Rock bottom Capitals style
With Monday's 5-0 shellacking in Carolina on national television, it's officially time to panic for the Washington Capitals.
Sure they're only one point out of a playoff spot in the sub-par Eastern Conference, and just two points away from being the third-seed in the conference as the Southeast division leader, but this team doesn't feel like one that is that close.
It could be the defensive lapses, the turnovers, the inability to score, or the inability of the team to stay disciplined for any stretches of time.
It could be loss of Nicklas Backstrom, who has missed the better part of the last month-and-a-half thanks to a gutless cheap shot from then-Calgary forward Rene Bourque. It could have been in part due to the loss of Mike Green, who returned this weekend but missed all but 12 games this season for the Caps.
It could be the disappearing production of captain Alex Ovechkin, who has just 24 goals this season, which is a far cry from his 50-goal heyday. It could also be the curious case of Ovie's Russian teammate Alex Semin, who resembles a sloth on more nights than most.
It's time for Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin to look in the mirror and save the season.
But the sad state of affairs in the nation's capital is more than just those things. It's a team that fired its coach mid-season, and a good one who in Bruce Boudreau who is, by the way, turning the Ducks into a playoff team after an abysmal start to the season. He made adjustments, new Caps coach Dale Hunter? Well, we'll have to see about that in the coming games.
The Caps have won just 20 of 37 games under Hunter, who's disciplinary-style hasn't quite manifested itself in this group as of yet. Semin and Co. still take bad penalties, like some of the four minors the Caps took in Monday's 5-0 blowout loss. Hunter's decision to bring back former Cap Jim Johnson to help out with the struggling defense hasn't panned out, as Jeff Shultz is still a pillar on the blueline and Dennis Wideman looks as lost as ever. Even promising World Junior hero John Carlson has regressed this season while sporting minus seven this season.
Tomas Vokoun was signed by general manager George McPhee to be the No. goalie to lead this bunch to the promised land, but he's been ordinary, being at time outplayed by backup Michal Neuvirth.
The Caps' problems don't end there, though. They are the thinnest team in the NHL at center, with Mathieu Perreault masquerading as a No. 1 center at the moment. Who? Yup, my thoughts exactly. Brooks Laich, who signed a $4.5 million extension in the off-season, has been a third-line center option scoring-wise this season but is being paid like some of the best No. 2 pivot's in the league.
Youngster Marcus Johansson has shown some promise with 31 points, but isn't ready as a raw 21-year-old to step into a No. 1 center role yet. This brings back to the Backstrom argument, and there's no doubt both Ovie and the Caps have missed #19 the past couple months.
The bottom line is that the Caps need to make a move before the deadline. It doesn't have to be a major move, like a Rick Nash, but this team needs a shakeup. The current batch just isn't cutting it. McPhee knows it, Hunter knows it, and to a man, the 26 guys in that room know it.
It's survival of the fittest right now in the NHL; eat or be eaten. And right now, the Caps are being eaten alive.