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7 reasons Caps fans should be happy the Blues won the Stanley Cup

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7 reasons Caps fans should be happy the Blues won the Stanley Cup

It was a glorious year, but it is now officially over. The Capitals are the defending champions no longer. The St. Louis Blues rode two first period goals to a 4-1 Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday to claim the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

Caps fans knew this day was coming for several weeks after Washington’s first-round exit, but it still stings nonetheless now that you can no longer call them the champs.

For all those fans out there who may need a lift after seeing the Cup handed over to the Blues on Wednesday, don’t be sad. Here are seven reasons why you should be glad it was the Blues.

This is the Blues’ first Stanley Cup

For all the St. Louis fans out there who despaired, for all the fans who thought it was never going to happen, for all the fans who stuck with the team despite all the gaffes and low points, all the playoff losses and even the Ken Hitchcock/Mike Yeo experiment, this is your moment. Caps fans were there last year. When your faith as a sports fan finally gets rewarded, it is an amazing experience. More than the joy you feel is the sense of relief.

The Blues are no longer on that list of teams without a championship with hapless franchises like the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Clippers. St. Louis will forever be the 2019 champions.

St. Louis had to wait even longer than Washington for the Cup

The Caps took to the ice for the first time in 1974. The team did not go all the way until 2018. That is a wait of 44 years to see the Cup coming to Washington. The first season for the Blues came in 1967 making this a championship 52 years in the making. That is the longest any team in the NHL has had to wait for its first championship.

When the Blues first entered the league, they were grouped into a division with all the other expansion teams because of the NHL’s bafflingly stupid division alignment. The result was that they made the Stanley Cup Final the first three years of their existence and were swept in all three series. They had not even reached the Stanley Cup Final since then. Of the five other expansion teams in their division, the Blues are the only team still in existence that had not won a Cup. The only other team that did not was the Oakland Seals.

Not only did the Blues have to wait longer than the Caps for their first title, they haven’t even been back to the final since 1970. Even with all their playoff struggles, Washington made it to the final in 1998. St. Louis didn’t even get that.

This helps ease the pain of losing the Rams

The Caps’ season is over which stinks, but fans can now watch the Nationals. When the fall rolls around there will be the Redskins and the Wizards in addition to the Caps. In terms of the big four (NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA) all St. Louis has are the Cardinals and the Blues. The city had two NBA teams, but the Bombers ceased operations in 1950 and the Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968. The sting of losing those teams has probably worn off by now. You cannot say the same about the Rams who left for Los Angeles in 2016 and promptly made the Super Bowl in the 2018 season.

That stinks. A Stanley Cup championship should definitely help ease that pain.

Former Caps Craig Berube and Zach Sanford get a ring

A lot of Caps fans out there were cheering for former Cap Marcus Johansson to win the Cup. He did not, but two other former Caps did.

Head coach Craig Berube played 419 games with the Caps and compiled 1,220 penalty minutes during that stretch. Zach Sanford, who scored the Blues’ final goal of Game 7 and proved to be an important player in the Final for St. Louis, played only 26 games with the Caps as a rookie in the 2016-17 season.

Some fans may be bitter about Sanford considering the Caps sent him to St. Louis as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk deal. Watching a player like him have success on a championship team while Shattenkirk is no longer a Cap stinks. Considering that the Caps got T.J. Oshie from the Blues for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley (who they got back) and a third round pick, I think Caps fans can let this one go.

At least it wasn’t Boston

Since 2000, the Bruins, Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics have combined for 12 championships. The Patriots and Red Sox both won the most recent Super Bowl and World Series. No one wanted to see Boston win again. Sure, the Bruins accounted for only one of those 12 championships, but still. You guys have won enough. Time for someone else.

Take that, Marchand!

The NHL season began with Brad Marchand fighting an unwilling Lars Eller in Washington’s season-opener. Eller wanted a rematch in Boston, but suddenly Marchand became a pacifist and refused to drop the gloves. To make matters worse, he also threw shade at Eller afterward saying, “I don’t really feel the need to try to prove anything. [Eller] plays, you know, maybe 10, 12 minutes a night and I’m playing 20. So in a 1-0 game, to go on the power play, it doesn't make a lot of sense so that’s the way it is.”

Well, now that 10-minute a night player still has as many Stanley Cup rings as you do.

When one team is celebrating a Cup, the other must wait patiently and watch so they can shake hands afterward. You cannot help but feel for the team that loses in that moment. But not for Marchand. There probably are not many people who felt sorry for him as he watched the Blues crush his hopes for another Cup.

The Blues are one heck of a story

As a writer, I often cheer for a good story and there may have been no better story in the league this season than the Blues. St. Louis was dead last in the NHL standings on Jan. 3 before they finally turned things around. Berube became coach after a midseason coaching change. Jordan Binnington took over in net midway through the season. The Blues literally tried to send him to the ECHL last season, but he refused to go and they had to loan him to the Providence Bruins. Now he is a Stanley Cup champion.

Plus, there was the story of Laila Anderson, an 11-year-old girl battling an immune disease who has become the team’s biggest mascot through this postseason run. Her story was incredibly moving throughout the playoffs and the Blues even flew her out to Boston for Game 7. Wednesday must have been one heck of a night for her and she certainly deserved it. Who could root against that? 

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play. 

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Alex Ovechkin headed to China as an NHL Ambassador

Alex Ovechkin headed to China as an NHL Ambassador

Capitals center Alex Ovechkin is headed to China the week of Aug. 4 to serve as an international ambassador for the NHL, which is trying to grow its presence in that country. 

The NHL played two pre-season games in China last year between the Boston Bruins and the Calgary Flames. The year before the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks did the same.  

Ovechkin’s trip to Beijing will include youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings. 

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a statement. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL and the NHL Players Association are hoping to generate interest in the sport in the world’s largest market. The preseason games played in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have drawn good crowds the past two years. The goal is to develop grassroots hockey programs at all levels, but especially for kids.

One other aspect of the trip: It generates publicity if the NHL decides to allow its players to return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 when they are hosted by Beijing. That issue needs to be worked out in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations over the next year. NHL players had participated in every Olympic Games since Nagano, Japan in 1998 until the league refused to let players go to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year.   

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