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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

ReCap 2/5 vs. Toronto: Caps Lose Again, Man Bites Dog

Anyone one else getting tired of this?  I know I am.  I know many other of my fellow fans are.  But apparently the 20 men that have the ability if not the will to turn things around aren't.

And though things look pretty bleak right now there's still some hope.  And that hope lies in the reality that this season is still not yet out of reach.  But with each passing game, and the Caps' corresponding increase in ineptitude, that reality becomes harsher as the losses pile up.

But here's an even more sobering dose of reality--the Caps seem to be stuck on a treadmill of losing due to stupid mental mistakes.  The kind that make you want to jab an electric cattle prod in your eye. And as we all know, it only takes one such mistake to kill a game.  Not only that, but they have a mountain of issues within themselves to overcome.  To wit:

1. Everybody is still on the steepest of learning curves--not only is the team learning a new system, but the coach is learning how to be a head coach for the first time.  And to date, this is Calle Johansson's first gig as an assistant coach as well.  It's like a stage actor being thrown into a play with very limited rehearsal time--and the director and the stage manager just got the script a week ago.  Obviously everybody is still uncomfortable and this is going to take a while.  Hopefully Coach Oates will find some line combinations that work well as he continues to figure things out.  In the meantime, there's probably going to to be many more games like last night.  Hopefully after that we will see their real potential.

2. Both goalies stink and it's not their equipment--Neuvirth and Holtby have both had outings where they've given up goals they wished they could have back.  Neuvy's miscue with Tom Poti should not be happening, new system or not.  And Holtby has not looked comfortable in the crease at all this season.  As competitive as this season will be, you need a goalie who can steal you at least a point if not a win.  These two aren't even close to doing that.  One good way to shake up a team having problems is to make a trade.  If there's a deal to be done, (and the whispers are starting to get louder about it) it's here.

3. Five alive--While the power play seems to be back on track, their even strength play has left a lot to be desired.   It just seems like there's a fundamental lack of energy at both ends and backchecking strength is almost non existent. Was it any wonder that the only two goals they scored last night were on the power play?  Is it also any wonder that the grinders on the third and fourth lines seem to be shining while the top two are floundering?  Whether it's that they haven't bought in or they're still confused about what to do, the top players need to be the top players--at both ends.  Which leads to....

4. Big money needs to play like it--The Caps two highest paid players, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have been at best, painfully ordinary.  At worst they have been simply awful.  Oates' system demands efficiency of movement and these two look terribly out of sync with their teammates whenever they're on the ice.  Again, no matter the reason, these two simply aren't doing the job they need to.  Whether it's Backstrom's health or Ovechkin's heart it really doesn't matter anymore.  Separate or apart, they both need to find a way to be the dominant force they once were.  And they can do their part by preventing goals as well as scoring them.

5. Young gun needs to act like it--Mike Green needs to unload that wonderful shot we all know he has.  The fact that he's logging a buttload of ice time means he back at 100% which is great news.  But it won't amount to much if he doesn't make use of his greatest asset.  While we're on the subject of young defensemen, John Carlson slowly seems to be shaking the funk that has caused his (so far) horrible play this season.  Which is a good sign as he will be a key cog in the Caps' plans for this season and beyond, as will Karl Alzner.

6. Discipline, discipline--The Caps have treated the penalty box like a hotel room this season, and even when they kill off the penalties it still costs them in the long run.  This is another problem that has nothing to do with learning a system.  It has everything to do with being a better hockey player.  There's no excuse for not knowing when to hit the ice for a shift because you can't be bothered to figure out there's already five of your teammates out there.  That's what happened last night. The end result was another two minutes wasted in killing a penalty that should not have been.  As has always been the case, smart penalties are ok, dumb penalties not so much.  Unfortunately the Caps have been committing more of the latter.

7. Finally, they need to finish--meaning not just score goals, but actually put away teams when they're vulnerable and on their heels.  The Ottawa game was a classic example. So was the first game against Toronto.  Even last night they had a chance to plunge the dagger into the enemy's throat--despite being down by two, they came out swinging in the third against a shaky goalie and couldn't finish the job.  It's not like this hasn't been said before of this team, but they need to develop a killer instinct.  And again, due to the shortened season, it is more important than ever because the more points collected in regulation, the further you distance yourself from the rest of the field.  Unfortunately, it works both ways as the Caps are now learning.

So a quicker summation for last night's game--better five-on-five play, cut down on the mental mistakes, and more shooting and the end result would have been better, right?

Looks like I should just copy paste that last question as it will probably be how most games end this season.  And the Caps seem to be learning from their mistakes as quickly as Jeff Schultz can skate.  Yuck.

You the reader may have problems with this list and you're entitled to disagree.  In fact I encourage it. I'm certainly not going to claim these are all of the problems.  But it is what I'm seeing when they play.  And since everybody from The Hockey News, to Puck Daddy, to Hockey Night in Canada seems to be weighing in on the Caps woes, I figured I would as well. But unlike them, I refuse to simplify the problems with this team as simply two things--blame Ovechkin, blame the system. To be sure those two aspects are the heart of the problem, but every team loses and wins together.  As a team.

I end with a critique of one of the Caps' beat writers, Katie Carerra.  To quote her article in today's Washington Post regarding last night's game the Capitals "could not solve" Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens. Seriously?  Could not solve? With all due respect, Ms. Carrera were you even watching the game last night?  Scrivens was practically giving the Caps glorious rebound opportunities like it was Valentine's Day at an elementary school.  Could not solve?  Ben Scrivens was most certainly not a Rubik's Cube, last night he was more like a coloring book.

Only the Caps could not stay within the lines.

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