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Cancer treatment can't stop Capitals fan Amanda Wilson from seeing Stanley Cup chase in person

Cancer treatment can't stop Capitals fan Amanda Wilson from seeing Stanley Cup chase in person

Sometimes sports can be about so much more than just a game.

Like every Caps fan, Amanda Wilson has been waiting 20 years to see her beloved Washington Capitals advance past the second round of the playoffs. A Washington fan through and through, Wilson grew up in the area and attended Robinson Second School in Fairfax, Va. She attended James Madison University and even worked as a bartender at Joe Theismann’s Restaurant in Alexandria.

Along with her husband, Adrian Wilson, Amanda has remained a loyal Capitals fan over the years going to hundreds of games, including the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park. Traditionally, the Wilsons also go to a home playoff game every season.

But sometimes hockey and sports must take a backseat to life and it did for the Wilsons on Feb. 21. On that day, Amanda was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma of the inferior vena cava, an extremely rare form of cancer.

Rather than following the Capitals’ improbable run to a third straight Metropolitan Division title, the Wilsons uprooted their lives and the lives of their young children and moved to Minnesota where Wilson could get treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Though she has had to follow from afar, hockey has been a welcome distraction.

The Caps opened the postseason with two straight losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but before Game 3, Amanda received a very special gift from friends: A Washington Capitals jersey signed by her favorite players with a personal message saying, “To Amanda, Stay Strong.” The number on the jersey was 20, the same number she wore while playing high school soccer for Robinson. She wore the jersey as she watched Game 3 and saw Lars Eller, No. 20 for the Capitals, score the overtime winner.

Since then, Wilson has been wearing her jersey for every game. Her husband Adrian wrote in an email to NBC Sports Washington that she cried “tears of joy” when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time since 1994.

Despite everything going on he wrote, “This was as happy as I have ever seen my wife, truly, even under these really tough circumstances.”

Now between treatments and with permission from the doctors, the Wilsons decided to stick with their tradition and returned to Washington to attend Game 3 and Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

And yes, she brought her special jersey.

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Capitals mailbag: What to do with Andre Burakovsky

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Capitals mailbag: What to do with Andre Burakovsky

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Nov. 21 edition below. Have you got a Caps question you want to be answered in next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

Without a clear go-to guy on the faceoff anymore, who takes the draw has become much more situational.

One thing that was not talked about all that much when the team lost Beagle was that not only was he the best faceoff player on the team, he was also the only right-shot center. Why does that matter? Consider a faceoff in the right circle on a defensive-zone draw. A left-shot center is going to sweep the puck to the center of the ice which is not ideal in the defensive zone. It’s no coincidence that the team signed a right-shot center Nic Dowd in the offseason. Travis Boyd shoots right as well.

If you notice, there are even times when T.J. Oshie lines up in the faceoff circle in place of Nicklas Backstrom and I’m not talking about when Backstrom is kicked out of the draw. I haven’t asked Reirden about this, but I suspect it is because Backstrom shoots left and Oshie shoots right.

So to answer your question, there’s no one player the Caps are looking to get on the ice when they need a draw. It depends on if the puck is on the offensive or defensive zone and in the left or right circle. It’s all a matter of what direction the team wants the puck to go.

Kevin J writes: At what point do you cut bait with a player (Burakovsky) that isn’t meeting expectations? And what do you think you could reasonably get in return?

There’s no question the Caps need more production out of Burakovsky who has only two goals and four points in 20 games. In the final year of his contract, his low production inevitably brings up questions about his future in Washington.

First, when considering a trade, it’s important to remember that all the reasons you want to trade a player away, an opposing general manager will know that. Opposing GMs know he has four points, they know he’s a streaky player and they will certainly know his injury history. The problem with trying to move him now is that the team would be selling low. As frustrating as his production can be, Brian MacLellan is not going to simply trade a player away that the team drafted for pennies on the dollar. He has to be able to get value in return or there is no point.

It’s also important to remember that, unless you get an NHL player in return, you have to find someone to plug into his spot in the lineup. Wayne Gretzky is not sitting in the press box waiting to step in. Are the Caps prepared to give a player like Dmitrij Jaskin an every-day, third-line role? That is probably what a Burakovsky trade would mean.

You also have to consider that Burakovsky is a pending restricted free agent. This will mean the team will retain his rights if and only if he is offered a qualifying offer equal to his current deal of $3 million. If an opposing general manager does not think he’s worth that, he won’t want to make a trade for a player knowing he won’t offer him a qualifying offer. That would mean trading for a player who could walk in the summer.

MacLellan went to great lengths to keep his championship roster together in the offseason. Trading Burakovsky would be trading a piece of that and losing the Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly line that has been effective in the past. He will only do that for the right deal and I believe the return on a Burakovsky trade would be too low to justify at this point.

The Caps may need to at least be open to offers considering Burakovsky’s continued inconsistent production, but I’m not sure there will be that much interest in him until he starts racking up more points.

The Capitals currently have the maximum of 23 players on the roster and are very close to the salary cap ceiling. Obviously, if they acquire a defenseman, that would mean reassigning Jonas Siegenthaler back to Hershey, but that does not clear up much cap space. Washington also has two extra forwards on the roster, but the team is not going to move any forwards until Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov get healthy and return to the lineup.

So yes, the Caps do have room on the roster to trade for a physical defenseman when they get healthy on offense, but they do not have much cap space. Plus, given how well Madison Bowey and Siegenthaler have played, I do not anticipate MacLellan trying that.

There is no question the Caps lost a lot of their physicality when Wilson and Orpik were both out, but Wilson is back, the team’s young defensemen are playing well and there seems to be no need for the team to pull the trigger on a trade.

Nathan S writes: Why does the NHL get away with being so secretive with injuries? Other leagues such as the NFL have very strict reporting requirements. It would seem this would be in best interest of player safety.

The upper-body, lower-body injuries are certainly frustrating to fans (and the media considering how often we get asked what a player’s specific injury is), but that’s not going away anytime soon. Gary Bettman said as much at a recent press conference announcing the league’s partnership with MGM Resorts. While you may believe it is in the best interest of players for teams to announce specific injuries, the league disagrees. The fear is that if you announce a player has a hand injury, you will see opponents go after a player’s hand. If you announce a player has a shoulder injury, opponents will go after a player’s shoulder. By being cryptic, therefore, teams are protecting their players.

The only thing that I believe could possibly change this is sports gambling. The more the NHL dips its toe into the world of sports gambling, the more pressure the league could start to feel from partners over revealing the specific nature of injuries. Otherwise, this is not going to change and it will continue to give the media and fans alike upper-body injuries…er, I mean headaches.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, Caps nation!

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Grading the champs: How have the Caps fared through 20 games?

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Grading the champs: How have the Caps fared through 20 games?

Monday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens was Game 20 for the Caps meaning we are officially one quarter of the way into the NHL season. That means it’s time to take a step back and look at just how the Caps have performed thus far.

Here are the first quarter grades and awards for the Caps:

Offense: B+

The Caps boasted the top offense in the NHL for a short stretch, but the numbers were being propped up initially by the explosive power play. When it comes to five-on-five play, the offense is a bit weaker than the power play would make it seem. Evgeny Kuznetsov, for example, has six goals and zero have come at even strength.

Not having Tom Wilson in the lineup for the first 16 games due to a suspension clearly hurt the offense and Todd Reirden was forced to shuffle the lines as best he could looking for a spark. Now that he is back, the offense looks much improved and much deeper. Plus, Alex Ovechkin continues to be Ovechkin even at the age of 33.

The offense has had its full lineup for less than two games this season, but even despite that, Washington still ranks seventh in the NHL with 3.35 goals per game. This is already a top-10 offense and it’s trending up.

Defense: C-

In hearing Reirden describe the team’s defense, it involves a lot of commitment. All five players are expected to back check and get into shooting lanes every time the opposition has the puck. Obviously, the defense is more nuanced than that, but at its basic core, this is what the Caps want to do. That sort of commitment is easy to get in the playoffs, but it’s harder to get a team to constantly jump into shooting lanes in November. As a result, this is where the team’s Stanley Cup hangover has been the most glaring.

The defensemen have had their struggles, particularly Dmitry Olrov and Matt Niskanen, which has led to a shuffling of the pairs. The offense also has not been as quick on the back check as you would like to see.

Most critically, however, has been puck management. The biggest defensive breakdowns for this team have been self-inflicted with bad turnovers and lazy passes. As glaring as they may be, however, they also should be correctable.

Goaltending: B

The first month of the season has been a scoring bonanza so Braden Holtby’s numbers are not where you would want them, but in recent weeks he has started to look like the dominant netminder who foiled opponents in the playoffs last season. There is no reason to think he will not continue to get better as the season goes along and he develops more of a rhythm.

The real story here has been Pheonix Copley who was largely an unknown commodity at the NHL level heading into the season.

Copley’s play was shaky to start, but when Holtby suffered an upper-body injury and Copley was forced to start all four games of their current road trip, he played very well for the most part. You can point to Monday’s game in Montreal in which he was pulled in the second period all you want, but in terms of whether this team has a backup it can trust to plug into a game 20-25 times this season, Copley has shown he is capable of providing that.

Special teams: C-

Yes, the power play is great and ranks fourth in the NHL at 29.7-percent, but it has cooled considerably in recent weeks. In the month of November, the Caps have scored on six of 29 opportunities, good for 13th in the league at 20.7-percent.

The real issue for Washington in terms of the special teams is the penalty kill.

Reirden wanted the penalty kill to be more offensively aggressive this season, but so far the Caps have not been able to do that without leaving themselves vulnerable defensively. The result is that their penalty kill now ranks 29th in the NHL at 73.3-percent.

Reirden’s goal here, I believe, is not so much to generate offense at the expense of the defense, but rather to force an opponent’s power play to be aware of Washington’s offensive weapons and to help kill time by keeping and holding possession of the puck in the offensive zone. Thus far, however, it hasn’t worked.

If the Caps are going to keep this philosophy on the penalty kill, then the coaches need to sit down and study film of the Arizona Coyotes who lead the league in both the penalty kill (91.7-percent) and shorthanded goals (10).

Pleasant surprise: Madison Bowey

Bowey has been a highly touted prospect within the organization since he was drafted in 2013. He made his NHL debut last season, but seemed to struggle with the transition from AHL to NHL. This year, he looks like the most improved player on the team and has played well in relief of an injured Brooks Orpik.

What’s more, Bowey is showing a lot more confidence in his play. He is a two-way defenseman, but no one would have been able to tell that from how conservative he was last season. This year, he is being more assertive in the offensive zone and it should translate into more points.

Needs improvement: Andre Burakovsky

Burakovsky has just four points this season in 20 games. Tom Wilson, by comparison, has five points in four games since returning to the lineup.

Burakovsky has tremendous skill, but he remains an incredibly streaky player. It was thought that confidence was the major issue for him and he saw a sports psychologist over the summer. The results? Both he and Reirden say they see a difference and say he is a more confident player, but it has not translated into more production.

Burakovsky is not a shutdown forward, he is not a physical grinder, he is not a penalty killer. If he is not producing, he just doesn’t add that much to the lineup.

MVP: Alex Ovechkin

At times it looked like John Carlson or Kuznetsov would be the MVP, but through 20 games just about every player on this roster has had the ups and downs typical of a season and especially of a Stanley Cup championship team that is realizing playing in October is not nearly as fun as it is playing in June. The only player who is consistently great on a night in, night out basis is the Great 8 who shows no signs of slowing down even at the age of 33.

With 15 goals, Ovechkin sits second in the NHL behind only David Pastrnak’s 17.

Overall: B

Let’s consider everything Reirden has had to deal with in his first season as an NHL head coach: Wilson’s 20-game suspension, injuries to Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Travis Boyd, Braden Holtby, Michal Kempny and Brooks Orpik, a backup goalie making the jump to the NHL and a Stanley Cup hangover.

Yes, the Caps have played below the lofty standards we have come to expect and do not yet have a win streak of over two games this season. But considering everything, the fact that this team still sits in third place in the Metropolitan Division and appears to be trending upward is a good sign for the direction this season is going.

This team has another level it has not yet reached, but they are getting there, slowly but surely.

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