December 18, 2014

Pucks, sticks and Namaste; a new culture for the Caps

Previous to this season, I covered the Washington Capitals full-time for six seasons, but last Friday was the first time I visited the Caps locker room under new Head Coach Barry Trotz.  It was also the first time I’ve seen players getting quickly out of their pads for…yoga.

That’s right, yoga.

“We think it’s a necessary element in staying fit, staying flexible,” Trotz said. “I think yoga helps with the blood flow. It helps with relaxation, it helps for healing, all those things. That’s the reason that we do that.”

In a league where the games are decided by the thinnest of margins, every team is looking for an edge and Trotz has brought a brand new culture to DC.

“We try to do [team yoga sessions] a couple of times a month,” Trotz said. “If a player misses a game, that’s a lot of money to an organization. So we don’t want our players to miss any time. It’s just another way of [living a] healthy lifestyle, if you will.

Everything from what we eat, to how we train, to how we travel, sleep habits, all those things are considerations for us to have success…by facilitating things like that, you develop good professional habits. We ask our players to try to find that next level and become the best at what that do and give themselves the best chance to be successful. That’s modern sports.”

One man who has rarely been called “modern” is long-time Capitals color man and former NHL player Craig Laughlin.

“We were lucky if we stretched back in the day.”

Laughlin played in the 80’s when working out meant getting out of bed, but now he preaches yoga at the Network Hockey Development Program that he runs.  “We have yoga classes twice a week. I’m such a big believer that I’m going to give it a try this summer.”

It’s a trend that’s spreading throughout the NHL.

“I think probably half the teams, maybe three-quarters of the teams do [yoga]. I know a lot of players do it in the summer,” Trotz added

One player who has done it for years on his own is veteran Capitals forward Brooks Laich.

“Personally I’m a huge believer in yoga. I do yoga twice a week throughout the summer, have for the last five years and I have a [trainer] hired that I just do one-on-one personal yoga — I believe that much in it. I think it’s obviously great for your flexibility but it also allows you to strengthen some muscles that you normally wouldn’t pay any attention to.

We usually do it later on in the week where guys are a little bit more sore and we do a re-energizing and kind of lengthening session, that helps the body recover, rather than putting yourself through a hard workout where maybe you’re not going to get as much from it. I’m a tremendous believer in it and I’m really happy that we implemented it this season.”

Yoga has been stereotyped as more of a workout for women, but that stereotype is being broken.

“I’ve seen yoga grow and more men coming to classes,” says Karolynn Hilaski, who is a registered and trained yoga instructor at Core Power Yoga in DC.

“I believe that men are also seeing results in flexibility, range of motion, and their breathing, which all leads to better performance with physical activities such as personal fitness goals and sports.  Alongside, mental clarity is known to be a huge part of yoga. This also aids in better performance in many activities including work, everyday life, and sport related activities.”

An 82-game regular season can put a huge toll on your body — not only physically, but mentally as well — which is another big benefit of yoga.

“I think it’s just a little different break for the guys, schedules been pretty hectic as of late,” Capitals veteran forward Joel Ward said. “Try to mix in different activities, just try to keep things fresh and keep the mind going. It’s been helpful for sure.

The guys have been adapting really well and obviously you want to maintain that flexibility as much as you can and at the same time maintain and keeping that brain moving.”

Yoga is here to stay and will only rise in popularity as more and more sports teams implement it.  So next time you run into your favorite Caps player, make sure to say “Namaste”.

______

Sky Kerstein is a Contributor to District Sports Page. Sky grew up in Chantilly, Virginia and is a 2001 graduate of Chantilly High School. Sky graduated in 2005 from Western Michigan University where he was a communications major. Sky got his start in radio interning for WTOP sports and then became the Caps reporter for the Capitals Radio Network. Sky also was a producer for two years for Major League Baseball Network Radio on SiriusXM Radio. Sky was the Capitals beat reporter at 106.7 The FAN for several seasons and has covered the Redskins, Nationals & Wizards for The FAN. Sky also calls high school play by play for the Gameday Broadcast Network and has covered every professional team in the DC and Baltimore regions. You can follow Sky on Twitter @SkyKerstein.

Washington Capitals Game 26 Recap: Ovechkin scores two as Caps hold Lightning at bay

Three critical road games against two division opponents and team among the league’s elite, and three games where an early goal gave the Washington Capitals a win. Alex Ovechkin scored just 40 seconds into the game, and the team got consistent scoring throughout as they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Tuesday.

The Caps held the league’s most prolific offense to just two goals, and never trailed their former Southeast Division rivals.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 26 Recap: Holtby, Secondary scoring leads Caps over Devils on road

Karl Alzner, Jay Beagle, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brooks Laich all scored, and Braden Holtby was often spectacular, as the Washington Capitals took care of the New Jersey Devils on the road, 4-1.

It’s the first time the Caps (12-10-4) have won back-to-back games in regulation this season. The win allows the Caps to slide into third place in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Rangers loss.

Holtby made 34 saves in the effort, including an impressive effort again Marin Gelinas while short-handed when it was still close. Then in the third he made 15 saves, including robbing Jaromir Jagr twice as the Devils peppered him with shots in attempt to get back into the contest. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 22 Review: Caps go up early, beat Islanders at home

The Washington Capitals and their fans can give thanks on Friday night, as Washington returned to the win column with a 5-2 home win over the New York Islanders. The win comes after the Caps had lost four of their last six games and were in need of regular scoring, and got it in a hurry. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part V: How many games for Laich?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?

Part V: Over/under on games Brooks Laich plays? [Ed. The survey was distributed before Laich’s current injury. Some answers came in before, some after.]

Dave: 45 games. Just when it looked like Laich was finally getting his wheels back after the long recovery from groin surgery, he takes a hard (but not flagrant or in anyway dirty) check in the left shoulder and is back on the injured list. It sucks, because the player the Caps signed to a six-year deal is just not that same solid two-way player anymore. Not even close.

They say that getting injured is a repeatable skill like anything else, and Laich seems to have mastered it. At some point, accumulation of injury is going to rob Laich of his usefulness in the NHL, if it hasn’t gotten to that point already.

Katie: I’m hoping his upper-body injury (looked like his shoulder) sustained against the Panthers on Saturday is relatively minor. I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t his groin, which appears to be holding up well so far. I’d bet the over he dressed for 60 or more games this season.

Eric: I’ll put the over-under at 65 and take the over.

J.J.: 55. He says he’s healthy, but we’ve heard that before. Laich has had almost no impact at all in the first four games with only one assist. Is he actually healthy? Who knows? But it is a safe bet he won’t be healthy for 82 games.

Abram: 49.5

Harry: If I worked for Bodog, I would set the over/under at 50.5. He certainly does not look as fragile in the early going and has reportedly been pushing his surgically repaired groin muscle all summer long. I would probably take the over if I were a betting man if for no other reason that Laich would probably play until he could not physically skate at this point. He wants to be a part of it that badly.

PHOTOS: Washington Capitals Home Opener 2014

The Washington Capitals hosted the Montreal Canadiens for the 2014 home opener on Thursday night, October 9. The crowd returned to rock the red for a brand new season. The Habs ended up with the 2-1 in a four round shootout. See DSP’s Three Stars of the Game and game recap.

Enjoy the photos from the player introductions, ceremonial puck drop to kick off the Caps’ 40th Anniversary featuring four Capitals’ greats and the National Anthems.

40th Anniversary Logo - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

40th Anniversary Logo – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

INTRODUCTIONS TO THE 2014 WASHINGTON CAPITALS……

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 - Caps waiting to be introduced (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 – Caps waiting to be introduced (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps coaching staff and scratched players - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps coaching staff and scratched players – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Matt Niskanen - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Matt Niskanen – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Eric Fehr - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Eric Fehr – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Troy Brouwer - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Troy Brouwer – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Laich - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Laich – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Justin Peters - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Justin Peters – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jack Hillen - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jack Hillen – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Joel Ward - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Joel Ward – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Andre Burakovsky - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Andre Burakovsky – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Chris Brown - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Chris Brown – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Carlson - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Carlson – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Liam O'Brien - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Liam O’Brien – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nate Schmidt - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nate Schmidt – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Evgeny Kuznetsov – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nicklas Backstrom - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nicklas Backstrom – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Orpik (Caps Debut)- Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Orpik (Caps Debut)- Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

CEREMONIAL PUCK DROP……

Former Caps Captain Rod Langway - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Caps Captain Rod Langway – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra, wearing the jerseys they played in, to drop ceremonial puck before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra, wearing the jerseys they played in, to drop ceremonial puck before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

All-time Caps goals leader, Peter Bondra - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

All-time Caps goals leader, Peter Bondra – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin skates to join former Caps for ceremonial puck drop - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin skates to join former Caps for ceremonial puck drop – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra drop ceremonial puck joined by Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin and Habs Andrei Markov before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra drop ceremonial puck joined by Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin and Habs Andrei Markov before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Handshakes after ceremonial puck drop - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Handshakes after ceremonial puck drop – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

NATIONAL ANTHEMS……

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the Canadian National Anthem (featuring the new closed captioning on scoreboard) -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the Canadian National Anthem (featuring the new closed captioning on scoreboard) -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the National Anthem -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the National Anthem -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Habs during the National Anthem - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Habs during the National Anthem – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps during National Anthem - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps during National Anthem – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals have challenging decision on line combinations

Alex Ovechkin -Practice April 27(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin -Practice April 27(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Everyone’s favorite offseason activity is analyzing the roster and playing around with the line combinations. By now, Washington Capitals fans have realized no help is coming at center.

The hole left in the lineup by the departure of Mikhail Grabovski will have to filled by someone already on the roster. Brad Richards will not be coming to the rescue like a knight in shining armor, there will be no miraculous trade for Ryan O’Reilly; the Caps will have to make do with what the have.

In an interview with NHL.com, Barry Trotz was asked about his thoughts on the second line center.

“I’m going to let them play through the camp,” he said,” but my vision is that [Marcus] Johansson will play in the middle and [Evgeny] Kuznetsov or [Andre] Burakovsky will play in the middle and one will have to move to the wall. In today’s game, the more options you have the better off you are.” [Read more…]

MacLellan’s first decision not enough to judge him on

With the NHL offseason now officially underway, the window for compliance buyouts has opened and Brian MacLellan faces his first question as general manager of the Washington Capitals. He answered that question resolutely on Tuesday and closed the door on the possibility that the team would choose to use its second compliance buy out.

“I don’t think it would make sense for any of our players that we pursue that path,” he said. [Read more…]

Opinion: Washington Capitals five biggest changes needed for 2014-15

The Washington Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. There wasn’t enough talent on hand, the talent available was mismanaged and there was discord between the front office and the on-ice staff. Missing the playoffs should finally be motivation to make the changes necessary for the Caps to truly contend for the Stanley Cup.

Here are the five biggest changes needed by the Caps as they enter what could be offseason full of change and drama.

1) Settle the General Manager and coaching situations.

It’s widely rumored that GM George McPhee’s contract expires following the NHL Draft. Adam Oates has another year on his contract. There’s plenty of evidence (Martin Erat, Dustin Penner, Dmitry Orlov, the goaltending situation, Tom Wilson) that McPhee and Oates’ talent evaluation doesn’t mesh. Somewhere between Ted Leonsis, President Dick Patrick and McPhee, the Caps need to decide who’s going to be in charge of this latest reboot. [By the time you read this on Monday, changes may already have been made.]

Oates’ insistence on players skating on their strong side has handicapped the organization. He’s tried to switch wingers to center (Martin Erat, Eric Fehr) and centers to wingers (Mikhail Grabovski). He played the world’s greatest goal scorer with Jay Beagle as his center on purpose. He’s banished players that were traded for by McPhee to the point of rendering them useless. His systems are indecipherable. In short, the Caps have been a disaster on the ice, much less than the sum of their parts. That falls on Oates.

McPhee is far from blameless. In fact, the collection of defensemen McPhee provided for Oates to employ this season was embarrassing, After the top combo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, every single defenseman the Caps played this year was flawed. Mike Green isn’t nearly the offensive weapon he was during his back-to-back Norris Trophy finalist days. He still drives play, but his defensive shortcomings and gaffes often lead to bad goals. Orlov is a work in progress — talented, but raw and impetuous. The rest simply aren’t yet, or are no longer, NHL caliber. And it’s been like that the entirety of Ovechkin’s illustrious career. That falls on McPhee.

Either or both could be replaced for 2014-15, and it’s imperative the Capitals figure it out before the draft.

2) Seriously upgrade the defense.

People have said for years the Caps need a “stay-at-home” defenseman, responsible for shutting down opponents’ top lines. But the problem lies deeper than that. The Alzner/Carlson duo are good, but not great. They are a No. 1 pairing in name only. That results in a trickle-down effect. The Caps have some young talent (Orlov, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, Madison Bowey), but only Orlov is really close enough to the NHL level to contribute meaningfully next season, despite the experience Carrick gained this season.

The Capitals need to acquire 2-3 legitimate NHL defensemen, including a puck mover. If they can acquire a true top-pairing defenseman — probably via trade — they should do all they can to make that happen, then fill in the other spots with veteran free agents.

3) Improve play at 5v5.

The Caps were one of the worst teams in the league in puck possession, and has gotten consistently worse throughout Oates’ tenure. The team is lackadaisical and sloppy in its own end, the breakouts are unorganized, team defense suffers from lack of structure and focus, not to mention talent level.

One of the biggest problems for the Caps is one of the simplest: attempting to exit their own zone with the puck. Oates and Calle Johansson have instructed the defensemen to get rid of the puck within a second and a half of gaining possession. The idea is that if the puck is being passed, the defensemen aren’t putting themselves in danger of having their head separated from their bodies. While those instructions might have provided better health for some of their blueliners, it also neutralizes much of what makes those players effective.

Mike Green, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov — hell, even Jack Hillen — are puck-moving defensemen. McPhee drafted or obtained these players with the idea that these guys are strong skaters and can carry the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone, therefore setting up the offense.

But Oates’ and Johansson’s instructions to chip the puck to the neutral zone has instead stymied the offense. Wingers now have to battle for pucks in the neutral zone instead of setting up the attack. Instead of even attempting “dump and chase”, the Caps end up playing “dump and change”, so tired from fighting puck battles that they have to dump and go for a line change.

Either the players or the system has to change.

4) Reduce the team’s salary burden ever further.

McPhee did a great job at the trade deadline to reduce the Caps salary constraints next season by dealing Martin Erat and Michal Neuvirth. He — or whoever will be in charge — should go even further by buying out Brooks Laich (pending health) and/or trading Mike Green.

The Caps already have a good deal of cap space next season, currently $14.2 million. But Laich accounts for $4.5 million against the cap and Green’s hit is a staggering $6.083 million. Neither player is anywhere near what they were when they signed the deals.

Laich was — emphasis was — a 20-goal scoring two-way player. He was equally adept on the power play as he was on the penalty kill. He could fill a center or winger role on a scoring or checking line. But a groin injury sustained while playing abroad during the lockout has destroyed his past two seasons. When he has been able to take the ice, he’s been completely ineffective.

Green was — emphasis was — a two-time Norris Trophy candidate. He possessed singular skill at the position, producing back-to-back 70 point seasons. But again, accumulation of injury (concussions, groin, shoulder) has reduced Green to a shell of the player he once was. His nine goal, 29 assist season wasn’t bad, but the production pales in comparison to the expectation — or paycheck.

Buying out Laich and trading Green would free up another $10 million plus against the cap, giving the Capitals even more flexibility to go about rebuilding this team.

5) Inspire and motivate Alex Ovechkin — or trade him.

Alex Ovechkin is the most valuable asset the Washington Capitals possess. He registered 51 goals in 13-14, but had one 5v5 goal in the last two dozen games. Some of that has to do with Oates’ curious choices for his linemates, some of it was the result of the Caps’ systems, and some of it lies with Ovechkin himself.

His revitalization the past two seasons has occurred on the strength of the Caps prodigious power play. But the team’s inability to drive play at 5v5 has crippled any chance of this team to be successful. While Ovechkin has never played defense with the enthusiasm he utilizes on offense, at times this season he showed open disdain playing in his own end.

Ovechkin himself said the team pays him to score goals. That much is true. But it also pays him to sell tickets and the brand. And he can’t do that cruising through the neutral zone while his man streaks through the slot en route to another goal. This organization has to find a way to motivate Ovechkin to at least make consistent effort in playing defense. He doesn’t even have to be good at it. But as the captain of the team, he at least has to look like he’s trying.

At this point, Ovechkin is part of the problem. No, he isn’t going to be confused for a Selke finalist. But as captain, he needs to be more involved in all aspects of the game. He needs to show effort in every facet of his game. He needs to be a leader. It’s always been said that Ovechkin is a “lead by example” type of leader. Right now, the example he’s setting to Evgeny Kuznetsov and other young players is that defense and accountability doesn’t matter — that he’s above the rules. That’s not acceptable.

It’s simply not enough for Ovechkin to score 50 goals for this team. If it was, they’d have won multiple Cups by now as Ted Leonsis promised they would. If Ovechkin isn’t able or willing to invest the requisite effort to provide a better example to follow, then the organization should seriously consider trading him to a team where he wouldn’t have to carry that burden.

Washington Capitals Game 62 Recap: Caps fall in Philly 6-4

For some reason, this Washington Capitals team is incapable of playing for 60 minutes. Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Flyers, it was the last five minutes the Caps could figure out. Wednesday in Philly, it was the first 40, as the Caps fell behind 4-0 and never quite recovered, falling to the Flyers 6-4.

The Capitals managed just eight shots on goal in the first two periods.

It didn’t take long for the Flyers to get on the board. At the 6:48 mark of the first, Sean Couturier won a physical battle at the blue line against Jack Hillen in his first game back from the leg fracture that had him miss all but the first two games of the season.

Couturier pushed the puck to Claude Giroux, who had beaten Alex Ovechkin into the Caps zone. Giroux kept the puck away from Ovechkin, deked Braden Holtby, and put a backhander into the wide open net, all while Mike Green watched from the high slot.

Less than two minutes later, the Flyers tallied again. Troy Brouwer was trucked at the Caps blue line by Zac Rinaldo, Brouwer, clearly frustrated and now out of position, took a swing with his stick at Matt Read and was clled for slashing. With Brouwer in the box, it took just 13 second for the Flyers to light the lamp, with Jacob Voracek potting his 17th of the season.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Luke Schenn delivered a clean hit on Ryan Stoa, in his first game as a Capital. Tom Wilson, as he’s done on multiple occasions this season, stood up for his teammate and went at it with Schenn. In the ensuing scrum, John Erskine got tied up with Vinny Lecavalier and the two went at it, with Wayne Simmonds mucking things up grabbing Erskine while engaged with Lecavalier.

Erskine and Lecavalier were assessed game misconduct penalties, and Wilson an instigator and misconduct, while Simmonds received two minutes for slashing and another two for cross-checking. He should have received a misconduct for impeding Erskine while he was engaged with another player, but the refs didn’t see it that way.

Regardless, the Caps didn’t register a shot on goal in the ensuing power play.

The Flyers scored twice more in the second period, with Giroux netting his second of the game (23), after a turnover by Mike Green behind his own net, and Michael Raffl, his eighth of the season. Raffl’s goal spelled the end of the night for Holtby, who made 14 saves on 18 shots.

Philipp Grubauer relieved and made 10 saves on 11 shots the rest of the way.

The Caps finally got on the board at 14:06 on their fifth shot of the game, as Green’s wrist shot deflected off Joel Ward and Andy McDonald and past Steve Mason to break up the shutout.

Washington woke up in the third period, but it was too little, too late.

Ovechkin started the comeback attempt with a power play goal (44) from a nifty cross-crease pass by Nick Backstrom. Playing four-on-four, Troy Brouwer found the back of the net on a pass by Hillen, and it was 4-3 before the midway mark of the third period.

But another defensive breakdown put the Flyers back up by two. Eric Fehr lost Jakub Voracek in the middle of the ice and Mike Green did little but wave his stick at Voracek as he glided through the slot an beat Grubauer to make it 5-3.

The Caps didn’t fold, as Brooks Laich tipped a Green floater past Mason to cut it to 5-4.

The Caps pulled Grubauer with 70 seconds left and had an offensive zone faceoff to work with, but Steve Downie corralled a loose puck and sent it from his own blue line to make the final 6-4.

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