31 at Montreal 1 p.m.

FEBRUARY
Sun, Feb. 1 St. Louis 1 p.m.
Tue, Feb. 3 Los Angeles 7 p.m.
Thu, Feb. 5 at Ottawa 7:30 p.m.
Fri, Feb. 6 Anaheim 7 p.m.
Sun, Feb. 8 Philadelphia 3 p.m.
Wed, Feb. 11 at San Jose 10:30 p.m.
Sat, Feb. 14 at Los Angeles 10:30 p.m.
Sun, Feb. 15 at Anaheim 8 p.m.
Tue, Feb. 17 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
Thu, Feb. 19 Winnipeg 7 p.m.
Sat, Feb. 21 NY Islanders 12:30 p.m.
Sun, Feb. 22 at Philadelphia 3 p.m.
Wed, Feb. 25 Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
Fri, Feb. 27 at Carolina 7 p.m.

MARCH
Sun, March 1 Toronto 7 p.m.
Tue, March 3 at Columbus 7 p.m.
Thu, March 5 Minnesota 7 p.m.
Sat, March 7 Buffalo 7 p.m.
Wed, March 11 NY Rangers 8 p.m.
Fri, March 13 Dallas 7 p.m.
Sun, March 15 Boston TBD
Mon, March 16 at Buffalo 7 p.m.
Thu, March 19 at Minnesota 8 p.m.
Sat, March 21 at Winnipeg 7 p.m.
Thu, March 26 New Jersey 7 p.m.
Sat, March 28 Nashville 12:30 p.m.
Sun, March 29 at NY Rangers 3 p.m.
Tue, March 31 Carolina 7 p.m.

APRIL
Thu, April 2 at Montreal 7:30 p.m.
Sat, April 4 at Ottawa 7 p.m.
Sun, April 5 at Detroit 5 p.m.
Wed, April 8 Boston 8 p.m.
Sat, April 11 NY Rangers 3 p.m.

Washington Capitals will host Montreal Canadiens in 2014-15 season opener

Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals released the date and opponent for their 2014-15 regular season home opener, the Montreal Canadiens on October 9. The meeting against the Canadiens will also be the Capitals’ first game of the season.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals will host the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center on Oct. 9 in the team’s opening game of the 2014-15 season, the National Hockey League and Washington Capitals announced today.

The Capitals are 6-1-0 all-time in season openers at Verizon Center and will face Montreal in its opening game of the season for the first time in franchise history. Washington posted a 2-1-0 record against the Canadiens last season and are 36-30-9-1 all-time against Montreal at home. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin registered four points (three goals, one assist) in three games against the Canadiens in 2013-14 and Braden Holtby posted a 2-0-0 record with one shutout, a 0.96 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage.

The Capitals’ full 2014-15 regular-season schedule will be released tomorrow.

Washington Capitals announce 2014 preseason schedule

Thursday afternoon, the Washington Capitals announced the preseason schedule for the 2014-15 season. The official NHL schedule has not been released, but is reported to be announced Sunday, June 22, when the Capitals will find out their opponent  for the 2015 Winter Classic. The venue will be announced at that time as well.

 

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have released their 2014 preseason schedule, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today. The schedule will feature eight games against five opponents and will include four games at Verizon Center.

The Capitals will open their preseason schedule against the Buffalo Sabres on Sept. 21 at Verizon Center. The Caps will travel to Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and Boston on Sept. 24 before hosting the Bruins on Sept. 26. The Capitals will then travel to Montreal on Sept. 28 and Buffalo on Oct. 1 and will conclude their preseason schedule with two games at home against Philadelphia on Oct. 2 and Carolina on Oct. 5.

The Capitals were 4-0-4 in the preseason in 2013, and their all-time preseason record is 147-115-33-10.

All preseason games will be carried via WashingtonCaps.com, with selected games to be broadcast on 106.7 The Fan and WFED-AM 1500. The full preseason broadcast schedule will be announced in September. The complete 2014-15 NHL regular season schedule will be released at a later date.

The complete preseason schedule is listed below:

Date                Opponent        Location                  Time

Sun., Sept. 21 vs. Buffalo, Verizon Center 5 p.m.
Mon., Sept. 22 at Philadelphia, Wells Fargo Center 7 p.m.
Wed., Sept. 24 at Boston, TD Garden 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 26 vs. Boston, Verizon Center 7 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 28 at Montreal, Bell Centre 6 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 1 at Buffalo, First Niagara Center 7 p.m.
Thurs., Oct. 2 vs. Philadelphia, Verizon Center 7 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 5 vs. Carolina, Verizon Center 3 p.m.

 

 

Washington Mystics Game 9 Recap: Mystics drop third straight game, lose to Phoenix Mercury, 81-66

Monique Currie scored 9 points in Tuesday's loss to the Mercury. Image courtesy of Monumental Network.

Monique Currie scored 9 points in Tuesday’s loss to the Mercury. Image courtesy of Monumental Network.

The Washington Mystics hoped for a better start to their homestand than an 81-66 loss to the Phoenix Mercury, their third consecutive loss, and longest losing streak of the season.

An ugly but effective first half (24 rebounds, 17/39 from the field) saw the Mystics tied 37-37 at the half, but things dissolved  for the home team in the second half, as they have frequently this season. The Mercury went on a 10-0 run in the third quarter, and outscored the Mystics 23-16 in that span.

Coach Mike Thibault has struggled to find a consistently successful lineup in the second half of games this season, and shuffled players quite a bit during Tuesday night’s loss. He told reporters he “wasn’t happy” with the team’s performance in the third quarter particularly, but it showed how much they still need to improve as a young team.

“We’ve got some growing up to do as far as having a sense about the game, and the other part is our shooting,” said Thibault. “Our three primary guards tonight were 8 for 29. That’s a struggle for us. I was glad to see Mo [Currie] come in and kind of get herself going a little bit. I thought Emma played well but they [Phoenix] did a better job in the second half,” said Thibault. “Phoenix is really good and apparently they don’t foul.”

That is no exaggeration: Washington went 3-for-5 at the free throw line. Five attempts for the entire game.

Guards Bria Hartley and Ivory Latta each went 3-for-11 from the field, and Kara Lawson went 2-for-7 on the night, with a team-high 6 assists. Emma Meesseman led the team with 14 points and 7 rebounds; Kia Vaughn scored 6 points and had a team-high 9 rebounds; and Tianna Hawkins scored 6 points and had 6 rebounds. Monique Currie looked perhaps her most comfortable all season, scoring 9 points and adding 3 rebounds. 

Brittney Griner led the Mercury with 20 points; Diana Taurasi had 10 assists, and Candice Dupree had 9 rebounds.

The Mystics have two more games at home, two more chances to turn things around before going on the road.

“For us, it is about having quality effort for the entire game,” said guard Kara Lawson. “This league is difficult. It’s not easy, so you are not going to go through undefeated and we know that. We definitely have to try to get out of this losing streak.”

 

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