Is the Capitals’ Season Over?

Posted February 2, 2012

Dec. 5, 2011: Florida's Stephen Weiss celebrates a goal against Washington's goalie Michal Neuvirth. (Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE)

After Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Capitals find themselves once again in 9th place in the Eastern Conference.  As the bad fortunes continue, fans ask themselves what happened to the team that achieved 14 points in the first seven games.

After the loss to the Panthers, defenseman Karl Alzner was quoted as saying that it was difficult for him to get up for the game. If that is truly the case, the troubles for the team run deeper than it was once thought. If the Caps cannot get motivated for a game against a team that they are in a proverbial dogfight with in the standings, you might as well kiss the season good-bye. To hear any professional athlete say that after a loss against an important opponent should make fans sick. Then why are you here? What business do you have playing professional sports? I am sure I can ask 15 diehard Caps fans around Alzner’s age if they would suit up to play a game against the Panthers, they would. They would do it because they love the team, love the sport, and they would do whatever it would take for the team to win and be in the best position to make a postseason run.

Yes, the Capitals have had injuries. Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom currently being shelved is not helping matters at all. And gaining 3 points out of a possible 6 with Alex Ovechkin being suspended is a positive note. The real issue with this team is depth. The Capitals have only one true center on the team (Backstrom). Let me ask you, how many offseasons have you been yelling for another center or two to add depth for that position? Two? Three? Yes, they added Jason Arnott as a rental but the team needs to stop bandaging the issue to pretend it doesn’t exist and they need to find a permanent solution to the problem. Here’s some reality for you. Let’s take a look at the last few Stanley Cup champions, and let’s see who they had at center (not necessarily in line order):

  • Boston- David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Gregory Campbell, Tyler Seguin
  • Chicago- Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, John Madden
  • Pittsburgh- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal

See where I’m getting at? Each had at LEAST three centers. The team needs to realize that second and third line centers do not fall from the sky, and the sooner they can acquire two more centers the sooner the team can truly contend for the Cup.

Another issue for the team is defense. Mike Green being hurt is doing damage to the defensive corps, but please don’t tell me that the strength of the corps comes from one player. If that’s truly the case, then the team is going to do nothing but spin its tires in the mud. The Penguins haven’t had Crosby for any extended period of time in the lineup in over a year (yes, I know he came back and played a handful of games this season and made a huge difference, but that’s not what I’m referring to) and look at what they’ve accomplished. They made a nice run in the playoffs last season and are currently sitting in 5th place in the conference this year. The Pens have compensated for Crosby’s injury, while the Caps have floundered in mediocrity for most of the season with Green’s (and now Backstrom’s) absence from the lineup. It’s also not helping that John Carlson is in the middle of a huge slump. He scored a goal in the game against the Panthers, but he’s also leading the team with having 44 goals scored against his line, with Dennis Wideman in second at 38. Who’s third? No surprise, Roman Hamrlik at 33. The team’s save percentage while Carlson is on the ice is at a whopping .898 (which puts him second to last on the team), while the save percentage for the Caps while Hamrlik is on the ice is only .910, which puts him at 21st on the team. These disturbing numbers need to change and change soon. The big reason as to why the team has hung in there is due to outstanding goaltending at times. At some point, the bottom will fall out (i.e. Michal Neuvirth’s two really bad goals that were let up against Florida) and it’s going to be ugly when it happens.

Dale Hunter is also not the coach that fits the Capitals roster. Players like Carlson and Alzner have struggled in this system, and while there have been glimpses of great play, it has not been sustained. The Caps only see 44% of shots go their way, and that’s on pace to be the worst percentage post-lockout. A team is not going to win games in that manner, and the team will not make the playoffs if they cannot win on the road. Currently, the Caps have the 6th worst road record in the league. That’s inexcusable for the roster that the team has. These are things that Hunter can control and it needs to be turned around.

It’s also not all Hunter’s fault as well. Listen, fans went through this once earlier this year with Bruce Boudreau as the coach. The team failed to listen to Boudreau and failed to play inspirational hockey. If what Alzner said is true (and I’m sure it is), it’s no longer Hunter’s fault. It’s the players fault. If the team fails to qualify to make the playoffs, it is time to blow the team up and start over again with their key pieces in place.

Hopefully the team can turn it around and I have not given up hope that it can happen. But if it doesn’t, it is going to be a very long two months.

If you would like to debate this with me, please feel free to follow on Twitter and give me your two cents on this issue.