Caps By The Numbers: Game-Time Decision Nets Game Winner

After leaving the game early in Game 2, Evgeny Kuznetsov was a game-time decision for Game 3. That decision wasn’t one, as he was probably going to play all along. It’s a good thing he did, as he netted the game-winner for the Caps in Game 3 under the blocker of Marc-Andre Fleury to help give the Caps a 3-1 win and a 2-1 series lead. Alex Ovechkin started the scoring for the Caps off a frantic series of events in front, going back-hand on Fleury’s blocker side. Kuznetsov scored in the second, but a botched clearing attempt by Braden Holtby allowed Vegas to cut the lead to 2-1 after Tomas Nosek made Holtby pay for his blunder. The Caps were undeterred, as a wonderful forecheck by Jay Beagle allowed him to strip Shea Theodore of the puck, pass it right on the tape of Devante Smith-Pelly, who then roofed it over Fleury’s glove for the 3-1 marker. Game 4 goes Monday, still in Washington.

Win number fourteen means it’s time to profile a #14 in Caps history.

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When it comes to #14s there has been a lot– some of which have been marred by allegation that were proven false, some have been there for a cup of coffee, while others just used it as a number. For this player, he could have been something that Alex Ovechkin is now, as he was a highly touted player coming out of juniors. However, a rash if injuries, including a devastating ankle injury– he could never get his career off the ground. Now, a look at Pat Peake.

Peake was a career Capital, albeit for all of 134 games over five seasons, but before that– he was a major junior superstar, collecting 138 goals and 319 points in three seasons (162 games) with Detroit Compuware/Jr. Red Wings; exploding for 58 goals and 136 points in 46 games in 1992-93.

Peake finally got to the NHL in 1993-94, where he played 49 games for the Caps, registering 11 goals and 29 points on the year. However, that’s when the injuries started to pile up. Shoulder injuries, kidney issues, torn cartilage in his thyroid, and then the injury that would eventually retire him.

Coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals in 62 games, Peake was playing against the Penguins in the playoffs and was skating to cancel out an icing call, he got tripped up, landed feet first into the boards, and shattered his heel, which the doctors said was equal to a construction worker falling off a building feet first. Peake would rehab and need numerous surgeries to try and get his life back together, but it would end his playing career.

Peake stayed in hockey, going from assistant coach, to agent, to head coach of a AAA team in Michigan. While he will go under as one of the biggest 1st round busts, it was a series of unfortunate events that kept him from reaching his full sucess.

My Life As a Caps Fan

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Photo via CapsJerseys.com

This story is unique, but not. Many Caps fans have a similar tale– one of hope, heartbreak, despair, and faith. This is just mine.

My first Caps game I remember seeing on TV was on WDCA Channel 20 when the Caps played the New York Rangers in 1987 or 88. I knew the game of hockey because I had saw two wooden souvenir sticks in my bedroom, I believe a gift from my Godfather. They were red with blue lettering “Washington Capitals” with the Caps logo on it. I also had Fisher-Price roller skates with bells on it– so when I saw the game and wanted to imitate that– my mom and dad were reluctant about it. Not because of the game itself, it was mostly because of the ringing.

The first Caps game I attended was in February of 1989 (a story that I’ll hopefully get to tell at the end of the playoffs). I was instantly hooked, not with hockey– but with the Capitals. They were my local(ish) team, even though the Baltimore Skipjacks were a few miles from me– my dad had some connections at the Capital Centre that allowed us to see many games together until they left for the then MCI Center.

Through it all, this is the team I hung my hat on. From the days of never getting out of the Patrick Division until 1990 or the times going up three games to one in a series, only to lose. From the miraculous run in 1998 until the Cup Final to the Jaromir Jagr trade, which always left a bad taste in my mouth. From all the rebuild, which included Matt Yeats as a goalie to now in this era of Caps hockey that’s great and scary all in one. This is a team that always gave me the highest of highs and lowest of lows in sports fandom.

It also provided a community. Because of the Caps, I got into local hockey– first at Benfield Pines and then Piney Orchard– which happened to be the Caps practice facility. Through youth hockey, I have some of my closest friends, who have all come together through the wonders of social media to enjoy this series, as well as relive moments from our own glory days of travel hockey.

For many, the Caps are more than just a team (not to be confused with the 1989-90 team video), but it’s something that bound us together through our formidable years. We won’t be watching the Cup Final from our assistant coach’s sun room (shoutout Coach Gary), but we’re all in-tune with this. Especially since this is not something that’s supposed to happen. The window for this team was closed after they went all-in with Kevin Shattenkirk. But they kept it open enough to have the breeze roll in and keep the hope alive. Keep this whole thing going, as improbable as it has been.

And I won’t kid anyone in saying that this all seems like a fever dream. The Caps have had the odds against them and it seems like it’s all going to come to an end in typical Caps fashion so many times….but it hasn’t. We’ve prepared for the worst, but the best has been happening. It’s atypical in so many ways– especially with who they’re playing in this Cup Final.

Seemingly, all the playoff ghosts have been vanquished– beating the Penguins, winning a Game 7– save for three: Marc-Andre Fleury (22-12-2 regular season, 8-6 postseason vs. Caps), George McPhee (former Caps GM, now Vegas GM), and Lord Stanley (The Cup). If there was a time to flip the script and eliminate them all– it’s now.

For now…time to face the next game and hope that these past 30 years as a fan of this team that many love (despite them seemingly not wanting to love us back) continues to be all worth it. I’m not ready to use the “B” word when it comes to this team. Maybe if they get four more wins, I can admit to myself– it’s okay. It’s all okay.

Butthurt Fans Fuel My Golden Knights Love

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It’s funny to see the reaction of people who hate the idea of the Vegas Golden Knights being this close to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. The claims of unbalanced Expansion Draft rules, unfair trades so some guys wouldn’t get picked in the Draft, and other wild, butthurt claims that makes me want them to win the Cup more than ever.

And look– as a Caps fans, I know what it’s like to have a team that struggles and has the talent, but never tastes anything close to the Cup. It’s a bit annoying to see the success of the Golden Knights out of pure jealousy– but when I step back from the fan-view; it’s a great story. Not just in the NHL, but in sports overall. It’s a movie script to be honest– unprotected by their team, picked by this new, put together team, and have this amazing season that still isn’t done yet.

However, to say that they did it by nefarious means is downright outrageous. William Karlsson has talent, but he wasn’t going to get a chance in Columbus with John Tortorella at the helm. You can’t tell me that you thought Karlsson was going to have a 40-goal season in Columbus when he only hit 14 goals in his previous two seasons combined. Oh, and he also was picked AT THE REQUEST of Columbus, while also giving them the salary of David Clarkson. Alex Tuch was a throw-in from the Wild for the Knights taking Erik Haula, Fleury was who the Pens wanted the Knights to take, Reilly Smith was traded to make sure that Jonathan Marchessault was picked by the Knights.

Yup– really unfair when the guys who turned out to be the best players on their team are basically having their old teams BEG VEGAS TO TAKE THEM AWAY!!

You want motivation?? How about when you have teams giving you away because they wanted to make sure someone else got taken. You want to prove value?? You shove it up their ass. That’s motivation. And to have someone like Gerard Gallant– who was last seen in the NHL having to get his own cab– at the helm of this rag-tag team of players; you have 30+ guys with their hearts and minds dead set on proving everyone wrong.

This was a team that most people thought were going to finished dead-last in the league. This was a team that people had not getting to 70 points. This was a team that people believed would have visiting fans outnumber the home fans by a country mile.

So much for that.

No one would have guessed this season would happen. I’m sure some of the guys on the team– despite saying they believed in themselves– would have thought they’d go this far. Five guys with 20+ goals, using five goalies in the first two weeks due to injuries and STILL WINNING, and believing enough in their roster to make very limited moves and sticking with the horses they have. Now, as of the time of this writing, they are one win away from getting to the Stanley Cup Final.

What’s the point of my ramblings?? Well, it’s because fans ruin everything thinking they know what the story is supposed to be for any franchise. Just because your team had to have hardships doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for every team. Just because your team had the top-priced talent doesn’t mean value picks can’t get it done. Just because your team waited X-number of years to win a Cup doesn’t mean this team can’t do it in a single season.

If you can’t enjoy this for the story because it’s a first year team and you’re a jealous fan– fine. But don’t say these players don’t deserve it because everyone– including myself– didn’t think this team would do shit for shinola.

Good on them for shoving it up everyone’s ass.

TEPID TAKE: Vegas’s Golden Night

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Photo from the @GoldenKnights

It was touch and go for a bit, but the Vegas Golden Knights got it done with a 2-1 victory in their first NHL game as a franchise. Forget that it took them 50 minutes to get their first goal and forget that Marc-Andre Fleury got pelted for 46 shots in total, the night was theirs to bask in and it showed what this rag-tag group of players can do. They also became the first team since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators to win their first game in franchise history. 

(Tampa Bay won their first game, too, but it was a day before Ottawa’s. Florida tied their first game in 1993.)

First, back to Fleury– he shined in the first game. The only Dallas goal was a redirect off of Tyler Seguin’s stick, but other than that, Flower was sharp in net. He was able to take away great scoring chances by the Stars, he didn’t let the first game jitters get to him, and he looked like he’s ready for a heavy workload, much like he saw in his first NHL season in Pittsburgh. However, with more maturity, I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt as needed.

Second, Vegas’s power play looked okay, though they had nothing to show for it. They created a lot of chances, Brendan Leipsic looked like he was very hungry to get that first franchise goal, and with a few more games and practices under their belt– this could be a solid power play to deal with.

On the Dallas side, Ben Bishop looked pretty good before having to be removed due to taking a puck to the face, which cut him. He was back out on the bench for the end of the game, but Ken Hitchcock kept Kari Lehtonen in the game, probably due to the not knowing if Bishop had a concussion or not and erring on the side of caution…which may or may not have cost him the game.

Antoine Roussel being in the box three straight times could be a problem for the Stars going forward. They were 30th in the PK last season and who knows if Hitch is going to make them better going forward against a more potent power play. They were perfect, but against a team in their first game– it’s a start, but I doubt he wants to keep testing the team’s luck like that.

It was a very hard hitting game, which was a good sight to see as nothing was overtly dirty– though you could say James Neal’s hit on Tyler Seguin at the end of the second was like Lex Luger’s bionic forearm– it was a nice rough game and something that Vegas will probably need to get used to in the Western Conference.

For now, they will take this win in stride and hope that the good times keep rolling for them.