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Goal Line Report

New Capitals Book On the Way from Beat Writer Ted Starkey

Ted Starkey, one of the Washington Capitals’ beat writers for the Washington Times, was kind enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to tell us about a new book he is authoring on the Capitals: Transition Game: The Story of the 2010-11 Washington Capitals.

PH: So, you’re writing a book on last year’s version of the Washington Capitals. What are you looking to tell the readers about last year’s team?
TS: The book is a slice of life book, chronicling one of 30 stories in the National Hockey League. The book starts in Hershey as three key prospects - defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson, along with goaltender Michal Neuvirth - help the Bears rally from a 2-0 deficit against the Texas Stars to capture the Cup. The story then progresses through an NHL off-season and an up-and-down campaign that spanned from the highs of winning the Winter Classic and the top seed in the Eastern Conference to the lows of an eight-game losing streak that had Bruce Boudreau apparently wondering about his future.

It’s intended to show the long journey from camp to season’s conclusion, and all the sweat and effort that goes into an NHL season.

PH: What gave you the idea to write a book on the 2010-11 Capitals? What makes that team so intriguing to write about?
TS: From the end of the 2009-10 season, it was clearly going to be a different year in Washington with the Capitals being selected to play in the Winter Classic, which was made even more pronounced with the HBO series “24/7.” The mid-season regular-season game really began to overshadow the team well before the puck was dropped in Pittsburgh, and the change in playing style in the middle of filming.

I actually thought of the idea before the playoffs even began back in March. There were a lot of unique storylines to the team, and one that fans got to know a little of during the reality series. Thanks to some other good local writers and bloggers, I took my year’s worth of material and blended it with theirs, and also added some of the light shed on the team in the series to create a good picture of the club through the highs - and lows - of the season.

PH: How do you think this book will help fans understand what the Capitals went through last season?
TS: It sheds some light on what the personality of the team is, as well as some analysis on part of the reason the Capitals struggled to score goals compared to the year before.

One of the Caps’ biggest problems from the November trade of Tomas Fleischmann to the acquisition of Jason Arnott at the trade deadline was the lack of a true second-line center. While Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault tried to fill the void, the lack of a good second pivot really hurt the team’s offense. After the Capitals traded Fleischmann, a team that had scored five six-goal games in the first two months of the season only managed one the rest of the way, not so much because Fleischmann was such a valuable piece, but because there was a hole in that spot in the lineup.

But that’s part of the story, with the blend of young players and a change in the system, as the team didn’t have a whole lot of stability throughout the season.

PH: Despite everything that went on with the Capitals last season, they still managed to finish first in the Eastern Conference. How did the team manage to do that?
TS: For the first part of the season, Neuvirth was very solid despite some very inconsistent efforts, then when the season bottomed out in mid-December, the change to a defensive style certainly paid some dividends.

The Capitals won the Conference thanks to a strong finish aided by the trade of Jason Arnott - coupled by the Flyers finishing poorly when they looked as if they would run away with the top seed. While the Capitals were still fighting for the Southeast Division title with Tampa Bay at the trade deadline - filling that hole at the second-line center helped stabilize the team.

PH: With all of that said, this team still failed to get out of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why do the Capitals continue to fail come playoff time?
TS: One of the problems the Capitals have had in recent seasons is not always delivering 60 minutes of effort, and it certainly came to light in the Tampa Bay series. While the Caps looked like they would run away with the series in Game 1, they relaxed at the end of the second period and never really got back into the contest with a sluggish finish to the contest.

Washington almost erased a sub-par Game 2 on an Alexander Ovechkin tally late in the contest, but Tampa Bay was able to take advantage of a terrible line change in overtime for the game-winner. In Game 3, the Caps managed a much better 40 minutes to start the game, but sat back in the third and the Lightning took advantage to essentially end the series with a third-period comeback.

The Capitals have to learn the lesson that the teams in the playoffs are there for a reason, and need to deliver a better effort to advance deep. Several Capitals admitted that they looked past Montreal in Games 5 through 7 in last year’s playoffs, and clearly, they need a better overall effort to play into June.

PH: How do you think the Capitals will be a better team this season?
TS: The Capitals made some interesting moves in the offseason, most notably adding Tomas Vokoun via a one-year, $1.5 million contract, giving the Capitals one of the best one-two punches in net in the league with Neuvirth being this year’s backup - and Braden Holtby two hours away in Hershey.

Washington’s biggest question will be back at the second-line center spot with Arnott leaving via free agency. Washington hopes Brooks Laich - who signed a six-year, $27 million extension in June - or Johansson can fill that spot. That hole in the lineup certainly wreaked havoc on Washington’s high-powered offense last year, so without a second-line center that can put up points, it makes the Capitals a one-dimensional team.

However, the Capitals still have a talented roster from net on out, and with Vokoun having a better defensive corps than he had in Florida, the Capitals certainly should get their shot with another high seed in the Eastern playoffs.

PH: Anything else you’d like to share with Kukla’s Korner readers?
TS: I’d invite hockey fans to check out the preview chapters available on various local blogs online at Kings of Leonsis and Ed Frankovic’s blog, as I think the book has appeal for more than Capitals fans. The book certainly gives fans an inside look at what happens inside a season, everything from the on-the-ice performance to the off-the-ice impact of the team’s unique use of new media - with insight from one of the men that helped make the Verizon Center press box a unique spot, Nate Ewell.

The Capitals are certainly a unique team to cover, with a unique group covering it, and it makes for a book that flows well and examines one of the National Hockey League’s most intriguing - and somewhat enigmatic - franchises.

If anyone is interested in getting more information, I’m happy to answer e-mails at CapitalsBook@AOL.com, and if anyone is interested in pre-ordering a copy before August 15th, I will personally be sending out hand-signed and hand-numbered first editions of the book before it goes for more general distribution by late September.

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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.

Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.

For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com.