Washington Capitals

Capitals forward calls fans' racial taunts 'disgusting'

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Capitals forward calls fans' racial taunts 'disgusting'

BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- This wasn't the first time Devante Smith-Pelly has had racial taunts directed at him during a hockey game.

And the Washington Capitals forward knew immediately what the intent of the message was when a few fans began chanting "basketball, basketball, basketball," while Smith-Pelly sat in the penalty box during a 7-1 loss at Chicago on Saturday night. Smith-Pelly, a black player in a sport dominated by white athletes, heard a similar taunt years before while playing in a tournament in British Columbia.

"It's pretty obvious what that means. It's not really a secret," Smith-Pelly said after the Capitals practiced in Buffalo on Sunday. "Whether it's that word or any other word, I got the idea. And I'm sure they got the idea, too. Just one word, and that's really all it takes."

What stunned the 25-year-old is how incidents such as these keep happening.

"It's disgusting," Smith-Pelly said. "You'd think there would be some sort of change or progression, but we're still working toward it, I guess, and we're going to keep working toward it."

The Blackhawks and United Center officials reacted swiftly by ejecting four fans shortly after an off-ice official sitting next to Smith-Pelly - serving a fighting major for a scrap with Chicago's Connor Murphy - notified building security.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement Sunday, saying the league condemns the fans' behavior as being "unacceptable and reprehensible."

"While this was isolated in nature, no player, coach, official or fan should ever have to endure such abuse at one of our games," Bettman said.

The Capitals released a statement saying they are "extremely disappointed by the intolerant behavior" by a select group of fans in Chicago.

In thanking the Blackhawks and arena security, the Capitals said: "It is crucial to confront such appalling conduct."

The Blackhawks issued a statement apologizing to Smith-Pelly and the Capitals following the game, and said they "are committed to providing an inclusive environment."

Video shows Smith-Pelly seated in the penalty box while looking and pointing to his left. He then gets up with his stick and gets into a verbal exchange with a male fan on other side of the glass.

Smith-Pelly said he stepped forward publicly to call out the fans for what they said because he didn't want to "brush it under the rug."

"I guess I'm trying to get the conversation started and show whoever these people were their true colors," he said.

Joining the Capitals on their road trip, which concludes at Buffalo on Monday, are players' fathers, allowing Smith-Pelly an opportunity to discuss what happened with his dad.

"We've had this conversation before," said Smith-Pelly, who is from Toronto. "So he said, `It's just a few idiots being ignorant.'"

Smith-Pelly has seven goals and nine assists in 54 games is in his first season with the Capitals. He has 40 goals and 53 assists in 320 regular-season games with in seven seasons with Anaheim, Montreal, New Jersey and the Capitals.

Capitals rookie defenseman Madison Bowey said what happened in Chicago made him "sick to my stomach."

Assistant captain Brooks Orpik said: "I wish I could say it's surprising but it's probably not all that surprising."

"I think no matter what you do, you're going to find pockets of ignorance anywhere you go," Orpik said. "Devo is as well liked as anyone in this room. I think it's important for him to know that, and to know that everyone respects him a ton in this room."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz reiterated his post-game comments by saying there's no place for racism in hockey or the country.

"For the 22,000 people in Chicago at the game last night, there were a lot, a lot, a lot of good people," Trotz said. "And a few individuals keep bringing the ugly part of society out, and that was unfortunate."

The fans' taunts occurred during the NHL's monthlong "Hockey is for Everyone " campaign to promote the game as being inclusive for all players regardless of race, color, religion, national origin or gender. February is also Black History Month in the United States.

The NHL has had to previously deal with racial insults.

During the 2014 playoffs, the Boston Bruins denounced fans who posted racial comments on social media targeting then-Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who is black, after he scored in double overtime.

In 2011, a fan was fined $200 after pleading guilty to engaging in a prohibited activity for throwing a banana on the ice at Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who is black, during an exhibition game at London, Ontario.

Not the best of nights for Cassidy in another B’s loss to Caps


Not the best of nights for Cassidy in another B’s loss to Caps

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals at the Capital One Center on Thursday night:

1)  Bruce Cassidy and his staff on the bench aren’t perfect  
Clearly, Cassidy and Co. have done an excellent job this season and provided way more good than bad in getting the B’s into a playoff spot despite the injuries and youth in the lineup. Still, the Bruins bench staff had a rough outing on Thursday night on a number of different fronts and certainly didn’t help matters during some key moments. 

Things were good early when the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but Washington made their push in the second when Lars Eller scored from the slot on a loose puck in front of the net. It appeared that Washington winger Brett Connolly was clearly off-side on the zone entry prior to the Eller goal and that the Bruins had grounds for a successful coach’s challenge. Clearly, it would have carried some risk if the challenge went against the Bruins because the Caps would have cut the lead to 2-1 and would have immediately been granted a power-play chance. But a successful challenge would have been a momentum-killer for a Capitals team that hadn’t scored a goal in more than 170 minutes. 

In the split-second needed for a decision, Cassidy and his video coordinator opted not to challenge the Capitals goal and instead played it conservatively. That led to the Capitals tying the score in the second period. The Bruins opted to unsuccessfully challenge a Capitals goal in the third period where they were clearly trying to compensate for their error earlier in the game. Unfortunately, for the Bruins bench, the play was clearly on-side and the Capitals got a power play out of the failed challenge. 

The challenge flap was further compounded in the shootout when Cassidy opted for Riley Nash as his third and final shooter after Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals. That left Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy, who has already won a pair of shootouts for the Bruins this season, among others on the bench when a valuable point was on the line. 

Predictably, Nash went high and wide with a shot and completely missed the net and that was it for the Bruins basing their fate on the shootout abilities a bottom-six forward. Clearly, Nash has enjoyed some level of success in the shootout with a 6-for-14 career mark headed into the game, but most of that was with the Carolina Hurricanes rather than the Bruins. 

Those numbers are fine and dandy in theory, but it hasn’t worked out when the Bruins have tried to force Nash into some kind of shootout option the past two seasons. It’s even worse when you consider the kind of offensive firepower sitting on the bench when you try to re-invent the wheel with Nash. Put it all together and the Bruins coaching staff and support staff had an uncharacteristically tough night in Washington and should simply learn from it and move on. No need to dwell on an aberration in what’s been a very positive season for the coaching staff.

2) One move Cassidy made that was spot-on was sitting Torey Krug in the 3-on-3 OT session
Krug some tough mistakes in the latter 40 minutes of the game. It was Krug that was caught completely flat-footed by Jakub Vrana on an eventual slashing penalty that led to Washington’s tying power-play goal. Krug also fell down on the power play that led to a shorthanded chance that could have been really damaging for the Bruins, but instead, Anton Khudobin was able to bail out his teammates and make the stop on Eller. 

After that, Krug didn’t play in the final few minutes of regulation with both teams hanging on for the 3-all tie and then didn’t take a single shift in the 3-on-3 overtime, where Krug has usually been a staple with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. In all, Krug had five shots blocked in his 18-plus minutes of ice time, had a single shot on net and had the one giveaway on the PP leading to the Washington shorthanded chance. That was part of a Bruins power play unit that went a rough 0-for-5 on a night when they could have extended the lead. It wasn’t Krug’s night this time around and perhaps the puck management and defense for Krug will get reined in a little bit Saturday night in Ottawa.

3)  David Backes is enjoying the best stretch since signing with the Bruins
That continued with a pair of goals in the shootout loss to the Capitals. Backes has seven goals and 12 points in 13 games in December and has been incredibly effective on the third line with Danton Heinen and Riley Nash since they came together. Both Backes goals were vintage stuff. He got in front of the net to receive a Nash dish from below the goal line for the first goal, then Backes fired past Braden Holtby from the slot off a heady Heinen dish from the side boards.

In all, Backes finished with the two goals, a plus-1 rating, five shots on net, a couple of hits and 15:47 of rugged, competitive play in a big game against a team that has bullied the B’s over the years. If Backes can stay healthy and play close to this level for the rest of the season, you can begin to see what the Bruins envisioned when they brought him in as a free agent two summers ago. He turns the B’s into a speedy, multi-faceted group capable of beating teams with multiple lines and in different ways, and really transforms them into a much more dangerous team. Nobody is complaining about that contract right now and that’s a very good thing.

*Backes was Boston’s best player with the two goals and five shots on net while consistently getting position around the front of the net. He’s been one of the B’s best players in December with seven goals thus far.

*Danton finished with a pair of assists and has been a point-per-game player in December with five goals and 14 points in 13 games with a plus-4 rating. In fact, Heinen has cracked the NHL’s top-five rookie scorers and only Clayton Keller, Mat Barzal and Brock Boeser have more points than him this season. That’s impressive and it’s amazing how quietly he’s done it.

*Great play by Sean Kuraly to step up after Brooks Orpik had drilled Tim Schaller when his head was down, and challenge Orpik to a quick bout that ended almost before it started. The Bruins continue to stand up for their teammates and that is a very admirable team-wide trait that shows some great chemistry in their dressing room.

*Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins bench staff had a tough night. They didn’t challenge a Washington goal that could have been overturned, then challenged a Capitals goal that clearly wasn’t offside. Cassidy then opted for Nash in the shootout and left Patrice Bergeron and McAvoy on the bench with a point on the line. That’s a move that will always be second-guessed if and when it doesn’t work out.

*Krug took a slashing penalty that led to a Capitals tying power-play goal in the second period and he simply fell down on a PP in the third that led to Eller’s shorthanded breakaway. Krug wound up being benched in the final minutes of the third and the entire 3-on-3 overtime on a night that was clearly pretty frustrating for him.

*No goals or points from the Bruins top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for the second game in a row. Some of the questionable puck management from Pastrnak reared its ugly head. The Bruins third line has made up for top line’s lack of production the past few games, but they need their top players contributing again pronto.  

Talking Points: A promising start, but disappointing finish for Bruins


Talking Points: A promising start, but disappointing finish for Bruins

GOLD STAR: David Backes scored two of Boston’s three goals during the game, and continues to be a strong offensive presence around the net while providing vital secondary scoring for the Bruins. Backes scored the game’s first goal off a nifty little Riley Nash backhanded pass from the end boards, and then he scored in the third period all alone in the slot after receiving a heady little pass from Danton Heinen off the side boards. Backes now has seven goals and 12 points in 13 games during the month of December, and has been playing the best hockey of his Bruins career at a time when they need his contributions. Backes had two goals and a plus-1 rating in 15:47 of ice time, and finished with five shots on net, a couple of hits and a takeaway while playing the second night of back-to-back games. Backes has finally been the guy that the Bruins envisioned in free agency, and that’s a very good thing. 

BLACK EYE: The Thursday night loss was a rough one for the Bruins bench after a pretty stupendous opening 20 minutes. Bruce Cassidy and his staff didn’t challenge Washington’s first goal where Brett Connolly was pretty clearly off-sides on the play, and then they did challenge the game-tying goal in the third period that was very clearly on-side after a cursory look at the video. Then Cassidy and Co. exacerbated that mistake by opting for Riley Nash in the shootout ahead of Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Ryan Spooner and any number of others. Nash missed the net by a wide margin as the third shooter after Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and that was it for the Bruins on a less-than-banner night for Boston’s bench. 

TURNING POINT: The Bruins simply relaxed after a great opening period, and then didn’t have the energy or the legs on the second night of a back-to-back game to get it going again. Instead the Bruins bungled the coach’s challenge, saw a Torey Krug penalty where he was caught flat-footed turn into a power play goal for the Capitals, and then battled to a draw in the third period before getting into the extra session. Clearly it wasn’t a horrendous development as the Bruins still managed to battle their way to a point against a good team with their gas tank running on empty. But it was a steep drop-off for the Bruins after a very good opening 20 minutes. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Lars Eller is slowly joining Bruins Killer status with his accomplishments against the Black and Gold over the years, and that was the case again on Thursday night when they kick-started the Capitals with their first goal. It was also Washington’s first goal scored in over 170 minutes after struggling offensively for the last couple of games, and got the Capitals going with two points, a plus-1 in 18:36 of ice time to go along with five shots on net and three hits. Eller’s line really got it going in the final 40 minutes for the Capitals, and was a key factor in the shootout win over the Black and Gold.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 – the number of shifts in the 3-on-3 overtime for Torey Krug after he struggled with a few turnovers and a key penalty in the final 40 minutes of regulation for the Bruins. Krug is normally a regular staple of Boston’s attack in OT sessions. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “After the first, we kind of took our foot off the pedal and allowed them to get back into the game. We got a point and that’s good, but we’re not satisfied with that.” –Noel Acciari to reporters after the shootout loss to the Caps.