Remember at the beginning of the year how Panther fans were so ready to relinquish the top spot of the division to the Washington Captials? Especially after the Caps started the season off with seven straight wins, it looked like they were on their way to compete for another Presidents’ Trophy and another shot at the Stanley Cup.
Well folks, the Washington Capitals right now are not the team you knew in the beginning of the season.
Chalk it up to injuries, slumps, coaching, inexperience, attitude, or just plain inadequacy, the Caps have been remarkably average for a team that had so much upside going into this year. Superstar Alex Ovechkin is approaching personal lows since his rookie season in production; Alex Semin continues to impress a feeling of uncaring; Nicklas Backstrom still hasn’t recovered from a dirty concussion-inducing hit; and Tomas Vokoun has not been the goalie that the Caps thought they were signing. Overall, this year has been a mystery, an anomaly for everyone in the Washington organization.
And after watching the Capitals have a another win slip through their fingers in a 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina last night, I felt that this is a new low for the team. At least in the Ovechkin era anyway, there hasn’t been a period for the Caps so fraught with disappointment. Carolina should be a manageable team to beat, especially when you are out of the playoff race looking in. Head coach Dale Hunter must have been looking for desperation and conviction on the ice, but he didn’t find enough of what he sought. The Caps had one final messy play in OT that led to a turnover and a two-on-one. The Hurricanes converted their golden opportunity, and the Capitals left their home building with only one measly point. It was a game had to have won when you are fighting for your playoff life. Now Washington is two points back of Winnipeg and four points back of Florida for the division lead.
The issue is that the Capitals lacks that innate drive of a great hockey team, that push that comes from within the team’s players. Throughout the year, Washington has had every coaching trick in the book thrown at them. Bruce Boudreau would do bag skates, withdraw ice time for big players, chewed the team out between periods, and all that other standard coaching stuff. The roster didn’t do much in response to Boudreau; they quit on their coach. Seeing this, GM George McPhee fired Bruce and brought in the gritty Dale Hunter. No success has been found as of late, and Hunter is having to refer to the same coaching tricks as Boudreau. It certainly looks like the players are quitting on Dale, too.
So at this point of the season, after losing three straight games, it should be time for the Capitals to enter panic mode. The fans should fear for the worst, and the players should dig deeper than ever to right the ship. But judging by this team’s performance in adversity so far this year, there might be more pouting than fixing in that locker room.
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