It’s funny how time has a way of changing people’s minds. Two weeks ago when I wrote an article detailing the struggles of the Washington capitals, many of the responses I received were, “they will be OK”.

After Washington won three straight games vs. non-playoff teams, I even caught a few, “see I told ya so’s”. My response was, let’s see what happens when playoff teams come to town, and then we’ll talk.

Following their second straight home shutout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, it’s time to talk. In fact, if you do not yet know that the Washington Capitals are not going to the Stanley Cup playoffs this season, then you are in full denial.

Washington was blanked 5-0 on Friday vs. the New Jersey Devils in what was their worst performance of the season.  I know I wrote that two weeks back when they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes by the same score in Raleigh. And yes I know I wrote that back in late November when they lost 7-1 in Toronto, and 5-1 to a severely depleted Buffalo Sabres team in Bruce Boudreau’s last game as head coach, but Friday night was their absolute worst, I promise you that.

Despite outhitting the Devils and winning the faceoff battle, the Capitals played timidly in front of the net, were slow, and beat badly to almost every loose puck.   

The shame of it is that they could even play worse than they did in those games, but given the circumstances and what was on the line Friday at Verizon Center, it was the worst showing of the season.

Last night’s game against the Flyers was at least watchable as the Caps played with emotion and a physicality not seen on Friday, or in many games for that matter recently. However, moral victories were great for an Ovechkin led team back in 2006 and 2007 but playing well offers no solace for Caps fans when an “L” is the outcome.

Last night was another squandered opportunity to move into a playoff spot. Instead, the Capitals still trail the eighth Winnipeg jets by one point, and now trail the Southeast division leading Florida Panthers by five points. The three games in hand the Caps had on the Jets is now down to just one, but will be back to two after the Winnipeg hosts the surging Buffalo Sabres tonight on NBC Sports (formerly Versus)

Florida overcame a two goal deficit to defeat the Ottawa Senators at home. The Caps had an opportunity to catch the Panthers during the past two weeks, but failed to do so. The Cats recorded just nine points over their last 10 games, but the Capitals could only manage eight during the same stretch.

The troubling issue in D.C. as far as the standings are concerned is not catching the Jets, but holding off the rest of the eastern conference from overtaking the Capitals. With Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres collecting 14-points over their last 10 games each team trails Washington by just one point.

Thursdays night’s home game vs. the Bolts could be for the ninth spot in the East. The most depressing news may be that Washington is just four points ahead of the islanders for 13th in the conference. It has gotten so bad that the Capitals are now closer to 15th place in the Eastern Conference (nine points ahead of 15th-place Montreal) than they are to fifth place (10 points behind fifth-place Philadelphia)

It may also turn out that the first round pick the Capitals acquired from the Colorado Avalanche last July for Semyon Varlamov is lower than where the Capitals are drafting with their original pick.

I contended last week when the Caps beat the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and New York Islanders consecutively, that they did with smoke and mirrors, and the true Capitals would show up this weekend. Well, unfortunately they did, and right now, they aren’t one of the best 16-teams in the NHL.

They are struggling in every phase of the game that’s needed this time of the year to be successful. In In the past 11 games, dating back to Feb. 12 at New York, the Capitals’ power play has gone 2 for 34 (5.8 %). What’s worse than not scoring with the extra man is allowing short-handed goals, and the Caps are doing their fair share of that these days. They have allowed four short-handed tallies during that span. Washington has now allowed nine on the season which is third worst in the league. Their power play continues to fall as quickly as the Dow Jones did back in 2008. Washington is 19th (16.5 %)in NHL after being ranked as high 11th(17.9 %) three weeks back.

The Caps have not scored with the extra man since Feb, 22, and have just 11 PP goals since Jan, 1.

After starting the season scoring at least one goal in their first 43-games, the Capitals have now been shut out five times in their last 22-games. The last time Washington was blanked in consecutive contests was March 6-9, 2007. The Caps dropped consecutive 3-0 decisions at Toronto and against Carolina, respectively. The last time Washington was shutout in consecutive home games was on March 13-15, 2001 against Anaheim and Carolina, respectively. 

Last night also marked the seventh time in franchise history that Washington has been shutout in consecutive games at home.

As if the power play, and being shutout at home aren’t bad enough, indecision by rookie head coach Dale Hunter this time of year doesn’t help the cause very much.  The Capitals made one glaring mistake last night and it cost them the game. The mistake was made by team captain Alex Ovechkin.

The Great 8 tried to make a play in the offensive zone but ended up giving the puck away. Once the Flyers gained possession Pavel Kubina fired a shot in which Ovechkin attempted to block the shot like a goalie with his stick in front of him, but he closing his legs and bringing his stick to his body did nothing but open up the shooting/passing lane for Kubina. The puck heading towards the net was redirected by Eric Wellwood and past Caps starter Michael Neuvirth, who deserved a better fate last night.

Neuvy was making in his fifth straight start, and made 22 saves but he couldn't stop the Wellwood tip in. Playing in just his ninth career NHL game, Wellwood scored his second career goal. Following the goal Ovechkin hit the pine, and remained there for 6 minutes and 39 seconds. Dale Hunter insisted that he wasn’t benching Ovie, but he was just matching lines.

“Guys, it’s not a benching. Maybe he missed a shift. Guys, I was matching lines,” Hunter told reporters after the game. “I definitely was matching lines; it was one of those things that he wasn’t the right matchup. I didn’t want him against [Jaromir] Jagr and Jagr’s line.”

The fact that his line-mates Troy Brouwer, and Marcus Johansson sat for the same amount of time lends credibility to his claim, but come on, how does this happen in a one goal game. How many head coaches in the NHL would sit a combined 54-goals and 99-points in a one goal game at home considering what’s at stake to line match.

Are you honestly telling me that three of your best offensive players sat for 30 percent of the period because you weren’t comfortable with them out there playing against a line with a 39-year old forward? Now I know Jagr has 44-points this season, but Hunter obviously missed the way Ovechkin laid out Jagr at the World Championships last year?

Ovechkin admitted his mistake cost his team the game speaking with reporters following the game, “I tried to make a play in the offensive zone and I cost us a goal. It was my mistake. It’s tough loss for us, I think. My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game.”

Hunter must have caught reporters off guard with explanation, I think. No follow up question was asked, but surely one needs to be.

Hunter placed all three on the ice in the third period for more than seven minutes, with Ovechkin registering 8-minutes and 37 seconds of ice time.  Ovechkin finished the game with 16:49 in ice time and Brouwer with 15:45. Brouwer did serve a five-minute major in the first for fighting Philly’s Scott Hartnell. Going into Sunday’s game, Ovechkin was averaging 19:40 per night this season and Brouwer 17:07. Ovechkin still led the Caps in shots on goal (seven) and hits (six) in Sunday’s game. 

The Capitals are in deep trouble, and it appears that only wholesale changes will finally bring the fans
of D.C. the elusive piece of hardware they have been craving since the franchise took the ice in 1974. These wholesale changes may require the departure of the general manager, current coach, and a few players that not so long ago was considered the future of this team.

Whatever ails the Capitals isn’t specific to one area, and the fact that this much talent cannot be brought together to mesh is an indictment on the teams current captain, the former one coaching it, and the entire front office, starting with the untouchable George McPhee.

I seriously doubt the heart and will of this team, and even found myself questioning whether their better performance last night was due in part to their play, or were the Flyers just flat. With names like Ovechkin, Semin, Green, Wideman, and Laich, not to mention Carlson, Ward and Brouwer, these results are simply unacceptable. The Capitals have just 17-games left in the 2011-12 season, and with road trips looming to Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, New York once, and Boston twice, it would be a minor miracle to see the Caps in the post season for the fifth straight season.

Maybe, just maybe missing the playoffs is the best thing this thing that could happen to this franchise, and the egotistical players on the roster.  The Capitals come across as a group of individuals that feel they can win anytime they want to. What they are finding out is not only is that not true during the playoffs, but they aren’t good enough anymore to overcome during the regular season. If the Capitals still somehow win another division, or make the playoffs then we will all to have to hear that they knew they could do it all along. It was just a matter of time before they came together, when in fact they never did.

It is obvious that this team learned nothing from their two sudden playoff exits from the past two seasons, and still plays as individuals instead of a team. They aren’t tough enough, they aren’t smart enough when it matters, and they simply aren’t good enough to be in the playoffs this season.

They aren’t rebuilding so there is no excuse.

Even when they correct an issue, it always seems to come too little too late. After struggling to outshoot the opposition for most of the middle part of the season, The Caps have now outshot their opponents in five of their last six games, but have won just three of those contests.

General Manager George McPhee didn’t make one deal at the trade deadline, a move (or non-move) that could cost him his job. McPhee said that bringing up a player from Hershey (AHL) was a better option than anything he was offered. GMGM said, “Everyone wants to be making deals, but you get in there and you see nothing but feathers. There was nothing to do, unfortunately. If there was something to do, we would’ve done it because we always have.”

Maybe the next GM and the fans of D.C. will appreciate the fact the McPhee stood pat and the Caps didn’t mortgage the future for another sudden playoff exit this spring when they are making deals this off-season.

What Washington has become from Owner Ted Leonsis to Keith Aucoin is a team in turmoil, and while that isn’t what we expected from the Capitals this season, it should make for an interesting off-season, which will begin the day after the regular season ends this year.