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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Falling Apart Together

These are the times that try men's souls
                         ---Thomas Paine, The Crisis

For a Caps fan, there's been a lot to digest over this break before tomorrow's divisional challenge against the Panthers.  Just about all of it has been bad.  Consider these events over the course of the past week:

* The Washington Capitals have used their top three goalies and each one of them has not only lost their start, they all gave up questionable goals.

* Mike Knuble has gone on record as being unhappy with his situation (healthy scratch in three straight games) and indeed there is now speculation that he has played his last game as a Capital.

* Coach Dale Hunter's rationale for benching Knuble has not only been questioned, it has been ridiculed.

* Michal Neuvirth has also expressed his displeasure with how he has been treated lately, from being given zero time to prep for Sunday's game to being benched in favor of Braden Holtby against San Jose on Monday with little warning.

* Olie Kolzig, former Capital great, now associate goalie coach called out his former teammate and the Caps' current Captain Alex Ovechkin regarding his work ethic.  Not hard to read between the lines on this one.

*And, most damning of all, those rocking the Red Monday night with the Sharks in town loudly voiced their dissatisfaction with the team during many points of that train wreck of a game.  Not surprisingly by the third period, the Verizon Center resembled a beer can after I get through with it--empty.

Add to all this the fact that Nicklas Backstrom is still nowhere near returning.  It has been well over a month.  Everyone's thinking it, but I'm going to say it--he's probably done for the season.  Let's just hope he's not done for his career.

About the only shred of optimism that's left is that Mike Green is getting ever closer to returning to the lineup. He could possibly be back by the end of the month, at least that's the hope.  He could well be the difference maker as the Caps are 9-1 with him on the ice.

So where does all this leave our team?  In complete disarray of course. Which is what happens when you don't have true leadership in a locker room full of people not playing for each other.  There's no sense pointing fingers--there's already plenty of that going on In D.C. already.  No, the focus as always should be on how to fix the problem.

I don't claim to have any solutions, but I sure as hell know where to begin, with three sore points to this season:

1.  The Power Play.  Once it was the feared element of our team.  Now it's nothing more than a joke.  But as bad as it's been, there's hope for improvement.  Here's a few tips: STOP WITH THE PERIMETER SHOTS!  These have no hope of going in especially with a body five feet in front of you.  Did they not learn anything from the 2010 playoffs?  Move your feet--as in don't stand around. Keep the cycle going but give the pointmen a target so they can at least put pressure down low.  And lastly, put someone with good hands and a large frame in front of the net.  Troy Brouwer is good at setting a screen.  Unfortunately he hasn't been much good at anything else, at least not on the power play.  Mike Knuble anyone?

2. Number eight needs to be great again.  And exactly when was he great? I'll give you a hint, he didn't have the third letter of the alphabet on his left shoulder. I don't know if it's that he doesn't know how to be Captain or if he's feeling the pressure and can't/doesn't know how to handle it. Either way, let's turn that "C" back into an "A" or just nothing at all and let him concentrate on him playing his game.  Both Alex and the team will be better for it.

3.  Start becoming a team....again.  Now I'm not suggesting everybody hold hands and sing "Kum-Ba-Ya" or anything like that, but there's got to be something that will get these guys to come together as a team.  The Dads/Mentors trips event, the Hard Hat award, and the cream pie facials are nice and all that but they don't seem to mean as much as they used to. It's more than a bit disturbing that in-game events like Brooks Laich playing on one good leg or Matthieu Perreault rushing headlong into the offensive zone despite giving away several inches in height and at least 20 pounds don't inspire the hell out of this team.  The chemistry is obviously lacking and it's hard to pinpoint the true source of the problem. But like being an alcoholic, admitting you have a problem means you're halfway there.  Given the comments among various members of the team, it's obvious that this team needs to heal and quick.

These are just my observations based on a season's body of work.  I may be totally off base and I understand I may not have the best insight into everything.  But then again, Kettler IcePlex ain't exactly across the street from me like Piney Orchard used to be.  Not that I'm bitter--Kettler's an awesome facility and a team should have nothing but the best.  But my point is that if that it's obvious to a regular guy like me that happens to have watched this team for a while that things are falling apart internally, then things really are that bad.  It doesn't mean they can't be fixed however.  Just as long as they're willing to own up to it.

Of course there's one thing that trumps everything and cures all is winning.  Now if only they could figure out how to do that more than every other game.....

Tomorrow night's game would be a good start.  Time's a-wastin' though.

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