By Rodger M. Wood
The Caps looked like they wanted to beat the Panthers last Tuesday at the Verizon Center. They dominated the opponent with outstanding forechecking, goal tending, power play, penalty kill, hard play, demonstrating all of the elements necessary for a NHL team to win the big games. With the 4-0 win, they regained the division lead and looked like they were on their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a chance to win.
But then two nights later, the roof caved in. They were beaten at home in an overtime shootout with the Winnipeg Jets 3-2, lost to the Rangers 3-2 in a 12:30 Sunday matinee in the Big Apple on national television, and were outmuscled at home Monday by Western Conference San Jose 5-3..
The Caps are now sadly back in ninth place out of playoff Eastern Conference playoff berth contention, trailing four points behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division, Toronto Maple Leaf by a point for the last Eastern Conference playoff position with the Jets a mere three points behind them for even that lowly position. If they keep waiting to play and win like the Caps of old during the regular season, they might have to wait until next season.
With or without center Niklaus Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green, this year’s version of the Washington Capitals is inconsistent in their play and don’t seem to have a complete roster of players, who want to be winners, especially when their star player Alex Ovechkin takes most of the game off like Versus commentator Mike Milbury said he did in the New York game.
The chemistry is just not there every game. Maybe, it’s because the large number of European players do not blend in with the Canadiens or Americans on the team, or the rough and tumble hockey style that is typically played by good NHL teams on the smaller North American ice surfaces. Maybe it is the lack of leadership from the captain or the veterans. There are a number of possibilities, but the bottom line is the Caps star players are not working hard every game, especially away from home.
The team’s play may get better if Backstrom and Green come back. Maybe they’ll win a playoff berth, but they’ll still not win in the playoffs playing like they are. Rather than hope they do, team management needs to make some major dramatic personnel changes now, if they want to be winners, especially in the playoffs. To win in the NHL consistently, a team needs mental toughness and top effort from their stars and top paid hockey players every game. Maybe GM McPhee, Dale Hunter, and the coaching staff need to go back to the drawing board, and acquire some star players who will put out the effort to play their coach’s demanding system every game.
Friday, the Caps go on a four game road trip against Florida, Tampa, Carolina, and Ottawa, which could determine their 2012 playoff fortune. Let’s hope the head chemist changes the Capitals losing formula.