Whether you supported the head coaching move that saw the exit of Bruce Boudreau and the entrance of Dale Hunter is relatively moot now. That argument has been had. The fact is, the Washington Capitals are in a boat load of trouble. Even a promising rookie net minder could not provide a spark for the struggling Capitals.
With an ailing Tomas Vokoun on the side because of the nasty flu, the Capitals recalled Braden Holtby from Hershey. Holtby, who was previously 10-2 in the NHL, got one unlucky bounce from a long slapper from Joe Pavelski that snow balled into another 4 markers for the Sharks, as San Jose sent Washington to a 5-3 defeat at the Verizon Center. Sadly, all three Washington tallies came from blueliners, not a whimper of offense from the skating forwards. Jeff Schultz tallied his first marker of the season, while Dmitri Orolov added his second and disappointing defenseman Romas Hamrlik added his second. What a pathetic effort overall by the Capitals. Sadly enough, it is an effort that Washington fans are becoming accustomed to with this roster.
One thing is pretty clear. The jolt Caps fans were hoping for with the removal of Boudreau as bench boss clearly is not going to happen. We heard all the theories floating in Caps Nation that Boudreau and his relationship with the players was an ongoing problem for the slow start the Capitals provided, after an initial 7-0 run to start the season. We heard it. We read it. Boudreau lost the lockerooom. You have to wonder if that was really the case or if this roster simply has gone as far as it can go. The high octane Caps offense is nothing more than a faded memory of past seasons.
We can blame some of it on injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Sure we can. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to play inspired hockey without Sidney Crosby and others. Other teams have experienced similar injuries to similiar caliber players. Injuries are a fact of the game and for purposes of blame are nothing more than a feeble attempt by fans to smooth over significant roster deficits. Perhaps what we should actually be considering is the fact that Washington's depth ultimately is quite weak. Who has stepped up in the absence of Backstrom and Green? Seemed to be Jason Chimera, right? But, even Chimmer has gone cold. Chimmer has one goal since January 13. One! Perhaps we should take a look at the moves GM George McPhee made in the off-season to spark the roster. Roman Hamrlik has been an utter disappointment on the blue line. Joe Ward was overpaid and has had an amazingly quiet season, scoring just 5 goals and 10 assist, hardly what they anticipated after handing him a 4 year deal at $4 million per season. That is for 5 goals and 10 assists through 55 games. You can't just blame the new guys though. Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are having horrible seasons. More surprising than Ovechkin is the rather dismal season Semin is having, particularly because he is in a contract year. His 15 goals and 19 assists, unfortunately for Washington, liklely damaged his peak value on the trade bloc. Ovechkin's main problem is he is playing in a hole with absolutely no help. The lack of a big time Centerman on his line has killed Ovechkin's creativity and offensive prowess. His go to moves are old and expected. But, have no fear. His $9 million per season deal will keep him in Washington. Even if Ovi does not deserve the letter 'C', the fact is, the letter is staying as is. Take a look at Nicklas Backstrom. He has missed 15 staright games with a concussion, yet amazingly, he still leads the Caps in assists. Think about that for awhile.
The reality that I have come to accept is the fact that the Washington Capitals are a team of desperate need of change. Change on the roster; perhaps change in the front office. We were told to stay patient by Caps owner Ted Leonsis for a few years. We did. And fortunately for us, we got high octane, inspired Caps offense, tons of goals for the hometown fans. It is also enabled the Capitals to reignite hockey in the District and fill the seats at the Verizon Center. It caused a spike in Capitals merchandise sales and TV ratings for CSN Washington. It put Washington on the forefront of the NHL as the NHL has tended to show case the Caps and Pens on national TV a few times each season. Due to the continuing downward swirl of the Washington Redskins, Alex Ovechkin became the most popular sports figure in the Nation's capital.
It was a good ride. But, it was a ride that led to very little acheivement. Sure, the Caps won four straight South East Division titles. Sure, the Caps brought home a President's Trophy. However, the coveted Lord Stanley Cup was never a close reality. Washington never made the Eastern Conference finals, let alone a Stanley Cup berth. Despite dazzling hockey fans throughout he NHL with an incredible offensive prowess, that same offense whimpered away and the power play completely disappeared in the NHL playoffs. Not just once either.
Many of us began to wonder if the Caps' offensive style of play was conducive to playoff hockey. Not just us either. HC Bruce Boudreau began a transition last season to a more defensive style of play. It got the Caps through the first round of the playoffs, but the Caps were ultimately swept by division rival Tampa Bay in the second roundof the playoffs. Boudreau continued that style change into this season, a style change that likely upset some of the roster players. After positing a 12-9 record, after an inital 7-0 start, Boudreau was relieved of his duties and Dale Hunter was hired. Hunter sought to install a tough, gritty defensive style of hockey, a mold of hockey reflective of Dale Hunter, the former player. Some question that move. Some question Hunter's NHL inexperience in coaching.
The fact is, the Caps current roster is not designed for tough, defensive style of hockey. As an example, take a look at the Washington Redskins defense of 2010. It ranked 31st in the NFL while it struggled to grasp the 3-4 style of DC Jim Haslett. It did not struggled merely because of a schematic change. It stuggled because it was installed with players not accustomed to or suited with a 3-4 defense. Players were simply out of place. After an off-season defensive overhaul that saw Washington infuse some 3-4 guys into the starting lineup, the Redskins put a Top 12 defense on the field last season. The Caps simply do not have the personnel they need to effectively run the Dale Hunter system.
The Washington Capitals are a boring, uninspired hockey team. They rarely provide any faith that they can either win the close games or come back from deficits. Despite stories in newspapers and blogs, interviews with coaches in the middle of games, interviews at intermission with players, and more than likely proddings from the coaches in practice, the Caps still have a net presence problem, which has been a huge flaw for sometime. The passing on the power play is sickening. The ruggedness is non-existent. The team is leaderless. Period.
With the upcoming trade deadline looming at the end of February, it will be interesting to see what moves the Capitals make in order to try and skimp into a playoff berth. However, one thing is clear, I am not entirely certain I have that much faith or confidence. After all, George McPhee is at the helm and his rebuild has led to all this.
A coaching change has occurred. The problem is not fixed. That tells me the problems lie fiundamentally with the roster construction. That's not on Dale Hunter. That is on Geroge McPhee. Perhaps, just perhaps, that is where the problem lies.