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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals’ losses are the Metro Divisions’ gain


NHL Power Rankings: Capitals’ losses are the Metro Divisions’ gain

When the Capitals got hot earlier in the season, it looked like the Metropolitan Division was already well in hand. Yes, we have only just hit the midpoint of the regular season, but there was a stretch where everyone in the division looked really, really bad and the only true contender was the Caps.

Admittedly, I started looking ahead at possible wild card matchups for the first round. Again, the division was just that bad.

Now, however, the division is red hot. How hot? Consider this: Washington has gone 17-5-1 in their last 23 games and have put virtually no distance between themselves and the top Metro teams, specifically the Pittsburgh Penguins who just rattled off eight straight wins.

As of this writing, the Caps sit two points ahead of Pittsburgh with a game in hand, three points ahead of Columbus and four points ahead of the Islanders who have a game in hand over the Caps.

All it took was one three-game losing streak and all of a sudden Washington’s division lead had completely evaporated.

The point to all of this is that, while there may still be some really bad teams in the Metro (Flyers, Rangers), this race is still far from over.


Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps:

  • Let’s talk about the power play. Through 10 games, Washington has one goal on 31 opportunities. That’s a success rate of just over 3-percent. That’s awful. The Caps, however, remain confident in the power play because it typically goes through dry spells and then rebounds. As bad as the power play has been of late, you can already see signs of improvement. The biggest issue for the power play has been their zone entries. On Thursday, the St. Louis Blues stacked the blue line and the Caps made them look like the Iron Curtain. Against Dallas and Detroit, however, they were able to enter the zone more easily and set up the power play, they just didn’t score. Now that things seem to be working again, don’t expect any drastic changes any time soon. The floodgates will open soon enough.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov has played in 35 games this season. He has only one even strength goal. It’s rare that you can look at a player with 36 points in 35 games and think he needs to step it up, but Kuznetov needs to step it up. He’s capable of more than we’re seeing right now.
  • Ovechkin obviously leads the Caps in goals, but you should note the two players tied for second: Jakub Vrana and Tom Wilson, both of whom have 12 goals and are under the age of 25. Is a Vrana, Kuznetsov, Wilson line the future top line for Washington?
  • What’s my opinion on Ovechkin’s decision not to play in the All-Star Game? I’m probably not the right person to ask because I think All-Star Games in every sport are garbage and should go away. Having said that, I have no problem with his decision not to go. He played more hockey in the past year than ever before and is now 33. That’s not young in hockey years. The goal is to win the Cup and missing the All-Star Game is the difference between a five-day break and a 10-day break. Yeah, that matters. As for this notion that this is when the NHL sells the game, the NHL will gain more fans during the playoffs when the hockey is at its best than for a one-day three-on-three exhibition tournament with no physical play and a bunch of star players going at 75-percent.

The Caps look as good as any team in the NHL right now, but just how good are they according to the rankings? Find out here where they land in this week’s NHL Power Rankings.


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First place in the Metro could be on the line for Caps, Islanders tonight

First place in the Metro could be on the line for Caps, Islanders tonight

WASHINGTON — First place in the Metropolitan Division could be on the line when the Capitals host the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m. NBC Sports Washington) at Capital One Arena on Friday. This game is about much more than just Barry Trotz’s return to Washington as head coach of the Islanders – though that is the big storyline in a game with several good ones. Here is what to watch for in tonight’s rivalry game with the streaking Islanders. 

Holtby returns

Good news from the morning skate at Capitals Iceplex where Braden Holtby has been cleared to start against the Islanders tonight following his eye injury last Saturday against Columbus. That wasn’t at all clear Thursday when Holtby practiced, but neither he nor coach Todd Reirden would confirm he was playing against New York. The eye appears to have improved over night, however, and the Caps won’t have to recall a goalie from AHL Hershey. Holtby is expected to start.   

“It’s been a little bit of touch and go,” Reirden said. “Any time you can get your No. 1 goalie in there it’s great for us. Real happy to have him in there for us tonight.”

First place?

This qualifies as a big game in January. The surprising Islanders (27-15-4) have won 13 of 16 to stun the NHL. Remember, this is a team that lost star center Jonathan Tavares in free agency and was expected to be an also-ran this season. Instead, New York (58 points) is one point behind Columbus and the Capitals (59 points) for first place. The Blue Jackets (28-15-3) host Montreal on Friday so there’s no guarantee a win gets New York or Washington (27-14-5) into first place. Columbus (59) is technically ahead of the Caps, but they are even in points through 46 games.

Quick rebound

The Caps were outclassed by Nashville in a 7-2 loss on Tuesday. They are 3-4-2 over the past nine games. They were outscored 11-3 by St. Louis and Nashville this week. A good even strength team most of the season, Washington has been outscored 10-2 at even strength in its past three games. The power play is showing signs of life recently. The penalty kill has shown some improvement. Now the Caps need to plug the leak at evens to get back on track. 

Orpik ceremony

Defenseman Brooks Orpik played in his 1,000th career game on Monday against the St. Louis Blues. He will be honored with a pregame ceremony. Expect gifts from the Caps, his teammates and the NHL. Orpik played 11 years with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is in his fifth year in Washington and has his name on the Stanley Cup twice.  It’s been quite a career for the 38-year-old. 

Barry’s back

Of course, the big story is Barry Trotz returning to Washington after leading the Caps to the Stanley Cup in June. Expect a video tribute in the first period and a huge ovation from the crowd. Given how hot the Islanders are there will be probably be a few of them in the building, too. There’s a reason for everyone to cheer.

“It’s going to be pretty cool for Barry and for the fans and for everyone really,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “Being a head coach of a Stanley Cup champion team carries a lot of weight, it carries a lot of respect, which I imagine he’ll get on the Jumbotron tonight…It’ll be nice to see him again/ Pretty special moments with him on our side of the bench.”


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Barry Trotz’s return eight months after Stanley Cup an unprecedented moment in D.C. sports

Barry Trotz’s return eight months after Stanley Cup an unprecedented moment in D.C. sports

ARLINGTON — It will be a moment unprecedented in Washington sports history. 

Just eight months ago, Barry Trotz was the toast of D.C., the man who labored four years to get the Capitals a Stanley Cup and finally did it. The champagne-and-beer-soaked celebration lasted almost a week. 

But before the end of June, before the parade confetti had been swept from Constitution Avenue, Trotz was gone, a contract impasse too much for either side to overcome. He resigned with Washington’s permission and landed a new job with the New York Islanders, who visit Capital One Arena for the first time this season on Friday. 
There will be a video tribute to Trotz during the first period and you can expect a standing ovation from Capitals fans for the man who delivered them a title for the first time in franchise history.
After that, two teams battling for first place in the Metropolitan Division will try to resume an important January game. The Capitals have slipped lately. The Islanders, who lost star center Jon Tavares in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs, are the surprise of the NHL. Trotz at midseason is a candidate for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. 
“We see every game as a normal game and try to get ready as a normal game whether there’s a former coach or it’s a playoff game,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “But obviously we all know what Barry’s done for us here as players and for us as a city and it’s pretty special so I’m sure he will be well-received here tomorrow and he should be. He deserves it.”
There have been other prominent athletes and coaches who have returned to the District. But nothing like this. Joe Gibbs coached the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles in 11 seasons and they reached a fourth. Burned out and ready to pursue other interests, including his NASCAR team and a brief stint as a television analyst, Gibbs eventually returned to coach the Redskins in 2004. One local newspaper headlined the seismic event “Return of the King.” But Gibbs came back as the Redskins coach, not as an opponent, and it was 11 years after he’d left. He led Washington to the playoffs twice before retiring for good after the 2007 season. 
Championships aren’t exactly common in this city. Dick Motta led the Bullets to an NBA title in 1978 and to the NBA Finals in 1979 before the team fell apart in the 1979-80 season. Frustrated, Motta received permission to speak to other NBA teams before the start of the 1980-81 season and was hired by the expansion Dallas Mavericks. 
But he had left on poor terms with his former players and the memories of the championship season had dimmed by then. The Mavericks were outmatched when Motta returned to Capital Centre on Nov. 6, 1980 in a 116-95 loss to the Bullets. His return didn’t exactly capture the city’s imagination, either. Only 6,285 fans were there to see it.
Many thousands more will be on hand when Trotz and the Islanders play the Capitals on Friday. Washington won the first meeting on Nov. 26 in Brooklyn. Trotz was presented with his championship ring in the Capitals’ locker room before that game. The expected ovation from the Capital One Arena crowd will put a final closure on the most memorable season of his hockey career.    
Prominent athletes have also returned to Washington after distinguished careers. Gilbert Arenas was a beloved character for the Wizards from 2003 to 2010, but injuries kept those teams from a deep playoff run and an infamous locker room gun incident led to a 50-game suspension in 2010. The following year Arenas was traded to the Orlando Magic and received a warm ovation when he returned to Capital One Arena on Feb. 4, 2011. But those mid-to-late 2000s Wizards were looked upon as a self-destructive group winning just one playoff series and never more than 45 games. 
Peter Bondra played 961 games for the Capitals before they traded him to the Ottawa Senators in the midst of a total teardown. He was traded Feb. 18, 2004 and was back in Washington by March 8, where the fans serenaded him with “Let’s Go, Bondra!” chants. But again the atmosphere was muted given the Capitals had already traded almost all of their veteran players that season and wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 2008. They lost 4-1. 
Trotz ranks second all time in coaching wins with the Capitals (205) behind Bryan Murray (346) despite coaching in Washington just four years. He led the team to two Presidents’ Trophies and three Metropolitan Division titles to go with that Stanley Cup. The ring ceremony was special, he told his former team in a moving speech before the Nov. 26 game. His Islanders have won 13 of their past 16 games and are now just one point behind the Capitals in the division, making Friday's game especially meaningful.
“For him it’ll be a pretty emotional night,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “We went through a lot, he was here for a long time, ups and downs, he was part of the community and I think he’s well respected by the community of D.C., so it will be a great moment for him and his family. He deserves it. He put in a lot of time and worked extremely hard to get this team to accomplish what we did last year. It will be good to see him again - and to take him down.”