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Bondra shares thoughts on lockout

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Bondra shares thoughts on lockout

Former Capitals star Peter Bondra has two words of advice for players being locked out in the most recent NHL work stoppage: Just play.

“If anybody has a chance to play somewhere else I suggest they do,” Bondra said Friday in a phone interview.

“I played for seven games back home [in 2004] and I was in the game. I felt that’s where I wanted to be, that’s what I wanted to do. I think the guys who have gone to play in the KHL and the European leagues, it’s much more easy to go through this process than the guys sitting home.”

The NHL lockout has prompted a mass exodus overseas, with 128 NHL players signing with teams in Europe, including the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Wojtek Wolski and Michal Neuvirth.

Bondra lived through two NHL lockouts as a member of the Capitals. During the abbreviated 1994-95 season, he signed with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League and played seven games. And in 2004-05 he signed with HK Poprad of the Slovak Extraliga and played six games.

“Some guys may benefit from staying home because hockey is a lot of travel and if they have families their wives are probably happy to have their husbands around,” Bondra said. “But for a whole year it would be tough.”

With no agreement in place and no scheduled talks between the owners and players, the NHL announced on Friday the cancellation of all games through November.

“It’s kind of tough,” Bondra said. “Obviously, [as a player] you want to stay positive. You’re trusting your union. As a player you’re trying to find as much information as you can and you just have to hang in.”

Like most players, Bondra said he still regrets missing out on the entire 2004-05 NHL season and now wonders how much was gained from that work stoppage.

“As a retired player, I’ve been through it,” he said. “Looking back, I missed a whole year and that’s a year you’re never going to get back. How stupid was it? The salary is a part of it, but you miss a whole year in your career. Now it’s just a big zero on my stats.

“It’s not necessarily about the stats, but I hope the players don’t have to go through another year of not playing. Some players might miss two years of their career because of these lockouts.”

Back in 2004-05, before the installment of a salary cap, the NHL was taking in $2.2 billion in revenues and players were averaging $1.4 million in annual salaries. Last season, the NHL brought in $3.3 billion and players earned an average of $2.4 million. Now the two sides can’t agree on how to split the revenue.

“It’s a business with a lot of money and there is a big cake laying on the table,” Bondra said. “Who’s going to cut the bigger piece? It’s like two brothers trying to share. It sounds nice but the time hopefully comes soon that they solve the problem and both sides benefit from this. I hope fans will stay with hockey and not turn in another direction.”

Bondra has a personal stake in the NHL and its players coming to an agreement, or at least his oldest son does. David Bondra plays hockey for Michigan State, which is scheduled to participate in the Hockeytown Winter Festival Dec. 27 at Comerica Park. The event is contingent upon the playing of the 2013 Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.

Bondra said that while things may look bleak between the owners and players he does not see the NHL blowing up the entire season as they did eight years ago.

“I think there will be a season,” he said. “Just looking back at the numbers, hockey has grown as a sport and it would be a shame to not have a season. The last time, hockey benefited from the lockout, but I think this time will be different.

“Just look at the economy and look at how much money is involved in this. It’s a shame. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks or before December 15th, hockey season will be on.”

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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