Monday, January 18, 2016

The hockey IQ of Justin Williams

The player dubbed “Mr. Game 7” for his Stanley Cup championship playoff heroics, although it is a moniker he prefers to shrug off, is one smart hockey player. The hockey IQ of Justin Williams makes him the type of player that the Caps needed to add to their lineup at the end of last season. T.J. Oshie and Williams added critical veteran leadership and hard-working players to this team and helped to amplify the culture Coach Barry Trotz set out to build.

Williams’s 15G-16A-31P and +14 stats in his 43 games has him on pace for a year he has not seen since his 59 points in 2011-2012 with the Los Angeles Kings. Williams seems stoked to play on this team. His leadership has to be a huge help to Trotz, too. What better person for the players who have not played in the Stanley Cup finals to listen to on the bench.

Two years ago in the playoffs skating for the Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles Kings, Williams’s 9G-16A-25P and +13 helped that team win. His 7 points in the finals earned him the Conn Smythe trophy. The Caps can only hope for a similar experience during a playoff run that hopefully lasts longer than one series.

Williams’s contribution to the Caps this year includes lots of smart plays like dishing the puck ahead of three players against the New York Rangers and getting his own rebounds. Like making an impact regardless of his line mates, Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, or Chimera and Evgeny Kuznetsoz. Williams assists and scores with all of them.

His hat trick and first star performance on Sunday versus the New York Rangers included a little luck and an empty net, but Williams makes his own luck, too. He is constantly involved in the play, stirs up trouble, makes great plays and gets great cycle games going with Johansson and Kuznetsov. He likes playing against the Rangers, too, since he had a 2G-1A-3P night against them for another first star performance on December 20, 2015. Williams is a key cog in the wheel of the Caps playoff hopes.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, January 11, 2016

The joy of watching Alex Ovechkin

I learned about number 8 by reading about him months before he stepped foot on the ice for the Washington Capitals. As a long suffering Caps fan, I could not imagine Washington being a destination for a generational player, but that is exactly what Caps fans have witnessed, 10-years of a generational player’s career to become only the 43rd person in NHL history to score 500 goals. From his first two goal, shattered glass game against the Columbus Blue Jackets through his next 498 goals, the joy of watching Alex Ovechkin has never faded.

Ovie’s smash mouth hockey, combined with his sniper’s ability to shoot and score highlight reel goals and his infectious celebrations when he or his teammates scores make him unique. He still draws amazed gasps in my household on a frequent basis. There will never be another Washington Capital like him in my lifetime.

Three of my favorite goals and why:

The goal – because I stood up in the room where I watched that goal saying over and over again “He meant to do that.” That and Wayne Gretzky’s face and slight smile made me optimistic for that generational label.

The February 29, 2009 goal against the Montreal Canadiens – the one where Ovie slid around Roman Hamrlik and bounced the puck back to himself off the wall, caught the puck, and got tripped up by Kyle Chipchura, slide across the ice to chip it past Carey Price. That was the most impressive goal I’ve seen.

#499 – the overtime game winning goal versus the goalie that has been punished the most by Ovie, Henrik Lundqvist (see an Ovie stats article on, had everything. Great saves by both goalie Braden Holtby and blue liner Nate Schmidt and Ovie’s around Holtby’s net, coast-to-coast sprint ending in making a Ryan McDonagh look silly by using him as a screen and getting the puck in the net is vintage Ovie.

In 2010, I took a trip to see the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and watch hockey in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa and got to see Ovie’s appeal to Canadian fans of the game. From his ubiquitous presence in the Hall of Fame for his three trophies at that time – the Richard, the Lester B. Pearson and the Hart – and his world juniors appearance in 2005, where he won the honor of being the best forward is also in Toronto to the Ovechkin jersey appearances in each city I visited, Ovie was everywhere. Most Canadians I talked to wished he played for their team, but one thought Ovie was the best player in the world.

In the Caps game versus Montreal on the 2010 trip, Ovie got two assists and had a monster hit on Hal Gill, the 6’7, 241 lb. defenseman that pushed him into Carey Price’s net. Classic Ovie. I look forward to continued unexpected highlight reel moments from one of the greatest scorers to ever play the game.  

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, January 04, 2016

When adversity strikes

The Washington Capitals place on top of the Eastern Conference by nine points could not have come at a better time. The season is nearing its mid-point at 38 games and key injuries are piling up for this team. The Caps wins have come in a variety of ways, but they have also benefited from Goalie Braden Holtby’s Vezina contending season to get them on top and keep them there.  Now, with key players out the Caps get to display how they react when adversity strikes.

The injury roundup:

  • The veteran leader of the defense and for the team as the assistant captain, Brooks Orpik played his last game on November 10th and the up and down nature of his recovery is not encouraging.
  • John Carlson, the blue liner having a strong year and picking up for Orpik’s absence, got injured in Montreal on December 26th.
  • Jay Beagle, the faceoff and penalty kill specialist, had hand surgery today and is out for six weeks. The Caps are 21-0-5 when he scores. Beagle scored in his last two games and was the first star of the game twice against the Montreal Canadiens and the Carolina Hurricanes. He is the hardworking checking line forward that always puts his heart and soul on the ice. According to his Coach Barry Trotz, he is also the practice guy, motivated to practice like he is motivated to play. That help to the accountability culture will be missed.

The Caps lost their past two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes. This is the first losing streak of the season for the Caps. The competitive NHL means that 9 points is nothing and can vanish in under a week. The team behind them is the Florida Panthers and the Caps recent performance against that team is not encouraging with a 1-4 loss on December 10th and a 2-1 overtime win at the end of October. The Caps need to deal with the adversity and get back to winning with a new mix of line combinations and defensive pairings.

The best news of the day is that Carlson and Orpik are traveling with the team. Neither is expected to play, but the fact that they are on the trip is encouraging.

Let’s go Caps!

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