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With a 1-3 record in shootouts, Caps are spending more time practicing it

With a 1-3 record in shootouts, Caps are spending more time practicing it

ARLINGTON—Over the past few weeks, the Capitals have started dedicating more time in practice to working on shootouts.

Why? A couple of reasons: The standings point awarded for a skills competition victory could prove critical later this season. And, well, right now the Caps aren’t very good at them, despite a bevy of skilled forwards and a top goaltender.

In fact, through 32 games, the Caps have gone to the shootout four times—and they’ve won just once.  

“It’s part of the game,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “If it wasn’t part of the game, we wouldn’t work on it. But it is; they’re valuable points. We've got some dynamic shooters and good goaltending, we just haven’t been on the right side enough. You never know when those two or three or four points during the year could make a big difference.”

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The Caps’ most recent trip to the shootout—a 3-2 loss in Philly last Wednesday—left Trotz feeling like they had allowed a valuable point to slip.

“We had an opportunity,” Trotz said. “Scored the first one, got a save. If we can score another one or get that extra save, then we’re able to come back. We lost a point that we could have had. We’ll keep working at it.”

Trotz doesn’t incorporate shootout drills into practice every day, but it’s been happening more and more in recent weeks. It typically happens toward the end of practice and takes the form of an intrasquad competition. The Caps divide into two teams and alternate shots on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, who are stationed at either end. By the end, there’s usually a little trash talk and/or whooping and hollering.

It’s a fun way to wrap up practice. But it also serves a purpose: T.J. Oshie and Co. get to polish their moves, while Holtby and Grubauer can focus on deciphering a shooter’s tells and work on remaining patient as the shooter bears down on the net.

The Caps have a pair of top shootout performers in Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Oshie is a perfect 3 for 3 this season, with one game deciding goal, and Kuznetsov is 2 for 4.

At the other end, Holtby is 0-3 in games decided in the shootout, allowing seven goals on 12 shots against. He’s also not a fan of deciding games in a skills competition. Grubauer, meantime, earned the Caps’ only shootout win, at Carolina on Dec. 16, though it should be noted both Hurricanes’ shooters were officially credited with missing the net.    

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as automatic,” Trotz said, asked if his team should be better based on its collective skill level. “It’s a skill set. It’s not really about natural goal scoring. It’s about reading and deception and being able to sell your wares coming into the goalie and then executing.”

“Like T.J., he goes in there with three or four moves and he executes,” Trotz added. “And that’s why he’s so good. He sells deception. He doesn’t have a lot of tells and when it comes to the execution part, he’s able to do that. We have a lot of guys that can do that. You’d be amazed at some guys that are so skilled and then you throw them out there and they do something totally different and are not able to get it done.”

As the league prepares to return from Christmas break, Detroit has been best in shootouts (5-0) while Toronto has been worst (0-5). The Caps rank toward the bottom, but Trotz feels like they could and should be higher.

And they’ll keep working at it until they are.

“That’s something we can be better at,” he said, “everything from Holts’ patience on those [shots] to us executing. So it’s not one thing. It’s a little bit of both.”

MORE CAPITALS: Who's hot and who's not?: Holtby rediscovering Vezina form

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How Ron Weber, the original radio voice of the Caps, finally got his chance to call a Stanley Cup Final game in 2018

How Ron Weber, the original radio voice of the Caps, finally got his chance to call a Stanley Cup Final game in 2018

The words of John Walton will echo forever among Capitals fans when he declared, "It's not a dream! It's not a dessert mirage! It's Lord Stanley and he is coming to Washington!" But while he was the radio voice of the Capitals throughout the incredible 2018 run, there was another voice that made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final that many Washington fans will also remember.

The Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights met in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 4, 2018. If you tuned into the radio broadcast during the first period, you may have heard a familiar voice, that of Ron Weber.

Weber was the radio play-by-play caller for the team in its very first season. He was truly the voice of the Capitals during his time in the booth as he would continue on for 23 seasons calling 1,936 consecutive games, never missing a single one.

"The closest I came was the night of the Persian Gulf War where my play-by-play was pretty well eliminated," Weber said. "I wasn't on more than I was that night when that Persian Gulf War broke out, but I did get some play-by-play in."

For fans of the team during their early years, Weber's voice was essentially synonymous with the team.

But there was one thing that Weber never got to do during his tenure and that was call a Stanley Cup Final game. His final season in the booth was 1996-97, just one year before Washington would go on to win the conference and play in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in team history in 1997-98.

"Bad timing, eh?" Weber said.

That was something that did not sit well with the current radio voice of the Capitals, Walton, and it was something he was determined to rectify.

"From a historical context, [Weber] deserved to be involved with the final," Walton said. "It was something that I was made aware of going back to 1997-98, the first year he wasn't part of the broadcast and when the Capitals went to the final and he wasn't a part of it, that was unfortunate. That was a wrong that needed to be corrected."

In 2018 when the Capitals went on their glorious run to the Stanley Cup, Walton began thinking of bringing Weber into the booth for a home game in the Stanley Cup Final.

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"I had it in the back of my mind -- probably late in the Tampa series, certainly after Game 7 against Tampa -- that if we went to the final, that if we had an opportunity, since the series was going to start in Las Vegas, if we got a lead in the series, I wanted him to come on," Walton said. "I didn't tell him about it, I didn't have any conversation with him ahead of time. I did have a conversation after Game 3. I had it in the back of my mind, I talked with Ken Sabourin about it after Game 3 and I talked with Ben Raby and I said look, I want to do this. If anybody's got any objection it never sees the light of day, but this is something that I think would be important to a lot of people. They were unanimous in their support. They were vocal in their support as well. It wasn't just me, it was them too."

The idea was floated to Weber and he agreed. Twenty years after calling his last game for the Capitals, Weber was in the booth for the first period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"That was very nice of John Walton to do that," Weber said.

"The funny part was that the Caps had the first period they did, they get three quick goals, the place is going crazy and my Twitter feed is nothing but do not let him leave," Walton said.

After that incredible period of hockey, a period in which the Caps led 3-0, Weber had a request for Walton.

"[Weber] said the only thing that he wanted more than being a part of the broadcast, he said if this team won he always dreamed about being in a Washington Capitals Stanley Cup championship parade and if there was anything that I could do to make that happen," Walton said.

He was only too happy to oblige.

"When we won, those words did not stray too far from my head after having him there," Walton said, "And after we won Game 5 and we came back and the plans were being made, I had brought that up to the powers that be with Monumental Sports."

Walton continued, "I got to see the reaction from people in the parade when they saw Ron. There were people crying when they saw Ron. When we turned onto Constitution, there were people who were shouting and yelling at both of us, but it was the ones that were yelling and looking for Ron's attention and people who were in the Capitals satin jackets and the old-school jerseys. I get choked up thinking about it. And Ron, as much as he is a wordsmith on the air, he and I are different in the fact that I'm a little bit more emotional overall. He's a little bit more matter-of-fact. But he turned, he tapped me on the back and he just looked at me and he smiled as big as I think he could have smiled. He said, this is great. And he turned around and he waved some more. It was everything that he wanted it to be. I was so glad and so honored. There's nobody I would have rather been in the parade with. To be with him was a memory for me for a lifetime and I'm sure for him too."

"I give [Walton] credit for arranging where I'd sit next to him in the parade which almost was as big a thrill as the clinching of the Cup," Weber said.

Thursday is the two-year anniversary of Game 4, a game full of incredible memories for Caps fans from what the team was able to do on the ice, winning ia 6-2 blowout to take a 3-1 stranglehold of the series. One of the best moments of the night, however, did not happen on the ice. It happened in the booth where Weber, who was the voice of the team in its first season when Washington won just eight out of 80 games, finally got his chance to call a Stanley Cup Final game.

"I still have people who stop me and people who stop him who love the fact that he had a microphone on and that he was part of that moment in team history," Walton said. "He didn't get to do it the last time. It was a great thrill for us to have him commenting on what was going on in the game and I think it meant a lot to a ton of long-time Caps fans."

"That was nice to be a part of it, but the main thing was just to glory in their win," Weber said. "They finally did it."

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Braden Holtby, Tom Wilson make strong statements in support of Black Lives Matter protesters

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Braden Holtby, Tom Wilson make strong statements in support of Black Lives Matter protesters

As protests have taken place in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., to raise the issue of racial injustice in the U.S., Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and forward Tom Wilson have mulled how to use their platforms in order to help the cause.

On Wednesday, both veteran stars released statements voicing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been in the national spotlight since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in an arrest that was captured on video May 25.

Holtby, whose wife Brandi posted a message on Twitter from both of them Tuesday, encouraged protestors to continue spreading their message and ridiculed the country’s current climate for its “injustice and hatred infused power.”

Wilson vowed to donate to the East Of The River Mutual Aid Fund and the Fort Dupont Cannons, who are based in D.C. and known to be the oldest minority hockey program in the U.S. He closed out his statement by writing, “I am contributing to these funds today, but I am committing to learn, to listen and to support going forward.”

Holtby and Wilson were the latest Capitals to weigh in on the protests after defenseman John Carlson committed to being “a part of the solution” and forward Alex Ovechkin called for everyone to “respect and love each other no matter what we look like.”

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