Quick Links

Sports superstitions are alive and well within the Capitals' locker room

Sports superstitions are alive and well within the Capitals' locker room

Before Madison Bowey leaves for the rink on game day, he has to take a shower at home. Once he gets to the arena, he has to put his equipment on his left side first before his right. For Dmitry Orlov, part of his preparation involves a warm up with just his hands. Jonas Siegenthaler used to have to wear a team sweatshirt all the way up until the moment he put his shoulder pads on and, if he was wearing a hat, he could not take it off even when getting suited up and had to poke his head through his pads to make sure the hat stayed in place.

If you’re a sports fan, chances are you have some superstitions you follow to try to help your team. Maybe you have a jersey that you swear is lucky or a certain place you have to sit to watch the game. Some people have a pair of socks that you better not wash during the playoffs nd no one better say the word “shutout” during a game or it will jinx the goalie.

These things are nothing, however, to the depths in which the actual players are willing to go to gain an edge.

Professional athletes are notorious for being a superstitious bunch. These individuals are some of the most competitive people on the planet so if there is even the faintest hope that some bizarre ritual or action could somehow propel a player to a good performance on any given night, some players are more than willing to try.

The Washington Capitals are certainly no exception.

Nicklas Backstrom, for example, may be one of the top players in the world, but before a game he needs his tape brought to him specifically by teammate Devante Smith-Pelly.

“I deliver his tape, yeah,” Smith-Pelly said. “Into his hand.”


“Sock tape.”


“I picked it up for somebody last year, it worked all the way so I just kept doing it.”

For some players, superstitions can amount to little more than just pregame routines. They’ve become accustomed to doing things a certain way leading up to a game and they try to stick with it as much as possible.

For others, it can be sticking to little things after a win or a particularly strong performance in the hopes of replicating that result in the next game.

“I do things like, if we win a game and I got a piece of gum right before the coach talks to the team, I'll do that again,” Matt Niskanen said. “That kind of little stuff.”

And then there are some players for whom these superstitions mean so much more. Those players develop rituals to be performed down to the tiniest detail and just how well these practices are followed will determine if the supernatural powers that govern the game will allow a player to perform well.

“We had one guy [in Switzerland], he had to be structured,” Siegenthaler said. “His spot [in the locker room] had to be clean and everything. Let's say in the intermission, we're sitting just taking a breath and someone tries to shoot something at the garbage, didn't hit it, he would stand up, go pick it up, put it in the garbage. He had to fold his sweat towel exactly that many times. It was kind of weird.”

While almost every professional athlete has some sort of routine or belief that could be labeled as a “superstition” the ones who take it the most seriously are typically in the minority.

The 82 games of an NHL regular season is a long grind. It can become overwhelming for players to have to keep sticking to those pregame rituals for that many games. The result is, for most players, they begin cutting back when they progress up from juniors or college into the NHL, many of those players begin dropping some of their superstitions.

“As hard as it is to play 82 good games on the ice, I tried to get rid of a lot of stuff off the ice,” Nic Dowd said.

“It's better if you don't have too many superstition,” Siegenthaler said. “If you have too many, you're kind of like in a prison. You have to do it and if you don't do it, you're mind is kind of f----- up. You start think you're going to play a bad game and everything.”

When superstitions start to become detrimental, then it’s time to cut back. For most, superstitions don’t stem from some deeply held belief in the supernatural, but rather they are a matter of comfort.

“I think like everybody try to use superstitions and sometimes not even think about it or just maybe just feel comfortable and get prepared and feel better in the game time,” Orlov said.

For most, this means developing a pregame routine that they try to follow as closely as possible. They feel comfortable because it is familiar. Maybe circumstances will force a player to shift something on a specific day, but it’s not the end of the world and they just try to stick with the routine as best they can.

There are still those outliers among the players who tend to take things a bit more seriously, however, and there is no one on the Caps who takes his superstitions more seriously than Andre Burakovsky.

Burakovsky has a laundry list of items in his routine that he goes through before every game and it is constantly changing based on how he plays.

“It's a moving target too so he changes little things,” said John Carlson who takes part in helping Burakovsky prepare for games. “Maybe the only time he won't change anything is if he scores or something.”

Before a game, Burakovsky will work with certain trainers at certain times to get specific treatments. Then there’s a role play he does with Calrson.

“We use this kind of, I would say heat kind of thing, warm up your muscles and it just comes in a bottle,” Carlson said. “He needs to pretend to look for it and makes me tell him where it is and go get it over there.”

During the team’s pregame power play meeting, Burakovsky refuses to sit and instead goes through the meeting on one knee. Afterward he shares a few handshakes with his teammates and that’s before he’s even gotten onto the ice.

“When we get on the ice, I'll skate a couple laps and shoot and then all of us stretch exactly the same way,” Burakovsky said. “In the gym, I'm doing just exactly the same warmup drills at exactly the same time. I always eat the same food before a game. Preparation during the whole day is kind of exactly the same and that's kind of a superstition. Then you have some crazy ones that you're having fun with too like [Carlson] is always throwing a Gatorade gel from the other side of the room that I'm going to catch in my mouth.”

That pregame meal Burakovsky always eats? It consists of salad, broccoli, salmon, gluten-free pasta and a meat sauce all mixed together.

Burakovsky has become notorious within the locker room for his pregame antics which his teammates try to have fun with.

Remember Backstrom’s routine of getting sock tape from Smith-Pelly? As it turns out, that used to be Burakovsky’s job until Backstorm and Smith-Pelly decided to pull a prank on him.

“[Burakovsky] used to have so many superstitions so at first me and Devo were just f------ with him,” Backstrom said. “We started like a new thing and [Burakovsky] panicked. And then we just kept going.”

If this all sounds funny to you, that’s because it is. A game is not going to be decided based on whether Bowey puts his left skate on before his right. It’s not going to be decided by who delivers Backstrom his tape. And it’s certainly not going to be decided by whether Burakovsky can catch a Gatorade gel pack with his mouth. Deep down, the players know that too. So why have them?

The purpose of these superstitions is not so much to appease some faceless hockey gods, but rather to find a level of comfort heading into a highly competitive and pressurized game. If the players have to convince themselves that hand delivering sock tape is why they have success, then so be it. There’s no real reason to it.

Afterall, things certainly seemed to work out for the Caps last season.


Quick Links

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What is the Caps' biggest need?

USA TODAY Sports Images

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What is the Caps' biggest need?

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Douglas Forsyth writes: With the deadline quickly arriving, what is the number one thing the Caps will look to get? Maybe figuring out what’s wrong with our power play?

I would put defense as a much bigger priority than the power play. Besides, I don't think you are going to get personnel better for that top unit than it currently has and then you have to shoehorn whatever forward you get into a lineup that seems pretty much set.

No, it's definitely defense.

Brian MacLellan has acquired a defenseman every year since taking over as general manager and given that a right defenseman is the team's biggest need, I would not anticipate that changing this year.

Bill Bridges writes: Are there any pending UFA defensemen out there that Brian MacLellan could swing a deal for with picks and a prospect and maybe some retained salary?

The fact that no one ever seems to think they are out of the playoff race anymore thanks in large part to the three-point system (one point for overtime and shootout losers) complicates this as it limits your options. Who are the actual sellers? Now, considering MacLellan will probably be looking for a diamond in the rough type of player, perhaps teams who feel like they have something to play for would be more open to losing a depth piece, but that remains to be seen.

Take this with a grain of salt as I am not a scout and about 90-percent of the hockey I watch is of the Caps, but a guy like Tim Heed would make sense. He plays for San Jose so it is realistic that they would be open for business, his cap his $960,000 and he does not play a significant role on that team. Maybe the scouts hate him, but he is a righty and when he does play it's not sheltered minutes and he still has managed a Corsi-For percentage above 50.

Like I said, perhaps the scouts don't think much of his game, but that at least is an example of the type of player I think Washington is realistically looking at.

Amelia Byrne writes: What's the deal with the power play and when should we start to panic? The PP has struggled mightily since December - a problem that was evident at the end of last year's season. Now we are seeing too many short-handed goals. With so much talent, how is it possible that they are struggling so much?

When it comes to shorthanded goals, it's mental. Those goals are a result of a frustrated unit pressing too much to break out of the slump. These are just bad mistakes that you would not normally see. Washington has allowed five shorthanded goals this season and all five of them have come since December.

Last year the power play really struggled at breaking the puck into the offensive zone. That has not been the issue this year. Now they just don't seem to know what to do when they get set up.

The problem is that everyone knows what the Caps are trying to do and the power play does not throw enough wrinkles into the plan to catch PKers off guard. The Caps want to get the puck to T.J. Oshie in the slot or Alex Ovechkin in the office. That's it. That's the plan. So what do opponents do? They try to keep the puck from getting to either player. The Caps are far too slow and methodical with the puck with seemingly no sense of urgency and when they can't get the passes they want, there is a lot of stickhandling and slow passes back and forth until time runs out or they force a pass and it ends up going in the opposite direction.

The amount of room teams give Nicklas Backstrom on the power play is criminal and it is because he does not shoot enough. He has to shoot more to force the penalty kill to cover him. The same goes for Evgeny Kuznetsov. When teams have to account for shots from those two shooting, things will open up for Oshie and Ovechkin.

If that does not work, my second solution would be to redistribute talent among the two power-play units and have a second unit that could actually be a threat to score. With all due respect to Brendan Leipsic, if he's the guy Kuznetsov is trying to set up in the Ovechkin spot, it's no wonder why Washington leans as heavily on the top unit as it does.

The Kuznetsov/Vrana switch is grasping at straws. Vrana on the goal line does not take advantage of his shot while Kuznetsov does not have enough snipers to set up on the second unit. It is not a viable solution. If you want to shake things up, maybe move Vrana to Ovechkin's spot on the second unit where he will better be able to shoot, switch Oshie with Wilson to give the second unit another weapon and have Kuznetsov in Backstrom's spot on the half-wall to run the power play. That way you have some scorers on that second unit and you are better utilizing each player's skillset.

Shawn Collins writes: You know what I wanna see a few games of? Flipping the forwards on the third and fourth lines. Send Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik down to the 4th and put Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway up with Lars Eller. I love Leipsic's pop/energy when he's on the ice and he and Hathaway seem to have a thing. Eller may be a good glue for them. The third line has kinda been a mess all year.

If you want to experiment, now is the time to do it I guess, but I don't know what everyone's rush is to move the fourth line up. You have arguably the best fourth line in hockey. That's an asset. Why then try to force fourth line players into a third-line role? Leipsic and Hathaway may be top-tier fourth line players, but they are definitely fourth line players. 

I also do not want to mix things up for the third line right now, right when it seems to be finding its groove as a shutdown line. No, I'm keeping things the way they are on offense and trying to build as much momentum for that third line as possible.

Dana Ziegler writes: If Braden Holtby does not stay beyond this season and Ilya Samsonov becomes the top goalie, who will earn the backup position? Would they bring Pheonix Copley back up or Vitek Vanecek? Or would they look to bring in someone new?

I would anticipate somebody else. While I do expect Samsonov to be the No. 1 next season and Holtby will be gone, I don't think the plan is just to hand Samsonov the crease and expect him to start 55+ games. Remember, as good as he is and as heralded as he is, he has never been the outright No. 1 in his professional career in the U.S. or Rusia. My guess would be that the team looks to bring in an experienced back up and they go with a tandem next season.

Some possible free agents who could possibly fit that role would be Jaroslav Halak, Jimmy Howard or Thomas Greiss.

Fred W. writes: Could you compare/contrast Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev?

Fehervary and Alexeyev are actually roommates in Hershey. Alexeyev is a little bigger at 6-foo-4,  201 pounds as compared to Fehervary's 6-foot-2, 194 pounds and has more North American experience having played in the WHL. There is nothing about Alexeyev's game that is great, what makes him an intriguing prospect is that he seems to be really good at just about everything. He is a mobile skater, he can play a physical game, win board battles, has some offensive upside and is good at distributing the puck. He seems like an all-around good defenseman. What's more is his maturity is off the charts. I have spoken with him a few times and he does not strike you as a 19-year-old kid.

To me, I look at this player as someone who is greater than the sum of his parts and that's why I think some scouts undervalue him.

Fehervary is also very composed and confident, but does not come with the same quiet swagger that Alexeyev has. He is much more of a defensive player with less of the offensive upside Alexeyev brings. While Alexeyev went the junior hockey route, Fehervary has been playing in the pros for years in Sweden. He is used to playing against bigger bodies and is used to playing a physical game against big men. That's impressive as sometimes when kids go pro young, they rely on skill and shy away from physical play. Fehervary does not. He's used to it. I really like how he closes the gap against forwards quickly. He seems like a very smart, cerebral type of player.

Between the two, I think Alexeyev has the higher upside, but Fehervary's game is further along right now. I see both as a top-four and I think there is at least some slight potential for Alexeyev to be a top-pair player.

Raymond Selke writes: How does a team acquire a surplus of cap space throughout the year?

What you are referring to is commonly known as "banking" space. How does a team bank space and is somehow able to afford players at the deadline that they could not before?

A better way to understand the salary cap is to think of it in terms of being on pace to spend to the cap.

Here is a very basic example to illustrate how it works.

Let's say I give you $100 to last you from Monday to Friday. The league breaks the season down day-by-day so while the overall cap ceiling is $100, the magic number is $20. According to the rules, you can't spend more than $20 per day because that would put you on pace to spend more than $100. But what if you only spent $5 on Monday and Tuesday? You have only spent $10 of your allotted $100 leaving you with $90 left. Now you can spend up to $30 per day for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday because you "banked" space. The overall amount you could spend did not change, but since you didn't spend to the max, the amount you can afford later in the season increases.

The salary cap runs daily throughout the season. The season is divided into 180 days and a player's daily cap hit is their overall cap hit divided by 180. Whatever you don't spend on any given day is money that you will have to use later on.

Shawn Collins writes: Is it a foregone conclusion that Dmitry Orlov will be exposed in the draft?

The expansion draft is not until the summer of 2021. Nothing is a foregone conclusion in sports that far out. You know who I thought could be going to Vegas a year before that expansion draft? Tom Wilson. By the time the actual expansion draft rolled around, that was laughable. That's how much things can change in a year.

John Carlson is pretty much a given to be protected. I assume Jonas Siegenthaler will be as well. That makes it a toss-up between Orlov and Michal Kempny for who will be the third defenseman protected from Seattle.

Nathan S. writes: Are there ping pong tables at Medstar for Caps players to use the way there used to be at Redskins Park?T

The players' area at MedStar is actually closed off to the media so I do not know exactly what they have. Since I know this question is related to the Redskins banning ping pong, the answer is that yes, they have games, for the players to play, I just don't know what.

Marie Keller writes: What's the story about Ovi's yellow shoelaces?

According to Theo Fleury, Ovechkin told him he was the inspiration.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.


Quick Links

2020 NHL All-Star Game: Schedule, Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

USA TODAY Sports Images

2020 NHL All-Star Game: Schedule, Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

The 2020 NHL All-Star Game takes place on Saturday, Jan. 25, following the three-on-three tournament format that was first used in 2016.

For the second year in a row, Washington captain Alex Ovechkin chose to sit out the game, even though he was elected as Metropolitan division captain by the fans. Ovechkin said he wanted to rest his body for the second half of the season.

Also for the second year in a row, some women's hockey stars will play a key role in the All-Star weekend events. The Elite Women's 3-on-3 game will be played on Jan. 24 during the NHL All-Stars Skills Competition and will feature the American All-Stars and Canadian All-Stars battling it out in a 20-minute three-on-three tournament. 

This year, even with Ovechkin sitting out All-Star weekend, the Capitals will have three representatives on the Metropolitan roster: forward T.J. Oshie, defenseman John Carlson and goalkeeper Braden Holtby. Though Holtby and Carlson made the team initially, Oshie was selected to his first All-Star appearance as part of the NHL's Last Man In Fan Vote.

Here's how to watch the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, plus information on the teams and the schedule of events:

NHL All-Star Game Schedule

NHL All-Star Skills Competition: Friday, Jan. 24, 8 p.m. ET

NHL All-Star Game Tournament: Friday, Jan. 25

Semifinal Game 1: TBD vs. TBD, 8:15 p.m. ET

Semifinal Game 2: TBD vs. TBD, 9:15 p.m. ET

Final Game: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 10:15 p.m. ET

How to Watch the NHL All-Star Game

Where: Enterprise Center, St. Louis, Missouri

What: 65th Annual NHL All-Star Game

When: Saturday, January 25, 2020, at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Live Stream: Stream live on NBCSports

NHL All-Star Captains

Atlantic Division: F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

Metropolitan Division: D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Central Division: F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

Pacific Division: F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

NHL All-Star Rosters

Atlantic Division: roster

Metropolitan Division: roster

Central Division: roster

Pacific Division: roster

NHL All-Star Game History

Record (since 2016): Pacific 2, Metro 2, Atlantic 0, Central 0