Capitals

Caps brace themselves for life without hockey

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Caps brace themselves for life without hockey

Now what?Now that Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have proclaimedthey are at an impasse in negotiations for a new Collective BargainingAgreement, and with no talks scheduled between now and Saturdaysmidnight deadline, NHL players will need to start making preparations for lifewithout hockey.Yeah, weve got to get our ducks in a row here becauseweve always been thinking, Oh, something will happen, something will happen.Capitals veteran left wing Jason Chimera said.What will happen on Sunday is that the Capitals lockerroom at Kettler Capitals Iceplex will be locked. If the players who remain inthe area want to keep in skating shape, theyll need to rent ice at Kettler.
There may be some ice available here at KCI and someother rinks around town, Chimera said. I think during the day, with kids inschool, there should be ice available. The prices are more for ice here than in Edmonton, thats forsure. I saw some of the prices to rent ice for an hour and I was like Holy !We better solve this soon or guys are going to need an ice-time stipend orsomething from the PA players association.Worse yet, players would be forced to do their own laundryand stock up on some air fresheners.Yeah, well have to put stuff on the patio, Chimera said.I dont think my wife will like my gear hanging in the house too much.With the possibility of a lockout looming, players were encouragedlast season to save one of their paychecks. And with escrow checks expected tobe delivered in mid-October, most players will not feel the financial pinch of alockout until early November, when the checks stop entirely.Now 36 with a wife and two school-age children, Chimera saidhell remain in the area until a settlement is reached. But in 2004, he remembersholding out the same hope for labor peace and endured an entire season withoutan NHL paycheck.I just kind of hung around hoping for something tohappen, said Chimera, who was a 25-year-old member of the Edmonton Oilers duringthe last lockout Some guys did three-on-three leagues for a bit, justtouring around, but eventually I went to Italy. One of my agents bestfriends was coaching a team, so I went there and played for a couple of months.It was a different experience, thats for sure.Back then, Chimera was dating his future wife and the twoapproached the trip to Italyas an adventure.We just kind of packed up and moved, he said. It wasjust the two of us so it was easy and it was neat to see different stops, but Iremember the feeling last time when the season got cancelled, I think it wasprobably one of the worst days.While the players and owners brought entirely differentproposals to the table in meetings this week in New York, few around the league believe thedifferences between the two side are great enough for them to surrender 3.3billion in annual revenue.Guys lifetimes in the NHL, the span during which theyplay, is pretty small, Chimera said. I think its five years, average, so ifyou lose two of those five years, its pretty drastic. It would be a shame tolose any time, thats for sure.And not just for the players. Chimera joked that a lockoutcould put some strain on a few hockey marriages, as well, saying his wife isalready pushing him out of the house after a summer of together time.She wants me to go on a road trip, seriously, hesaid. She wants to get rid of me. So its a weird feeling when this stuffhappens. Hopefully, something will get done.

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Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Last season was by far Braden Holtby’s worst in the NHL.

With a .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA, Holtby was not even considered the starter for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. While his overall numbers were low, things really spiraled at the start of February.

From February 2 to March 6, Holtby managed a save percentage of only .878 and gave up a whopping 4.32 GAA. It was the worst stretch of his professional career.

There have been many theories as to the cause of Holtby’s struggles. From 2012-13 through last season, only one goalie played in more games than Holtby’s 340. After Philipp Grubauer took over, Holtby thrived in the postseason.

But neither goalie coach Scott Murray or Braden Holtby believe the issue was fatigue.

“You don't want to overuse a No. 1 guy, but [Holtby’s] a guy that has proven he can play some games and be productive,” Murray said.

The real issue, in Holtby’s mind, was the changing culture of the NHL and its focus on offense.

“It's a skill-based league now, not a toughness based league,” Holtby told NBC Sports Washington. “I see that in the league trying to take players out that play a physical game. It's hard. It's strange for us that grew up kind of loving that game because of the toughness and the heart that it took and different ways to win games. It's hard to see that kind of softness come through. That's one of those things I struggled with last year and I think you grow up and try and just ignore it and control your own game.”

It’s no secret that the NHL is trying to increase scoring with changes such as making goalie pads and pants smaller and referees calling games tighter leading to more penalties and less physical play. The league’s efforts seem to be working - in the 2017-18 season, the average goals scored per team jumped up by 10 percent.

Here are the average goals per game per team in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through 2016-17:

2010-11: 2.79
2011-12: 2.73
2012-13: 2.72
2013-14: 2.74
2014-15: 2.73
2015-16: 2.71
2016-17: 2.77

In every season during that stretch, the average fell between 2.71-2.79. In the 2017-18 season, however, that average jumped up all the way up to 2.97.

Successful NHL goalies are expected to have a save percentage over .910 and a GAA below 2.50. But what happens when that standard changes? For Holtby, he struggled to evaluate his own performance. He felt he was playing well, but the numbers told a different story.

“That was one of the real challenges last year, especially through the first four months or so,” Holtby said. “We try to evaluate it every game the same based on every play and not how the game is and it felt that, both [Murray], [goaltending director Mitch Korn] and I felt that I was playing better than I had years passed and the numbers just weren't obviously showing that and it became frustrating and that started to creep in my game. That's kind of a main reason why you saw the drop off in February.”

If the issue was not fatigue, however, then why was time off the solution?

According to Murray, it wasn’t.

“It's always good to have rest, but I think more importantly he had to reinvent himself a little bit and reestablish his foundation that got him here in the first place which is a blue-collar attitude,” Murray said. “I'm going to work and I'm going to stick to what I'm good at, my habits and make sure they're good and let some of the outside stuff go. I think that was just as important as rest, kind of that reset button and understanding who he was and what got him there and getting back to that.”

It’s an important lesson that Holtby will have to remember for this season as scoring has jumped up yet again even over last season. In the first month of play, the average number of goals per game per team has climbed to 3.10. Should that trend stick, it will be the first time the average has gone over 3.00 since 2005-06.

“You know there's going to be more goals, more chances,” Holtby said. “Just focus on every play and just leave out the rest because those are things you just can't control. That's just life.”

 

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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