Kukla's Korner

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The Fork in the Road: Youth

Here we are, a little over a month removed from the Capitals exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Despite not playing, the Capitals have had one of the busier Junes.  We immediately learned of Dale Hunter’s decision to not return as head coach next season, instead returning to London.  Then we had the word from Alexander Semin’s agent, Mark Gandler, made it very clear that Alex would be heading to free agency.  Of course, this claim was later refuted by Semin, but who knows with them Russians.  Add in the decision to not offer contract renewals to Jeff Halpern and Mike Knuble, and the Capitals have set themselves up for one of the busiest summers in recent years.

To be fair, none of the events within the past month should have come as huge surprises.  We all knew that despite being one win away from the Conference Finals, there was not a whole lot of happiness with the way this season transpired.  When teams that should be dominating falter, massive shake-ups are quite common.  We all remember what happened in Philadelphia last summer with Carter and Richards.  The issue now is whether the Capitals choose to continue to invest in their previous draft classes or they go all out in free agency.

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Just Like That

I’ve been planning this entry out for just about a month.  With the struggles that this team had down the stretch, I just didn’t have a lot of confidence in this team.  Now that it has finally come, due to a Game 7 loss to the Rangers, it wasn’t what I expected.  The drive that the team showed through the first 13 games actually made me believe that they just might be able to prove that their style could lead get them somewhere.  Instead, when all the pressure was on, they crumbled.

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Capitals (7)-Rangers (1) Series Preview

For the 3rd time in the past 4 years, the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  In both of the previous 2 series, the Capitals and Rangers met in the first round of the playoffs, with the Capitals advancing on both occasions.  This time around the two will meet having already advanced past the first round and, more importantly, the Rangers will be the ones with the home ice advantage.  Here’s a quick look at what each team did in the regular season to get here.  Parentheses note league rank.

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Sucked in

Last night, after having stolen home ice from the Bruins via a 2-1 2OT win on Saturday, the Capitals fell to the Bruins in Game 3 4-3.  Zdeno Chara gave the visitors the game winner with just under 2 minutes to go.  To make the sting all that much worst, Chara’s point shot found its way in via the blade of Roman Hamrlik’s stick as he attempted to clear some traffic in front.  The Caps may have finally found some of the offense that they were lacking in game one, but they have lost the discipline.

We all knew the Bruins would be coming into D.C. looking to get the Caps off their games.  What was a potent offense in the regular season had been choked out by Dale Hunter’s defense-first style in the first 2 games.  It was clearly not in their gameplan to be heading to D.C. with their only goals coming from Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot.  All that frustration finally went and flipped the switch on Milan Lucic, who made it his goal to disrupt the discipline of the Caps as much as he possibly could.  Oh, it worked, big time.  Lucic would end up making 3 trips to the box for extracurricular, but he made sure to take a Cap with him each time.

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Capitals(7)-Bruins(2) Preview

While it may have been in doubt during the closing weeks of the regular season, the Capitals do begin a playoff series tonight against the 2nd ranked Boston Bruins.  While this will mark the 5th consecutive year that the Capitals will be a part of the playoffs, it is the first time since 2003 that they will enter the playoffs as a lower seed.  That time around the Capitals were unable to hold onto a 2-0 game lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and eventually bowed out in 6 games, thanks to a Martin St. Louis triple overtime goal at the MCI Center.  An interesting note, 10 players who suited up for Tampa in that series still play in the NHL, while only Jeff Halpern and Dainus Zubrus remain of the Capitals’ players.

This time around the Capitals have the daunting task of trying to dispatch the defending Stanley Cup champs.  Here is just a quick stat comparison of the teams and respective leaders.  Parentheses note rank in league.

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Trepidation

Just as it seemed that the Washington Capitals were about to shut the door on the Buffalo Sabres, they let them right back in via a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night.  Despite a late tying goal from Jason Chimera, his 20th of the season, the Caps were unable to hold off the Lightning as Steven Stamkos scored his 57th of the year with just over 2:00 remaining in the 3rd period.  Stamkos would later pot his 58th in a vacated net.  While it may not have been giving up a 2-goal lead, this game continued to show the lack of confidence the Washington Capitals have in themselves.

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Capitals Road Gear

Look, we all need to hit the road sometimes.  Whether it is business, holidays, or a simple getaway, we all are forced to leave the comfy confines of our home at some point.  The Washington Capitals know this better than anyone, as they find themselves on the road quite a bit.  Always the considerate bunch, they have decided to help out in the designing of some equipment that is a must-have for the person on the go.

The Capitals Road Pillow

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No Passion

Last night, the Capitals fell 3-2 in Winnipeg.  Even just watching it on television, you could get a sense of how intense the game was.  The 15,000+ fans in the MTS Centre only added to this feel, who made it hard to hear Joe B at times.  In the past, it has been like these games that has caused Ovechkin to elevate his game to a dominating pace.  What we saw Saturday, though, was a player who lacked any sense of purpose.

Everything was in place to light a fire under Ovechkin.  It was an intensely physical game, in Canada, with the entire crowd booing him every time he had the puck.  In the third period, there appeared to be a perfect time for Ovechkin to put in a classic rush, eventually putting the puck behind Pavelec.  He gathered the puck, sped down the right wing side, and only had Grant Clitsome standing between him and jumping into the glass.  Clitsome was a late round (271st overall) 2004 draft pick of the Blue Jackets.  Prior to this season, he played just 42 games for the Blue Jackets and eventually was picked off of waivers by the Jets.  These are the types of guys that a fired-up Ovechkin leaves in his wake.  Instead, we watched as Ovechkin was sent face-first to the ice by a well-placed hip check.  He simply got back up and skated out of the zone, as the fans jeered him and cheered Clitsome.

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McPhee Makes Safe Choice

Today had all the makings of a busy day for the Washington Capitals.  Currently sitting in 9th place, the Caps looked primed to make a move that could push them into the playoffs.  This though process seemed reinforced as they started off the day by placing Nicklas Backstrom on LTIR, effectively taking his $6+ million cap hit off the books for the remainder of the season.  This turned out to be all for naught, as the trade deadline has come and gone without the Capitals making one move.

The Capitals appeared to be in the market for a quality center who could help the Capitals fill the hole left by Nicklas Backstrom.  They also seemed to have quite a few pieces that were expendable.  Over the past couple of weeks, we have watched as players like Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik found their way into Hunter’s doghouse, and seemed to be important factors in bringing in that coveted center.  The Capitals also had lucrative young players, like Cody Eakin and Matthieu Perreault who could have helped sweeten the deal.  Instead, the Capitals will now be forced to fight their way into the playoffs with a team that struggles to win consistently, or on the road.

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The Pretending Needs to Stop

Last night the Washington Capitals fell to the San Jose Sharks 5-3 at Verizon Center.  If you watched this travesty, you know that the score line was more of a 5-1 with some window dressing.  The main issue with this game was not that the Sharks simply were unstoppable, but that the Capitals could not get out of their own way.  It was a game ripe with blind, behind-the-back passes to nobody in particular, poor clears, and a pass-first, shoot-poorly mentality.  More than that, it showed me that the Capitals, and fans alike, need to stop kidding themselves.

I am not calling for the throwing in of the towels, but, as it sits, the Capitals cannot afford to keep making these same decisions.  Firstly, the coaching staff needs to change their mindset.  Before the game last night, it was announced that Tomas Vokoun was too sick to back-up Neuvirth, so they simply called up Braden Holtby on an emergency basis.  While Neuvirth did play the previous afternoon, Holtby actually played 60+ minutes the previous night.  With Holtby only being able to stay up until Wednesday, I assume Hunter saw it as a good point to get a first-hand look at Holtby.  This is all fine and well if you are not fighting for playoff hope and haven’t already told Neuvirth he is going to start.

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About F Street Faithful

Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.

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