11Jan

Futile Fucale is no match for Bruins’ barrage

While Alex Ovechkin continues to defy conventional wisdom (and Father Time), the fact remains that the current version of your Washington Capitals is clearly built to win now. 

Along with The Great 8, guys like Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson are established veterans who are much closer to the end of their playing days than the beginning.

Capitals coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Brian MacLellan obviously know this, and realistically, should be pleased with what they’ve seen from the bulk of the roster during the current campaign.

That said, while Washington’s offense has done the bulk of the heavy lifting and the defense has been steady and solid, the team’s biggest question mark is at goalie.

Neither Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek has done enough during their time with the franchise to stake their claim as a long-term solution. Which is why Laviolette turned to Zach Fucale as the Boston Bruins came to town for a rematch of last year’s disappointing playoff series.

Fucale is a 26-year-old netminder who got the call-up from Hershey and promptly recorded a shutout in his NHL debut back in November. In his next two appearances, Fucale was equally impressive and featured a 0.42 goals against average and .980 save percentage prior to his first-career home start.

Sadly, the good times did not continue against Boston, as the 2013 second round pick was waxed by the resurgent Bruins — allowing four goals on 16 shots before his night was ended midway through the second period. 

Conventional wisdom suggests you should never get too high or too low after a particular outing, but nights like this are a harsh reminder that if the Capitals are going to avoid a hasty elimination in the postseason for a fourth-consecutive season, they’re going to need someone to step up and solidify the goaltending situation. Whether that someone is currently on the roster or not remains to be seen.

30Dec

Caps trade punches with Predators, emerge victorious

The Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators do not play each other very often, which is probably a good thing considering how heated these two teams became during their not-so-cheerful holiday gathering. That said, while it might not have been hugely fun for the combatants, this action-packed event entertained the masses with eight goals and 68 minutes in penalties.

Capital One Arena was rocking throughout the first period, thanks to goals by Lars Elder, John Carlson and Nic Dowd. Unfortunately, the rink was tilted in the opposite direction for the second period, as Nashville battled by tie even the score at 3-3. This grudge match was ultimately decided when Evgeny Kuznetsov craned-kicked Nashville, via a shorthanded tally with less than six minutes to play to break the deadlock. Carl Hagelin added an empty-net goal in the closing moments to prevent any last-minute heroics by the Predators.

Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson all returned to the lineup after missing games recently due to injuries and/or COVID-19. And they weren’t the only new faces in the lineup. The game also marked the debut of rookie defenseman Alex Alexeyev and the triumphant return of defenseman Michal Kempny, who hadn’t played an NHL game since August 2020 because of three different serious injuries to his left leg.

Alexeyev became the 10th rookie to play for Washington this season, which usually means trouble. But the Capitals have been able to not only stay afloat, but remain competitive while still giving the youth movement a chance to see what it takes to play at the highest level. If this game is a sign of things to come for the Caps, and they’re able to avoid serious injuries and the COVID-19 list, then the last 50 games of the regular season could be a wild ride.

11Dec

In marquee matchup, Capitals defense comes up short

When the Washington Capitals jumped out to an unexpected fast start this season, they did so with above average play from the back half of the lineup — namely the defensemen and goalies.

While Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov received ample love and attention as they accumulated points in rapid fashion, and the handful of rookies playing meaningful minutes every night made for a feel-good story, stout defensive play in Washington’s own zone was a key reason why the Caps held the best record in hockey a month into the season.

Unfortunately, since posted back-to-back shutouts just before Thanksgiving, Washington’s defense has taken a massive step backwards. After falling to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2, the Capitals have now allowed 30 goals in the nine games since Los Angeles and San Jose failed to score in consecutive outings.

Of course, it’s difficult to have consistency and stability defensively when you’re forced to play with a new roster seemingly every time you take to the ice. The Capitals faced Pittsburgh without bottom-six forwards Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who are in NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Additionally, forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Anthony Mantha remain sidelined as they recover from injuries.

And yet, no one in hockey will shed a tear for Washington. Peter Laviolette’s men either need to figure out how to limit opponents to under three goals a game or a once-promising season could derail quickly.

03Dec

Caps done in by two posts and a Flower

You’ve got to give it to them — the Washington Capitals are anything but predictable this season.

Before the campaign even began, most entities based outside of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia took one look at an aging and expensive lineup that has been bounced from the postseason in the first round for three consecutive years and decided that the window for Alex Ovechkin and friends to bring home a second championship had firmly closed.

Additionally, more than a quarter into the season, the Caps have still not had the services of top-line center Nicklas Backstrom, who is still recovering from a hip injury. T.J. Oshie, Anthony Mantha and several other key contributors have also been in and out of the lineup due to various ailments, and yet, Washington entered the week with the NHL’s top record.

When the Chicago Blackhawks came to town, they were not enjoying the same level of success as the Capitals this season, struggling to find consistency this season as they reside in seventh place in their own Central Division. So naturally, just when you expect the Caps to cruise to a resounding win over a wounded opponent, the hockey gods had different plans.

On this night, Chicago bested the Capitals 4-3 via shootout, thanks in large part to the exploits of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and two goal posts. Goals by Nic Dowd, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Garnet Hathaway weren’t enough to prevent Washington from dropping to 0-7 in shootouts this season.

21Nov

Atreyu at Rams Head Live!

In honor of their eighth album, “Baptize,” Atreyu embarked on a 29-city tour across the United States.

Considering this was the band’s first album since the departure of lead singer Alex Varkatzas last year, it’s safe to say that some trepidation existed in the world of hard rock. A band fans had known and loved for more than 20 years was making a radical change, with drummer Brandon Saller becoming the new vocalist. Would they still have that same trademark Atreyu sound?

Emphatically, the answer is yes. Both on the album and in person, Atreyu still delivers everything you know and love about them — particular on this random weeknight in November, when they crushed a 17-song set that absolutely proved the newest configuration of the band still delivers. And they definitely still know how to have a good time.

On this night, upon learning that a fan was celebrating her birthday by attending their show, Saller asked her to pull a random song title out of a bowl. Birthday girl Brandy selected “Broken Again,” the seldom-played fifth song off of the album, giving Baltimore a rare performance of the high-energy track.

20Nov

Crown the Empire at Rams Head Live!

When Crown The Empire first formed, their stated goal was to be heavier than other bands from the area. Considering Dallas, Texas is known for many things and hard rock isn’t necessarily one of them, it’s safe to say the high schoolers had modest ambitions in the beginning.

Over the last decade, the boys from Crown The Empire have bucked conventional wisdom of what Texas music sounds like and have proven they absolutely deserve the respect they’ve earned. These days, lead vocalist Andy Leo and Hayden Tree, who plays bass guitar and provides extreme vocals, along with lead guitarist Brandon Hoover and drummer Brent Taddie, have fine tuned their sound and continue to strike a balance between earworm-inducing melodies and metalcore madness.

When they visited Baltimore in November, it began readily apparent that Crown The Empire have fun wherever, whenever. In fact, halfway through their set, Leo informed the crowd that, just before taking the stage, Tree had gotten a new tattoo and a shop right around the corner from the venue. He then encouraged those in attendance to buy the bassist a beverage to celebrate (and possibly numb the pain). So many fans complied that, less than a song later, Tree had to kindly ask folks to stop.

The highlight of the night was when the band broke out their newest single “In Another Life.” While Spiritbox’s Courtney LaPlante was not in the building to provide her vocals, the new track had the building rocking.

19Nov

Tetrarch at Rams Head Live!

Who doesn’t love an inspirational story? Well, gather round boys and girls, because you’re going to dig this one.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Atlanta, Georgia), two middle school kids decided they wanted to form a band. That, in and of itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, but the self-described outcasts showed a level of discipline and determination that enabled this dynamic duo to actually achieve their adorable childhood goal.

Meet Josh Fore and Diamond Rowe, the lead singer and lead guitarist of Tetrarch. Along with bassist Ryan Lerner and drummer Ruben Limas, the Los Angeles-based band has become a staple of SiriusXM’s Liquid Metal and Octane stations, with their hit single “I’m Not Right” becoming a soundtrack for countless hard rock and metal fans who couldn’t go anywhere or do anything during 2020 (a.k.a. – the year of the pandemic).

If their performance in Baltimore is any indication, things are only getting better and better for Tetrarch.┬áThat’s clearly great news for the band and even better for their fans.

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