All things considered, the Washington Capitals just finished their worst two game stretch of the season, and to say it came at a bad time would be a gross understatement.
Monday’s shutout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh was not easily the Capitals worst effort of the year, but it is their worst, most embarrassing loss to date during the 2011-12 season.
I really thought it would be hard to top the 7-1 whipping the Caps took in Toronto back on Nov-19. I also really thought they would never play worse than they did in Bruce Boudreau’s last game behind the bench when they lost 5-1 to a Buffalo Sabres team that was missing nine regular players.
I was wrong, and if you know me, or if you ask my wife, those words never come out of mouth. Monday’s loss was more than embarrassing, it signifies a hockey team that has done everything but the “Q” word, and I’m not sure you can’t say the Washington Capitals haven’t quit.
They were shutout by Carolina goaltender Justin Peters, who aside from earning his first NHL shutout was making just his 26th NHL start. Washington didn’t test the youngster, who last earned a shutout on any level back on Dec-11, 2009 when he whitewashed the Caps top minor league affiliate the, Hershey Bears. At least Hershey made him work that night, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner were apart of that squad which fired 36 shots his way, last night he saw just 17 Washington shots. In fact, the Hurricanes blocked (19) more shots than the Capitals fired his way.
Washington allowed a goal on the power play, and while that can happen from time-to-time, Washington allowed their seventh shorthanded goal of the season, which is tied for seventh worst in the league.
The Capitals were beaten in every statistical category that matters in a hockey game, and beaten badly by the worst team in the Eastern conference. Washington was outshot by more than a 2-to-1 margin, as Carolina peppered the two Caps goalies for combined 40- shots on goal.
The Capitals were so lethargic on Monday that it made the Canes 24th ranked defense look like the mid 90’s New Jersey Devils. Mike Knuble (2), Alexander Semin (2) and Marcus Johansson combined to take all five of the Caps first period shots, while Carolina fired 17.
Even losing to the Canes, the Capitals had a chance to tie the Florida Panthers, and Winnipeg Jets with 65 points if they could beat the Ottawa Senators, a team they were 3-0 vs. this season. A victory would also catapult the Caps back into the No.3 seed for the third time in February despite posting a 3-7-1 record during the month.
Instead, Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun was yanked for a second straight game in favor of Michael Neuvirth, and even if the Caps announcers said they played better on Wednesday than they did on Monday, don’t buy it. Ottawa beat the Caps almost as soundly as the Canes did on Monday, and now the Caps are officially at rock bottom for the season.
This is a hockey team reeling at the worst possible time, and if you think they stand a chance to repeat their performance from last season when they went 17-4-1 over their final 22 games, you’re not watching the same team I am.
Washington has now allowed the first goal in six straight games and is 1-5 during that stretch. Last season the Caps were first in the NHL with 23 wins when allowing the opposition to score first. This season, Washington has won just 11 games when doing so, and only two on the road.
What is even more disturbing is the lack of heart, and how soft the Capitals are this season. If I were Matt Hendricks I would be looking to kick one of my own teammate’s asses after Monday’s night’s game. Hendricks fought Carolina tough man Derrick Joslin twice. In fact, Hendricks dropped the gloves with Joslin the second time just 10-seconds after getting out of the penalty box for the first fight.
Washington provided their teammate with no intensity following his display of toughness, and didn’t even have a shift where they picked up the hitting, or tempo of the game following either bout. That is disrespectful to Hendricks, and gives an indication that Washington is soft, and may in fact be quitting. At the very least, his teammates owe him a dinner, and a few adult beverages at an adult night club, if you know what I mean.
The other reason I believe the Caps may be quitting is, it is unconscionable to me that a team coached by Dale Hunter, who is the only man in NHL history to record more than 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes, and ranks second in NHL history in penalty minutes, leads a team of hockey players that gets beat in the corners, and in front of the net at both ends consistently.
A hockey team with no toughness, playing soft, and being coached by Dale Hunter is like Roseanne Bar or Ellen DeGeneres posing as the cover model for the Si Swimsuit issue. It’s just simply hard to imagine, and sickening in theory. However, in this instance, it’s reality in the Caps case.
I’m not saying the Capitals need to be the Hanson brothers, but they certainly don’t play like a team that is ready to go to war for each other. When the chips are down, instead of going all in Washington folds its hand, and seems content to want to watch the others play.
Washington blew a golden opportunity on Monday night and then again on Wednesday. A victory in either game would have secured the top spot in the Southeast division, at least for the day. Instead, with 63 points the Caps remain in 10th place following the loss, and are just three points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for fourth in the division.
The Caps are in a very dangerous spot. More than likely, only winning the division will get them into the post season, as they have more of an opportunity with head-to-head games remaining with three games vs. the Cats and Jets combined.
If you think Washington is going to get any help, think again. The Caps caught a break on Monday when both the Florida Panthers and the Maple Leafs lost, but weren’t so lucky on Tuesday and again last night when both the Cats and Jets earned points, but Washington is still just a stone’s throw away from leading the Southeast division. However, they now trail the Southeast leading Winnipeg Jets by four points, that’s right I said the Winnipeg Jets.
Winnipeg beat the Lightning last night, and are now in first place, four points ahead of the Caps. The second place Panthers lost in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild but still earned a point, and lead Washington by three points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
If the Caps are looking for luck, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs, and as you can see, every loss becomes more valuable as the teams ahead of them keep earning points.
Right now, there are no playoffs, and if the Capitals are even thinking that far ahead (queue: Jim Mora Sr.) they should have their heads examined. Washington is inching ever so closer to becoming sellers instead of buyers during Monday’s trade deadline, and Caps GM George McPhee has plenty to sell based off the Caps performance of late.
Owner Ted Leonsis is pissed, and said so on Tuesday morning on his blog Ted’s Take. “That (Monday’s game) was the worst game of the season;” Leonsis wrote. “We came up small when we needed to come up big and win a game on the road. Another wasted opportunity to get two points and move up in the standings. An unacceptable performance – a 5 to 0 loss.”
Leonsis, who is never afraid to say what he is thinking wasn’t finished, “We can’t look back though; and feel sorry for ourselves;” Leonsis wrote. “We play on Wednesday against a team ahead of us in the standings; the Ottawa Senators. We need that win to get back to 500 on the road trip. Simple math. We need to play 500 on the road and capitalize on our remaining games to be played at home.”
At a time of the season where a team with this kind of talent should be getting better, they are getting worse. Washington is committing costly turnovers, playing sloppy in the neutral zone, forcing ugly passes, allowing too many odd-man rushes, and is not playing with any intensity.
Every member of the organization will swear the Caps are treating these games like playoff contests, well that might be true considering the Caps playoff history, but you what they mean, and they sure could fool me.
Playoff games and playoff like games usually start with a ton of intensity, and the Caps are coming out flat and uninspired. Need proof, during this past crucial road trip Washington was outscored 7-0 during the first period of the four away games. The Capitals were outscored by a combined total of 13-4 in the four games, and have only scored more than three goals just three times since Jan-1.
Could somebody again queue Jim Mora Sr. and his playoff rant.
If something does not change on home ice tonight vs. Montreal, names like Semin, Green, Vokoun, and everyone else except for Nicklas Backstrom, and possibly Alexander Ovechkin, could be playing in another color sweater by Tuesday night, or even sooner.
So what is exactly wrong with the Washington Capitals, who this time last season had 70-points, and was headed towards the top of the Eastern Conference. Can what ails the Capitals be corrected in time for the post season? After all, there is still a quarter of the season to be played.
Despite playing so poorly on this recent road trip, the Caps are just just three points out of a playoff spot. Washington will need to do as their owner says, and they will be back in the post season, but that is the magical question. Can they get better, or will they continue to struggle under Hunter when it matters this time of the year.
Here are three issues outside of the obvious the Caps must fix in order to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.