I’ve experienced more pre-season hype, regular season glory, and post season disappointment with the Washington Capitals than I care to share. After being outclassed by Tampa Bay in the second round of last spring’s playoffs I just moved on. Talk of super talented young guns and a solid core group of players was for someone else’s conversation. Don’t take this the wrong way because I’ll still be in my seat cheering them on this year, it’s just that my expectations and hopes for the Caps took another in a series of season ending beatings.
My hiatus was interrupted when I lifted an eyebrow towards the Caps in early July when free agent players hit the open market. GM George McPhee made a number of solid acquisitions combined with re-signing existing talent that few would argue make the Caps a better, more mature hockey team.
These offseason personal moves combined with veteran players showing up early for training camp talking about heightened commitments to conditioning and team attitude is encouraging, but not overly so. This year I need more than just preseason talk; I need to see how this talk translates on the ice.
I usually greet the early fall and impending hockey season with enthusiasm for what’s to come, but for this year’s Caps it’s more measured optimism.
Related Story from the WP Capitals Insider:
Alex Ovechkin returns to Washington
I mistakenly thought the gift to be found in the Capitals tragic tale of last season’s first round ousting from the playoffs is in its use to exorcise the resulting demons of loss, disappointment, and distraction and by adding a necessary chip on their collective shoulders. After witnessing the mid-level New York Rangers school the supposedly elite Caps with a 7-0 thumping last night I’m clearly wrong. This 6th loss in a row for the Caps highlighted a scoring champion who plays with heart but scored no goals, goaltenders who show sporadic evidence of greatness but lack consistency, and top line stars that seem to grow dimmer when the lights come up. This team is stuck in neutral behind it’s all business Captain Alex Ovechkin.
Truth be told, when Ovechkin raises his game to higher levels his teammates follow suit. The foundation of the Capitals’ reputation of bringing unrelenting offensive firepower to bear was built on Ovi’s ability to score goals from everywhere on the ice regardless of double and triple teaming. His boyish enthusiasm and ready smile has made it a joy to watch him play hockey. So far this season his passion for the game and his desire to win is unfailing; it’s his inability to score goals that has him stuck and seems to be sucking the joy from his game. His shots aren’t reaching the back of the net and the caliber of play from his teammates is following suit.
There’s an elephant in the room and it need’s to be called out because Ovi has changed his game. He didn’t start the summer of 2010 by hoisting the Stanley Cup, he wasn’t named MVP for the 3rd consecutive year, and he didn’t win gold for his country in the Olympics or the World Championships as planned, a tough year by any standard. Hockey is a team sport and no one person can carry teams to these heights and it seems that Ovi has taken to much responsibility for last year’s disappointments. It appears he mistakenly changed his game to compensate. When he takes the ice this year he’s all business, he doesn’t look like he’s having any fun, he doesn’t look happy. For the Caps to shift gears from neutral to drive with their foot on the gas they need the high scoring, buoyantly enthusiastic, and happy Alex Ovechkin to return to the rink.
This posting was written while the Capitals played the Avalanche at Verizon Center on Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin had a great 1st period and a major cross checking penalty committed by Alexander Semin pretty much killed the second. The team had a bit of a resurgence led by Matt Hendricks when he scored to keep it close in the 3rd but in the end they lost 3-2, their 5th loss in a row. One thing is clear from the last 5 to 10 games and that’s the Caps lack of focus. Many of us have been left wondering who’s game are they playing anyway, because it certainly isn’t their own.
The Caps have superstar players whose collective effort as of late has produced an at beast streaky at worst average NHL team. They used a slingshot to make their way to the top of the league standings and a borrowed used car to cough and belch their way down as the game’s elite are passing them on their way up.
From Coach Bruce Boudreau on down his lines of players the common mantra is that hard work and old school bang’em up, heads up hockey will turn the tide and I’m not so sure they’re right. The Caps are a highly skilled hockey team where patience and precision is the name of the game and they’ve clearly lost focus on these strengths. How many give and go breakouts have been foiled by the shooter fanning on his shot? How many times have bodies reacted prematurely to set up plays that result in errant passes traveling behind or ahead of the intended target? And how many times can power play opportunities go by the wayside before other teams stop fearing your offensive firepower?
The Caps need to refocus their effort by recognizing their inherent ability to score goals and it needs to start with their Captain Alex Ovechkin. Many Caps fans have shown a great deal of patience waiting for the Ovechkin of old to reappear in the highlight reels. There was a time when Joe B. would proclaim from the broadcast booth, “The Great 8 shoots, The Great 8 scores,” and the collective masses would see the caliber of play among his teammates climb with each tally. Ovi the assist leader just doesn’t cut it, he’s 14 goals behind league leading Sidney Crosby’s 26 and that just leaves me…enough said, it’s time to change the mindset.
We haven’t hit the half way mark to the NHL Regular Season so panic’s not on the table, but real concerns are. The Caps need to keep cool heads and dry pants and focus on the skills that built the offensive powerhouse that other teams have had real difficulty in neutralizing.
Please note: the post game reaction from the Comcast Crew and Coach Boudreau was positive saying the team that played tonight was crashing more nets and playing better hockey than recent outings. I really wonder about conversations that deal with which losing team is the better losing team. The Capitals are held to a higher standard because they’ve earned it, a loss is a loss.
Two embarrassing shutout loses over the course of 3 games for the Washington Capitals at the hands of struggling opponents dumped gasoline on the fire and …..…..the fire was doused with a 3-2 win in Raleigh.
All things considered, the speculative doom shared by many appears to be premature, but after the 5-nothing shutout in North Jersey I too considered an all points bulletin to find Dr. Melfi. There’s been little news on her status since the Soprano’s final season but I considered it just the same.
Time will tell if Wednesday night’s contest in Carolina was the breakout game that lifted Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin’s performance back on top of it’s familiar pedestal. One solid performance doesn’t define a trend but sure can spark one. Ovi’s numbers Wednesday night against the Hurricanes suggest he’s lifted his game: assists on all 3 Caps goals, 10 shots on net, and 5 hits that included a tempo setting open ice leveling of Canes RW Chad LaRose.
Turn’s out they didn’t need couch time with the Dr. Melfi to win; practice time with coach Boudreau worked wonders.
Related content from the Capitals Insider‘s Katie Carrera:
Context is critical when assessing Alex Ovechkin’s performance. As of this writing, he’s the Captain of the team that sits on top of the NHL standings with 30 points, he ranks 4th overall among 712 players listed on this season’s stats sheet, 5th in assists, and 10th in goals.
What many view as Ovi being off his game would be an incredible start for more than 9 out of 10 NHL players, but he’s viewed through a different lens than mere mortals. He’s a 2-time league MVP who’s part of every legitimate debate trying to identify the best player on the planet. His game is assessed through a highlight real, no Youtube worthy theatrics translates into concern in the Caps blogosphere:
Russian Machine Never Breaks after last night 5-4 OT loss to the Flyers:
Alex Ovechkin had another stinker, and it’s time to start talking about it. He spoiled two excellent breakaway chances that would have been signature Ovi goals in another season. On point for the powerplay, he struggled to set up the sequence, squandering oodles of time. It’s official: something is rotten in the state of Alex.
The Peerless Prognosticator after the same loss to the Flyers:
A breakaway, hitting the post, and breaking his stick on a one-timer in the first period. Right now, Alex Ovechkin can’t catch a break. But he looked a lot better in this game than he has for most of this month
Japers Rink in last week’s Capitals Ups and Downs – Week 6 post:
With two goals and five assists on the week, AO keeps piling up the points. But with just four shots on goal over the last three games, you can tell that he’s not playing his best hockey
Using this tone when talking about the caliber of Ovi’s play is unchartered territory for many, and while these folks might be on to something I think there’s a breakout game coming. I thought it might come in Atlanta on Friday night but no, Saturday night against the Flyers showed improvement, but not yet. My money’s on Ovi, it’s coming sooner than you think.