Caps Spend Sunday Seeking GamePosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Lately, the Washington Capitals team we’ve seen on the ice doesn’t resemble much the team that we saw over the final 50 games of the 2010-11 regular season. Spurred to change their ways by an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) last December, the Caps battened down their defensive hatches the rest of the way and became a very difficult team to play against. They took away time and space. They exited their own zone cleanly and efficiently and didn’t get hemmed in for long stretches of time. They killed penalties with aplomb. I’ve been wondering what happened to that team. Sure, there have been some personnel changes. And yeah, the ideal team would somehow combine the offensive explosiveness of the 2009-10 Capitals with the defensive diligence of last year’s model. We’re 18 games into the 2011-12 season. I can think of three games where we’ve seen that “ideal” Caps team: Oct. 18 vs. Florida (3-0 win), Oct. 22 vs. Detroit (7-1 win) and Nov. 4 at Carolina (5-1 win). We’ve seen patches and flashes of that ideal team from time to time in many of the other games, but not at all in the last two contests, Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg or Saturday’s 7-1 shellacking at the hands of the Maple Leafs in Toronto. I’ve been wondering what some of these guys think are the biggest differences between that defensively responsible team we saw for most of last season and the haphazard play we’ve seen of late especially the last two games. After Saturday’s game, I wondered that out loud. “Well, that’s a tough question,” says caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’re obviously not getting the job done right now. To answer that question, I’d have to talk about certain things I don’t want to talk about.” “It’s hard to say,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “I think everybody wants to win and everybody plays hard. But sometimes we didn’t play good. We made mistakes when we knew what we had to do and it cost us. We just gave them all the chances they had in the first period by our mistakes. It’s hard to realize but they just outscored us.” I follwed up with Ovechkin, asking if the team’s offensive anemia or its defensive ineptitude was more troubling at this point. “I think both,” says Ovechkin. “I think we have lots of skills on this team and all the lines can score goals, like you saw in the first 10 games. Right now, nobody can score. We’re just frustrated. When we have an opportunity to shoot it, we’re squeezing sticks too hard. It’s something you have to fight and you have to work harder than you usually do.” “You’re talking defensively, obviously, is my guess,” says center Brooks Laich. “Last year, we defended really well the last 50 games. We took pride in that. “The team took a lot of pride in playing defensive hockey. And defensive hockey doesn’t mean just in your own zone. It means in the offensive zone. It means moving your feet. It means not taking a bad penalty, maybe taking a hit. “And the main thing is understanding consequence; not pinching, not turning a puck over. Just realizing that [you need to] play the scoreboard and play the time on the clock. You have to understand consequence. I thought we did a good job of that last year but we’re still learning that this year.” I thought the most enlightening answer came from Dennis Wideman, who joined the team in a Feb. 28 trade with the Florida Panthers and only played in 14 regular season games with the Capitals in 2010-11 before suffering a season-ending injury in late March. The Capitals were 11-2-1 in the 14 games in which Wideman played. They allowed 23 goals in those 14 games. That is not a misprint. The 2011-12 Caps have surrendered 27 goals during the team’s current seven-game slide (1-5-1). “Well, the way we were playing at the end of the year when I first got here we won nine or 10 in a row,” notes Wideman. “We were all over the place, we were supporting each other, we were hitting, we were winning battles, we were getting pucks to the net and when we had 40 shots we were scoring. “Now, we’re spread apart. We’re not really supporting each other. We’re leaving guys out to dry a little bit and then we’re just making bad decisions.” It’s November. The Caps are 10-7-1, still living off the fat of their 7-0 start to the season. There’s plenty of time to right the ship, but it’s hard to remember a stretch in which the team played as poorly for as long. It certainly wasn’t during last season’s eight-game skid; the Caps actually played pretty well during that run. They were just snakebit. “That’s why you can’t get too frustrated,” says right wing Mike Knuble, ever the voice of reason. “Of course, we’re frustrated. That’s stating the obvious. We’re not happy with the way things are going. But when you get down to it, if we play our game and everybody shows up, we’re a good team. We’ll be okay. “It’s annoying. Nobody likes to be beat 7-1 on Saturday night in Toronto. Nobody likes that. And to get beat on the road in Winnipeg. When’s the last time this organization lost three straight on the road? I don’t know when [we’ve had] a road trip like that. I don’t know. “When you’re expectations are high, you want to rise to it. It’s not okay. We’ve got to be better. You get tired of talking about it and you just want results on the ice as well.” The question is, how? How do you convert the words and good intentions to results on the ice? “You just have to work hard,” says Boudreau. “You’ll get out of it. We’ll get out of it. You work hard. It’s four games. We went from losing in a shootout to controlling the game until the last 30 seconds to losing fairly bad to getting smoked. It feels like the end of the world, but it’s not the end of the world.” They’re out there working hard right now on the Kettler Capitals Iceplex sheet. Today was originally scheduled to be a day off. Instead, the Caps are on the ice trying to get their game back. Coffee is for closers.
What do Trent Klatt, Nelson Emerson, Dean McAmmond, Jay Pandolfo and Blake Comeau have in common? (answer later) We’re nearly a quarter of the way into the 2011-12 season, and already there have been a lot of words written and a lot of words said about the on-ice performance of Caps captain Alex