April 19, 2015

Washington Capitals Round 1 Preview: Caps look for redemption in series against Isles

Caps Head Coach Barry Trotz addressing media after Game Day Practice at Kettler Iceplex before Playoff Round One, Game One,, 4/15/2015 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Distict Sports Page)

Caps Head Coach Barry Trotz addressing media after morning skate at Kettler Iceplex before Playoff Round One, Game One, 4/15/2015 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Distict Sports Page)

The Washington Capitals face the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, starting tonight at the Verizon Center. That last part is key, as the Caps won home-ice advantage for this round on the last day of the regular season. It’s a far cry from last year, as the Caps at this time were cleaning out their lockers after missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Obviously, a LOT has changed since then. The coach of last year’s team, Adam Oates, was summarily dismissed. Long-time general manager George McPhee was relieved of his duties as well. In came Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz, entrusted to get the organization back into the postseason, and they were largely successful in their first seasons in their positions.

They brought with them a new coaching staff, several new defensemen, and made a series of moves at the trade deadline to bolster the team’s chances down the stretch.

The organizational goal of reaching the postseason was realized with several games left in the regular season, with a very tight Metro Division and Eastern Conference unsettled until the very last. It’s a redemptive measure for the organization, but especially for the players that returned from last year’s team that failed to attain the goal.

After today’s morning skate before Game 1 of the series against the Islanders, several members of the organization spoke about the significance of getting back into the playoffs, and the redemptive nature of earning home-ice advantage for the first round against the Isles.

“When you don’t make [the playoffs], you feel pretty hollow,” Trotz said. He was speaking about a couple of players newer to the organization playing in their first playoffs in a few seasons, but it’s a sentiment that has echoed around Verzion Center and Kettler since last April.

“I think getting back into the [playoff] fray was the number one priority for the group,” said Trotz. “But we hung around in that wildcard position for, it seemed like, 200 days. And then we just said ‘Hey, we gotta ramp it up’ at the end so we were playing well and we did. By doing that we got home-ice advantage. We’ll see if that is a factor in series at all.”

Despite the strong veteran contingent, the Caps rely on some younger players that haven’t participated in this type of atmosphere.

“We’re excited,” veteran winger Joel Ward said. “It’s a good chance for new guys to step in and play at home first and just get their feet wet a little bit and get excited and understand the crowd. We’re stoked for the opportunity to start at home and going to embrace it and hopefully come out with a win tonight.”

For the older players, making the playoffs and earning home-ice for the first round reaffirms what they believe about themselves, the team and the organization.

“We were unhappy with where we were last year.” Troy Brouwer said. “We were packing our bags right now [this time last year] and going home. We wanted to get ourselves back into a playoff situation. We did a good job coming back in the middle of the season and putting ourselves in a good spot to get home-ice in the first round.

“We worked hard since this time last year to get where we are right now. We don’t want to see our efforts diminished. We want to play hard and win.”

This franchise has had its share of demons in the playoffs. Just once in 40 years has it escaped the second round. The history of first round exits and series defeats after holding 3-1 series lead is staggering. It’s hard to write about the excitement of a new playoff series without dredging up old wounds.

Perhaps, missing out on the second season last year will allow the Caps to have a rebirth in the playoffs. You won’t find a single pundit or prognosticator calling for the Caps to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup after a long and grueling playoffs. These Caps come in as something of an underdog.

As Eric Fehr pointed out, they didn’t clinch home-ice until after the Islanders lost a shootout on the last day of the season, so it’s not like they should be seen as prohibitive favorites despite the advantage.

But maybe these Caps, molded in the style of Trotz, will be a better fit for the grinding style of the playoffs.

Trotz was asked what could be the difference in a playoff series, especially one played between two team so close in the standings during the regular season.

“The team that’s willing to stay with it longer. If you’re very even, the team that can execute when they get those moments, those defining moments — a save, a good look, a power play, whatever — there’s gonna be a lot of defining moments. The ones that can grasp those moments, they’re the teams that generally win.”

Starting tonight, the Capitals try once again to be the team that capitalize on those defining moments. History hasn’t been very kind to them in these opportunities. But with the new structure, coaching staff, and style of play, maybe — just maybe — these Caps are better built to take advantage of those moments.

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For a photo gallery of today’s morning skate, click here.

Washington Capitals Game 79 Recap: Caps erase disastrous start but lose in OT

The Washington Capitals entered Saturday night’s game with a chance to clinch a playoff spot, but they will have to wait at least one more day after losing to the desperate Ottawa Senators in overtime.

In the first ten minutes of the game, the Caps took three penalties and allowed three goals to put themselves in a 3-0 deficit that looked insurmountable. After regrouping in the locker room, a different Capitals team came out to dominate the remainder of regulation tying the game at three, but another mistake cost them in the extra frame. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 78 Recap: Ovi passes Bondra; Caps top Canadiens in OT

ALEX OVECHKIN SCORES 473RD CAREER GOAL, SURPASSES PETER BONDRA ATOP CAPS ALL-TIME LIST

Alex Ovechkin and Joel Ward both scored two goals, Troy Brouwer scored the only goal in the shootout, and the Washington Capitals earned two hard-fought points, beating the Montreal Canadiens in Centre Bell, 5-4 on Thursday.

With 96 points, the Caps move ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The win also marks the 600th of Barry Trotz’ career. [Read more…]

Washington Captials Game 58 Recap: No shutout, but two points again against Pens

Braden Holtby had not allowed a goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins in two previous games this season. The Pens finally got into the scorebook against him — though it took a collision pushing him into the net to do so — but the Washington Capitals had more than enough answer, emerging victorious at Consol Energy Center 3-1.

After winning 3 of 4 on the long road trip, the Caps are now one point behind the Rangers and Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Joel Ward scored on a 5-on-3 with 4:13 left in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and lift the Caps to a win which caps a most successful four-game road trip.

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist for the Caps (31-17-10), to go along with seven shots on goal and John Carlson added an empty-net short-handed goal very late in the third. [Read more…]

Free agent decisions loom large for Caps as trade deadline approaches

Mike Green during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As the teams return from the All-Star Break and meaningful hockey starts again, the next big day on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline.

The NHL trade deadline is on March 2 at 3 pm, just over a month away. The task for each team over the next few weeks is to determine what their realistic goals are for this season and going forward so that they can determine if they will be buyers or sellers at the deadline.

On an individual level, general managers need to determine the future of their pending free agents, i.e. who they will seek to re-sign and who already has one foot out of the door.

The Washington Capitals are no exception. There are currently 10 players on the roster who are in the final year of their contract and General Manager Brian MacLellan has to determine now who he wants to see back in Washington next season. [Read more…]

Jason Chimera weighs in on Joel Ward’s Winter Classic advertisements

Last week, Joel Ward took over the internet and the Navy Yard Metro station in D.C. with a series of advertisements for Winter Classic toques sponsored by Reebok.

After Washington’s last home game before the Winter Classic, Ward said none of his teammates had seen the ads yet, thus sparing him from any potential ridicule.

“If we could keep that on the downlow, that’d be great,” he said. [Read more…]

Joel Ward hasn’t seen his own Reebok ads, wants to keep them “on the downlow”

Earlier today, on my way back from Nationals Park, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the giant banners that were smattered around the Navy Yard metro station. The ads, by Reebok, depict Joel Ward engaging in a plethora of manly activities, all while sporting a Reebok Winter Classic toque.

The one that got the most attention showed Ward, shirtless, sitting in a hole in an iced-over lake in the middle of nowhere.

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So many questions.

I had a hunch that he’d already gotten some guff from his teammates about the ads, namely his linemate, Jason Chimera, also know as his “twin”.


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As it turns out, Ward hasn’t even seen the ads, and isn’t in a rush for his teammates to find out, either.

“The best thing about it is no one’s said a word except for you,” said Ward. “If we could keep that on the downlow, that’d be great. I’m sure I’ll hear at some point.”

The Reebok campaign also features Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa in similar poses to Ward.

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So far, the only place these ads have been seen is at the Navy Yard Metro at the Half Street entrance, which is the one you’ll be taking to get to Nationals Park if you’re attending the 2015 Winter Classic.

Check out our friends at RMNB for a full gallery of the toques. Photos by yours truly.

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”.

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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.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals @ St. Louis Blues 11/15/14

The Washington Capitals lost their second straight game on Saturday night, falling to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday on the road, 4-1. There weren’t many stellar performances by any of the Capitals – actually there weren’t really any. That said, here are the District Sports Page Three Stars of the game.

First Star: Joel Ward

Ward had his eighth goal of the season in the second period, tying him for the team lead along with Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson. It appears that reuniting with Barry Trotz, who was his head coach in Nashville from 2008-11, has done wonders for the veteran forward’s game.

Second Star:  Tom Wilson

Wilson was good for a game-high six hits and also fought Ryan Reaves late in the second period; although the skirmish didn’t provide the lift to his team that he might have wanted, his heart proved to be a strong one.

Third Star: Justin Peters

I know, I know, he let in four goals. But he also made 30 saves and was a primary reason why the game didn’t end 7-1, which it very well could have.

Washington Capitals Game 17 Recap: Caps dismantled by Blues in worst loss of season

If you’re looking for positives to take away from the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, you’ll have to look very hard. Even then, you may not find any.

Joel Ward supplied the lone tally for Washington, a goal in the second period that tied the game at one goal apiece. It came at 6:38 of the second period, a wrister from the top of the left circle that got through Brian Elliott after he made what appeared to be the initial stop. Otherwise, it was largely a dud from the boys in white, as there were no players with a positive plus-minus rating and a meager 25 shots registered on the night. It was the largest margin of defeat (three) that Washington has been dealt so far in the young season. Some thoughts:

  • Joel Ward’s hot start to the year continued, as he is tied for the team lead in goals with eight, joined by a couple of guys named Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.
  • Justin Peters let in four goals, and most of them weren’t exactly pretty ones to give up (not that any are, to be fair). He was caught out of position on the first one, gave up a juicy rebound on the second and horrifically misplayed the puck on the Blues’ third goal by David Backes. There was little the 28-year-old netminder could do about the final one, but by then the game was all but decided. With that in mind, though, he did make a couple of crucial saves that kept it from being a laugher.
  • A slow start basically doomed the team, as they were outshot 13-7 in the first and looked about as out of it as they could over the first 20 minutes. Blame that on their second game in as many nights.
  • One goal in two straight games isn’t good, it has to be said. The good news is that they get two days to get back into a groove before a road date at Phoenix on Tuesday.
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