Last night’s win over the Montreal Canadiens was encouraging for the Washington Capitals, but not very impressive to say the least. Simply put, the Caps won’t scare very man teams if they can somehow earn a playoff berth this season.
Despite winning 4-1, Washington didn’t dominate the last place team in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals scored two goals 16-seconds apart during the second period, but you got the feeling watching the contest that the Caps were surviving, instead of putting the Habs away as good teams do.
Washington was outshot 12-5 in the third period, and 31-24 for the game. Once again, the Caps were horrendous on the power play, and allowed their second shorthanded goal this week. The Caps were 0-for 6 with almost 10-minutes of extra man time. Their eighth allowed shorthanded tally of the season is third worst in the NHL behind only Tampa Bay, and New Jersey.
The Capitals blocked just 10 shots, and only slightly outhit the Habs 29-24, but considering that public enemy No.1 Renne Bourque was back in town, the Caps did little to excite the hometown fans on the physical front. Bourque was responsible for the hit that has kept Caps center Nicklas Backstrom out of the lineup since Jan-7.
Back on Jan-3, Bourque elbowed Backstrom in the head as the two crossed paths at center ice, away from the play. Bourque was suspended for five games, and Backstrom hasn’t skated since mid-to-late January with concussion like symptoms. The Caps leading scorer at the time will probably not play again this season.
Instead of taking another shot at Bourque, the Caps allowed to him hit their goalie, which he drew a penalty for, and score the shorthanded goal. My point to all of this is that the Washington Capitals may have earned a much needed two points last night, but they most certainly didn’t look like a playoff team in doing so.
In fact, one has to wonder if a top tier team could have come back against the Caps with the way they played in the third period last night. Washington knows the stakes, yet continues to turn in efforts that fall well short of playing 60-minutes worth of quality hockey. That’s unacceptable this time of the year, and is the reason why many names some Caps fans have grown close to over the years will not return next season.
This is an organization that no longer has an identity, and lacks heart. I’m not questioning individuals, but it’s fair to say as a team, these guys are a long way from gelling. They fold like a cheap tent in big games, and have since they were beat by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the Washington Capitals win their fifth consecutive Southeast crown this year, they will likely face the Philadelphia Flyers or New Jersey Devils in round one. Come on Caps fans do you really see them winning?
If they are an eighth seed, it’s the New York Rangers in round one, and I’m pretty sure that the Broadway Blueshirts would love an opportunity to embarrass Alex Ovechkin and company considering the Rangers are the only team this Caps squad has defeated in the playoffs on two different occasions.
The Caps lack the heart, and toughness to pull an upset of that magnitude, and they most assuredly lack the clutch goaltending required to beat a higher seeded team. Vokoun may recover in time if the Caps make the playoffs, but Washington hasn’t had clutch goaltending past the first round of the playoffs since 1998, the year they were swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Detroit Red Wings.
The Capitals scare absolutely no one, and if the NHLPA, and NHL Owners can agree on realignment, and the Caps are playing their old rivals from the Patrick Division next season, this team won’t fare well at all in that scenario. In fact, it could be downright ugly, and we should all thank our lucky stars the Caps are planted in the Southeast this season.
Head coach Dale Hunter has turned out to be a disappointment, and seems more egotistically driven than his predecessor. He certainly doesn’t seem to bring the same intensity to a professional bench that he brought as a player. Who am I to question his success as a head coach in the Ontario Hockey league with the London Knights, but it sure as hell hasn’t carried forward into the NHL.
His line combinations late in games have been erratic, and his public criticism of Tomas Vokoun’s performance following the Caps loss in Ottawa was Bush league. Vokoun’s a professional, who has been in a slump, but let’s face it Caps fans, he’s more than bailed out this hockey team on many nights this season.
The Caps have been outshot in 27 of Hunters 39 games behind the bench, and have still managed to earn 40 points. A lot of that is the play of Vokoun, and Huntsy was wrong for how he approached the situation. Just as he was wrong for sitting Vooks the first two times the Caps played in Florida this season.
Just for the record, Bruce Boudreau is 19-12-6 behind Anaheim’s bench, and is 16-4-4 since Jan-1, and earned at least one point in 20 of their last 23 games. Sound familiar Caps fans. Boudreau’s Caps struggled for a bit last season before closing the season 18-4-2 winning their second straight regular season eastern Conference.
For all the bitching we do as Caps fans about their performance in the playoffs, not making them will really bring out the complaining, and it should. The Washington Capitals conclude the second half of back-to-backs tonight in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
The odds do not favor a Caps victory tonight. With last night’s win Washington is now 6-3-1 in the first game of back-to-back’s this season. In the second game entering play tonight the Caps are 2-6-1. Washington enters tonight’s contest two points behind the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Southeast Division and trail Florida by one point for eight place in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto is coming off of a 2-1 loss to San Jose on Thursday and is tied with the Capitals in the Eastern Conference. The Caps are catching their former coach’s team at the right time as Ron Wilson and the Leafs are just 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.
The Capitals are 5-1-1 in their last seven games against Toronto, and 2-1-0 in their last three games on the road. Tonight’s game could be an exercise in futility if the Capitals do not start better than they did when spent four games on the road last week.
Prior to last night’s win; the Caps have not scored the first goal since a heartbreaking 3-2 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on Feb. 9. They were outscored on the road 13-5, and 7-0 in the first period. Washington will need to bring it early and often at Air Canada Centre tonight. The Leafs destroyed Washington 7-1, leading 6-1 after two periods.
Washington’s special teams continue to struggle on the road this season, and that’s being kind. The Caps are 28th on the power play (11.8 %) and 25th on the penalty kill (77.8 %). However, if the Caps can get it going tonight on special teams, they are 18-7-1 this season when they score a power-play goal and 13-1-0 record when scoring a power-play goal and not allowing a goal with the man advantage.
Following last night’s contest, Jason Chimera was interviewed by the NHL Network, and prior to giving the interview heard former Caps player Anson Carter say back in the studio he didn’t think Washington would make the playoffs. Chimera vehemently disagreed with Carters assessment, appeared agitated, but gave the interview. He began by saying the Washington Capitals would be in the playoffs. Following the interview Chimera quickly dropped the headset without thanking the studio analyst following the interview.
Hopefully Chimer, who scored his 16th goal last night, which was the eventual game winner, and is one away from tying his career high, relayed that message to his team mates in the dressing room. If the Capitals didn’t already know it, they need to turn it up a couple of notches, and last night isn't going to cut it despite winning.
If it doesn’t Caps fans could be watching some of their favorite players in a Washington uniform for the last time. The trade deadline in the NHL is 3pm Monday, and the Caps do not play again until Tuesday. A loss tonight and it could be the beginning of the end for this current group Capitals who don’t scare a single team ahead of them in the standings.