It’s tough for Washington Capitals fans to feel very optimistic these days. Sitting two points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets with no tie breakers and only six games left to play in the regular season and Toronto between them and the last wild card spot, Washington may be all but done. It would be one thing if the team was making an inspiring run to get this close to the playoffs, but its embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Dallas Stars — another team fighting for a wildcard spot, albeit in a different conference — was some of the most uninspired hockey I’ve seen in awhile.
After such a poor March, if the Caps do manage to somehow end up with a playoff spot — hockey-reference.com has them at an 8.3% chance of doing so — it certainly won’t be on a wave of momentum.
‘Who Are We Kidding?’
Coach Adam Oates isn’t feeling too good about how well they would perform in the playoffs on the off chance they make it, saying he told his team during the second intermission of the loss to Dallas, “If somehow we make the playoffs and we play like this, who are we kidding? We have to figure out a way to get better. We have to stick together. It’s just us collectively in here. Obviously it’s very disappointing.”
So what’s the reason the Capitals are stumbling when they should be surging? Winger Troy Brouwer has a few ideas. In a rare candid moment, he told The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera, “I feel like we’re trying to change our identity every night. Some nights we want to score off the rush, other nights we want to try and grind it out and there’s just not that consistency in not just our game but in the style of our game.”
Such a comment seems to put the blame on the coaching, so naturally, Oates thinks the opposite is true, saying, “We’re trying to do the same thing every night.”
A Star Player’s Defensive Struggles
Maybe doing the same thing every night is what isn’t working for Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin and his history of disappearing on defense came back to bite the Caps in their critical loss to the Stars.
“Ovi quit on the play coming back,” Oates claimed, talking about the fourth goal the Capitals gave up in their blowout loss to the Stars. He said Dallas’ Ray Whitney “forced [the play] down the ice and just goes to show you you’ve got to hustle the entire time, the whole entire time.” Plays like that might explain how Ovechkin has the most goals in the league while shockingly having the worst plus-minus rating.
Maybe being on the same unit with Nicklas Backstrom — who has presumably managed to beat his allergy medication “abuse” problems without the help of drug rehab — will inspire Ovechkin to hustle a little more. Or, perhaps more likely, trying new line combinations at this point is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The playoff hopes for the Capitals aren’t totally dead yet, but their complete lack of fight lately, coupled with some tension between the players and the coaching staff after yet another devastating loss, isn’t exactly the mark of a team about to make a miracle run. If they do end up squeaking in, you can’t expect them to win more than a couple games against red-hot Boston.