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Leonsis: 'We're ready to take the next step'


Leonsis: 'We're ready to take the next step'

During Saturday’s Capitals Fan Fest, which drew more than 2,500 fans to Kettler Capitals Iceplex, club majority owner Ted Leonsis met with the media to discuss the state of the Capitals. Here’s a full transcript:

It’s good to see everybody and it feels great to have a little hockey in the summer. Last summer, as everyone remembers, wasn’t a lot of fun for me and (Capitals president) Dick Patrick so it feels great to be in the building in the middle of the summer and see everyone smiling and very uplifted by our offseason moves. While all of the action was going on I was traveling. I was at Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England). I wanted to be as far away from the activity as possible. I’m really proud of the job that Mac (general manager Brian MacLellan) and Ross (assistant general manager Ross Mahoney) and his group and Barry (head coach Barry Trotz) did. I think we’ve improved the team and I think we’re ready to take the next step and we’re very excited about the upcoming season. OK, let’s turn it open for some questions.

On his reaction to the Caps signing Justin Williams and trading for T.J. Oshie:

I actually didn’t know because of the time difference and got a copy of the news release that this was going out. I thought that adding someone of that pedigree, somebody in the lineup who could act as a leader and someone who had been there before, (Williams’) resume speaks for itself. It’s wonderful that he wanted to be here. I’ll miss Joel Ward, but I think that adding someone like Williams was a really good move for the organization.

On what he has learned about Brian MacLellan in his first year as general manager:

My email to Dick Patrick to send to Brian was that Dick and Brian run silent, run deep. They are men of few words but very, very strong actions. When the season ended they told me what they were going to try to do and they’ve delivered on that, just as last season they said this is what we will attempt to do to improve our defense and they were very, very decisive. So what I’ve been very satisfied with is that they tell you what they’re going to do and they do it and there’s not a lot of drama around it. It’s very, very thoughtful and very decisive and I think the organization is in good hands.

On the Capitals losing out in the second round of the 2015 playoffs:

This loss really hurt a lot. I really thought we had a really good team. There was a two-minute or so period when I was in New York and we were within a couple of minutes of going to the (Eastern Conference) finals and the Wizards were playing in Atlanta and there was this one moment where I said, ‘Wow, we’re going to the (conference) finals and the Wizards are going to come home up 3 to 1’ and literally, like that, the Wizards lost and then the Caps had to go to Game 6. It just was a real reminder of how tough this is to craft a championship-caliber team. It’s so close. Every game is one goal and you can’t not be focused every single second. So, I thought we deserved better this year, but the Rangers moved on. It was a tough loss. I wasn’t happy or satisfied at all. I mean, in hindsight you look back and say we did better than the previous season. The previous season we didn’t makes the playoffs. But I wanted us to do better and thought we deserved a better fate. We have to internalize as an organization that our goal is to win a Stanley Cup and we keep falling short and we have to keep trying.     

On what it will take to get over the hump:

I don’t know. I’ll let you guys write what it takes. I think we have to be an organization that strives to continuously improve and take some risks and make changes where possible and I think we did that this offseason.

On whether he is trying to get an NHL or NBA All-Star game at VerizonCenter:

No, I haven’t focused on that in any way. I haven’t asked. We had a lot of work that we had to do as an organization last year around the Winter Classic. It’s a lot of work. I think right now we’re better suited to have every single person in the organization only focused on one thing and that’s to have a more productive season. As time goes on, certainly our fans deserve to have an All-Star game here, but right now I’m more focused on the task at hand.

MORE CAPITALS Leonsis: 'I haven't met my commitment to him'

On the influence Barry Trotz has had on attracting free agents:

Well, I think Barry and Brian are a really good team. They have a real respect for one another and they’re totally in sync on what kind of system that we’re going to play. They’re both men of not only high integrity but of honesty and I think hockey players at their core can smell a sales job a mile away. So, I don’t view it as Barry as a salesman. I view it as him being able to communicate to the players precisely what it is we’re trying to build. How, from ownership to front office to everyone on the staff, we’re committed to one goal And he’s able to talk to the players or the prospective players coming in what their role will be and that they can trust him. Coaches really create the culture and the environment and he’s very, very family oriented. He’s very focused on making sure the players have a good time, that they enjoy coming to the rink. It’s a grind of a season and he’s an experienced coach and he runs very, very crisp practices. He tells them about Kettler. Kettler continues to be a great sales aid for us as an organization. People just love being here and our community just continues to be a real aid for us because the school systems here in Virginia, Washington and Maryland are fantastic and the housing situation is really great. I talked several years ago about ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and how it was very important for us to become a ‘have’ team and a destination in the NHL and I think certainly we’ve reached that status.

On losing players (Mike Green, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward) that for years were the fabric of the Capitals:

Troy (Brouwer) was a very important part of the team. A great guy, great family man and he really contributed. So those are very, very tough emotional decisions. But if you’re not taking the next step organizationally, you have to try something new. That was a trade where maybe we get more skill; maybe we get some more offense. Like I said, Joel Ward is one of my favorite players, one of my favorite people. He contributed a lot to the organization, to the team, but he’s a free agent. Players play their careers in order to become an unrestricted free agent. There are salary cap issues. There’s a lot of planning that goes into how you’re going to spend your money and what players have you drafted and where you think they’ll play in the lineup. It was really interesting just to watch how all of that came together. Joel got a great deal (3 years, $9.825 million with the San Jose Sharks) and he’ll go to a great organization. He was a fantastic player for us and I’ll miss him, but we’ll welcome a player (Williams) who has won three Stanley Cups. And so, hopefully, he brings something different to us. They (Brouwer and Ward) both were, through their resumes and track records, fantastic clutch players. Joel, I’ll miss him personally. I really had a good time with Joel. We’d go to basketball games together and talk a lot. I liked him and admired him very much.

On Alex Ovechkin turning 30 in September and the window to win with him in his prime:

I felt the window to win with Ovechkin was 10 years old. He’s a fantastic player. I think all of you in this room, don’t take Alex Ovechkin for granted. I think that happens sometimes. You see him all the time and there’s this repetitiveness about his greatness. But when people from outside the organization come in, I think you heard that with Justin Williams, this is the best player in the league. He’s been that for the last 10 years. And the consistency that he has brought is really historical.  He doesn’t miss games. He plays hard all the time and I feel I haven’t met my commitment to him, that we would build a team that would be able to win Stanley Cups. That we’re in it together.  He knows we’re committed. He can sense it and see it. He sees how much we invest. He knows how much we spend. He knows how hard we’re trying. It’s so close. The difference between winning and losing is just so small. So, I do not think our window as an organization is closing. I think we’ve improved as a team and I’m hoping, like all 29 other owners, that this is the year. And the only way you’ll know it is talking to you next year at this time to say, how did the season go?

On the NHL adopting 3-on-3 overtimes:

At the league meetings a lot gets reviewed and then there’s the competition committee. They’re constantly trying to do what’s best for the fans but also the players. I do think the 3-on-3 will work. It’s been tested in the AHL and it’s gone over fine. I think it’s a good step forward for us. It’s funny, you get into the playoffs and there is no shootout. That’s the one thing that always concerns me a little bit. The more we change the regular season formats and the game’s structure and then there’s this radical departure as you get into the playoffs. But I’m glad they voted for the change and I’m fully supportive of it. … As we saw, there’s honestly nothing like the intensity of playoff hockey. You want that fidelity around the outcome. We beat the Islanders in a seven-game series and there was a one-goal or two-goal difference for all seven games. We could just as easily have lost in the first round, so overtime in the playoffs is to be protected. The game is just fine the way it is during the playoffs.  

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.


Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.


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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.