F Street Faithful
Just as it seemed that the Washington Capitals were about to shut the door on the Buffalo Sabres, they let them right back in via a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. Despite a late tying goal from Jason Chimera, his 20th of the season, the Caps were unable to hold off the Lightning as Steven Stamkos scored his 57th of the year with just over 2:00 remaining in the 3rd period. Stamkos would later pot his 58th in a vacated net. While it may not have been giving up a 2-goal lead, this game continued to show the lack of confidence the Washington Capitals have in themselves.
Look, we all need to hit the road sometimes. Whether it is business, holidays, or a simple getaway, we all are forced to leave the comfy confines of our home at some point. The Washington Capitals know this better than anyone, as they find themselves on the road quite a bit. Always the considerate bunch, they have decided to help out in the designing of some equipment that is a must-have for the person on the go.
The Capitals Road Pillow
Last night, the Capitals fell 3-2 in Winnipeg. Even just watching it on television, you could get a sense of how intense the game was. The 15,000+ fans in the MTS Centre only added to this feel, who made it hard to hear Joe B at times. In the past, it has been like these games that has caused Ovechkin to elevate his game to a dominating pace. What we saw Saturday, though, was a player who lacked any sense of purpose.
Everything was in place to light a fire under Ovechkin. It was an intensely physical game, in Canada, with the entire crowd booing him every time he had the puck. In the third period, there appeared to be a perfect time for Ovechkin to put in a classic rush, eventually putting the puck behind Pavelec. He gathered the puck, sped down the right wing side, and only had Grant Clitsome standing between him and jumping into the glass. Clitsome was a late round (271st overall) 2004 draft pick of the Blue Jackets. Prior to this season, he played just 42 games for the Blue Jackets and eventually was picked off of waivers by the Jets. These are the types of guys that a fired-up Ovechkin leaves in his wake. Instead, we watched as Ovechkin was sent face-first to the ice by a well-placed hip check. He simply got back up and skated out of the zone, as the fans jeered him and cheered Clitsome.
Today had all the makings of a busy day for the Washington Capitals. Currently sitting in 9th place, the Caps looked primed to make a move that could push them into the playoffs. This though process seemed reinforced as they started off the day by placing Nicklas Backstrom on LTIR, effectively taking his $6+ million cap hit off the books for the remainder of the season. This turned out to be all for naught, as the trade deadline has come and gone without the Capitals making one move.
The Capitals appeared to be in the market for a quality center who could help the Capitals fill the hole left by Nicklas Backstrom. They also seemed to have quite a few pieces that were expendable. Over the past couple of weeks, we have watched as players like Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik found their way into Hunter’s doghouse, and seemed to be important factors in bringing in that coveted center. The Capitals also had lucrative young players, like Cody Eakin and Matthieu Perreault who could have helped sweeten the deal. Instead, the Capitals will now be forced to fight their way into the playoffs with a team that struggles to win consistently, or on the road.
Last night the Washington Capitals fell to the San Jose Sharks 5-3 at Verizon Center. If you watched this travesty, you know that the score line was more of a 5-1 with some window dressing. The main issue with this game was not that the Sharks simply were unstoppable, but that the Capitals could not get out of their own way. It was a game ripe with blind, behind-the-back passes to nobody in particular, poor clears, and a pass-first, shoot-poorly mentality. More than that, it showed me that the Capitals, and fans alike, need to stop kidding themselves.
I am not calling for the throwing in of the towels, but, as it sits, the Capitals cannot afford to keep making these same decisions. Firstly, the coaching staff needs to change their mindset. Before the game last night, it was announced that Tomas Vokoun was too sick to back-up Neuvirth, so they simply called up Braden Holtby on an emergency basis. While Neuvirth did play the previous afternoon, Holtby actually played 60+ minutes the previous night. With Holtby only being able to stay up until Wednesday, I assume Hunter saw it as a good point to get a first-hand look at Holtby. This is all fine and well if you are not fighting for playoff hope and haven’t already told Neuvirth he is going to start.
Last spring, the NHL watched as Joel Ward, a defense-first power forward, had a bit of a coming-out party in the playoffs. Despite being averaging less than a half of a point a game, Ward led his Nashville Predators with 7 goals and 6 assists while averaging over 20 minutes per game (he only averaged 17 in regular season). With the Capitals having seen their offence dry up in the post season, specifically the likes of Alex Semin and Mike Green, George McPhee was keen to spend money, if it meant getting more goals in the postseason. With Ward taking offers from several angles, McPhee admittedly overpaid for the winger.
Yesterday, Brendan Shanahan certainly had an interesting day. He had 2 disciplinary hearings scheduled regarding 2 incidents in the same game. To make matters more interesting, the victim of one of the incidents was the transgressor in the other. The result of these hearings? Alexander Ovechkin suspended 3 games for charging Zbynek Michalek, while Michalek received no further punishment for his elbow to the back of the head of Matt Hendricks. To me, this is one of the weirdest decisions rendered by Shanahan this year.
Before I get into this, I do want to state that I think that Shanahan has done a good job this season. I think that compared to the baffling decisions by Colin Campbell over the last years, Shanahan’s no-nonsense approach and his detailed videos have been a god-send. Also, take a moment to check out both videos.
Over the past 11 games, the Capitals are 8-3. In that span, they have outscored their opponents by a combined 28-22, limiting their opponents to a goal or less 6 times. In 7 of their 8 wins, their opponents have scored below their average. All of this points to a team that is finding its stride defensively. The caveat to this appears to be a team that’s offensive production is faltering.
As it stands right now, the Washington Capitals are currently ranked 9th in goals/game, averaging just over 2.8 goals. Most fans should agree that 9th is a pretty good place to be. The issue is at shots/game. For the season the Caps sit at 26th in the league in shots/game, averaging 27.6 a night. That would be nice, if it weren’t for the fact that they are averaging less than 22 per night over the last 11 games. This includes a current 2-game stretch of recording less than 20 shots. They have hit 30 shots just once in the past 11 games, in the 5-2 loss to the Sharks. They are currently giving up over 10 more shots than they are taking, although much of those are coming late in the 3rd, with the Caps protecting a lead.
What this all creates is a paradox. We are watching a team regularly succeed, without taking shots. How big of a problem is this? Looking at their last 11 opponents, we see only 4 current playoff teams, 2 of whom to the Capitals lost.
As I had written numerous times while Boudreau was still coaching, the key to success for any team is finding consistency. While this is typically referring to players at a high level, I also intended it to prove that coaches must provide players with the chance for consistency. That was a problem with Bruce. He became impatient with the lack of chemistry between new additions and the corps, so he was repeatedly inserting new players into the line-up and juggling the lines. With Dale, we have seen a much longer leash given to players in their attempts to hit their strides.
Last night, in the 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders, we saw Dale move some lines around late in the game. In an attempt to get the Caps on the board, Tomas Kundratek found himself with only 1 shift in the third period. This was due in large part to the moving of Laich to the blueline and bringing Cody Eakin up to the 2nd line. Although this is nowhere near as much juggling as we saw under Bruce, I worry that this could be the first step in the wrong direction.
Last Tuesday, Capitals fans everywhere were delighted with the return of Mike Green, after missing 23 consecutive games with a groin injury. An injury that, supposedly, might never fully heal. Midway through Green second game back (@SJ 1/7/12), Hunter shut him down again. Hunter said it was because of tightness, and not a hit he took, but it does little to dispel my worries. Green did not practice with the team on Sunday.
It might only be January, but it is worth reminding that Green is currently in the last year of his deal. A deal that sees him make 5.25 million. Given some of the current contracts, that number was expected to increase dramatically. Since 2008, when Green signed his current deal, we have seen many comparable blueliners sign contracts worth North of 7 million annually. Most recently, Buffalo gave Christian Ehrhoff a deal that gave him 10 mil for the first season. Most fans would have been more than happy to give Green this raise. He is one of the most popular players on this team, and most would probably be in favor of unloading Alex Semin, if it meant that Green would stay.
About F Street Faithful
Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate. This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals. The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.
In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at York College of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland.
You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.