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Which Capitals could play in 2016 World Cup of Hockey?


Which Capitals could play in 2016 World Cup of Hockey?

With the buzz of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey still in the air, let’s take a look at which Capitals might represent their countries in the eight-team tournament that will take place in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre next fall from Sept. 17-Oct. 1.

Team USA

John Carlson, defense

At 25 years old, Carlson is coming off his most productive NHL season – fifth among NHL blue liners with 43 assists -- and is entering the prime of his career. Ironically, Carlson was paired with former Penguins veteran Brooks Orpik in the 2014 Winter Games and was reunited with him when Orpik arrived in Washington before last season.

Brooks Orpik, defense

Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter and Carlson are locks to make the U.S. team, but Orpik, who will turn 34 later this month, will need to have a strong 2015-16 season to prove he can handle the role of a shot-blocking, crease-clearing veteran presence on a back end that could include youngsters Justin Faulk and Kevin Shattenkirk.

T.J. Oshie, right wing

With seasoned studs like Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny, Oshie will need to have a big season in his first year with the Capitals to play his way onto the World Cup stage. Casual fans may see him as a shootout specialist and that will help his cause, but Oshie’s edgy style should also be attractive to the Team USA management staff.

Team Canada

Braden Holtby, goaltender

Two years ago, Holtby attended Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp with the hopes of playing in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Holtby struggled for most of that 2013-14 season but had a breakout season last year and is looking to build off his success this season. Barring any setbacks Holtby should challenge Carey Price for the chance to be the starter for the Canadians next year.

Team Russia

Alex Ovechkin, left wing

With eight goals in 17 Olympic games for Team Russia, Ovechkin will be looking to silence his critics from 2014 following Russia’s no-medal showing as Olympic host. He’s also likely to benefit from the NHL-sized rinks, allowing him to be a more dominant physical presence than on the wider surfaces in Europe.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, center

There is no question Kuznetsov, 23, represents the next wave of Russian stars and his anticipated success this season likely will put him on the same ice as legendary forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Team Sweden

Nicklas Backstrom, center

After his ordeal in Sochi, where he was suspended from playing in the gold medal game due to testing positive for allergy medication, Backstrom will be eager to lead Sweden into international battle. He led the NHL in assists last season with 60 and in nine Olympic games with Sweden Backstrom has one goal and nine assists, prompting Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to say Backstrom would rather pick up an assist than score a goal.  

Marcus Johansson, center/left/right wing  

Johansson was a late addition to Team Sweden in 2014 and picked up one assist in five games. Entering a contract season for the second year in a row, Johansson will have plenty incentive to put up big numbers this season after netting a career-high 20 goals and 47 points last season.

Outside shot: Andre Burakovsky

Team Europe

Philipp Grubauer, goaltender

Comprised of players from countries such as Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Norway, Belarus, Switzerland, Latvia and Denmark, Team Europe could show interest in Grubauer, a 23-year-old netminder from Rosenheim, Germany.  Grubauer has represented his country in two World Championship games and seven World Junior Championship matches and is expected to back up Holtby this season.

Andre Burakovsky, center/left wing

Born in Austria and raised in Sweden, Burakovsky would have a better shot at making Team Europe than he would Team Sweden, although his preference likely would be to play for Three Crowns. At 20 he still has plenty of room to grow and plenty of time to play for his home country.

Team North America

Tom Wilson, right wing

Made up of American and Canadian players who will be 23 or younger, this could be one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament with talented players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nathan McKinnon and Aaron Ekblad. Those players will need someone to protect them and Wilson would be more than willing to stand up to anyone interested in pushing them around. Wilson is anticipating a big season this year and he’s already got the attention of Team North America managers Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman.

Team Czech Republic

Jakub Vrana, right wing

At 19, Vrana still has a lot to prove between now and next September, but his shot and his hands are undeniably lethal and he could draw some attention from the Czech management team. Vrana would need to light up the AHL and perhaps see time with the Capitals before warranting serious consideration to play on an aging team anchored by Jake Voracek, Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr.  


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Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes


Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

The reigning Stanley Cup champions seemingly have boat loads of team fun while on the road. 

A day after cruising past the Vancouver Canucks (5-2, win) at their place, the team enjoyed a little friendly competition inside an...axe throwing arena. 

Forged Axe Throwing is an indoor facility in the countryside of Whistler, British Columbia. 

Dressed as lumberjacks, the Caps dove right into their team-building activity. 

Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom went head-to-head for Swedish bragging rights. 

To no one's surprise, Alex Ovechkin is as much of a goal-scorer as he is an axe-thrower. 

But it was T.J. Oshie who walked away with the Forged Axe Throwing title on this day. 

Needless to say, Tuesday wasn't your average off day for a National Hockey League team. But as reigning champs, everyday is atypical. 



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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.”