The best thing one can say about the Capitals-Maple Leafs game is that everyone who attended received a Nicklas Backstrom gnome. (And I must say, they picked the perfect Capital as the centerpiece for this particular giveaway — if you told me Backstrom actually had pointed ears, I would believe you.)
The best thing one can say about the Capitals-Penguins game is that it’s over now.
There are a lot of excuses for why the team is playing so awfully right now. There’s a new coach, instituting a new system, and with no extended training camp and preseason to work out the kinks. There’s new players, like Mike Ribeiro and Tomas Kundratek, and we’re missing some old ones, like Mike Knuble and Alex Semin. There’s even some new old players (welcome back, Eric Fehr and Tom Poti). It’s only been 11 games — you can’t expect things to be flawless.
But why are things as deeply flawed as they are? Why did such a complete overhaul need to happen, particularly when the players aren’t being changed? I debated between “playing so awfully” and “is awful” in the above paragraph, and settled on the former, because this team, at its foundation, is not awful.
So, why, then, do things have to change so dramatically? We made the playoffs last year, and we took the series against the erstwhile champions, then we forced the next series to 7 games. Some of those games were flukes, both in our favor and not. You can only accommodate the vagaries of fate so much in your coaching strategy.
People are angry at the lack of playoff success for the Capitals. I suppose that’s fair, if “lack of success” is defined as “not winning the Stanley Cup.” But how is that a fair definition? Last year it was won by the Los Angeles Kings, an 8-seed who squeaked into the post-season at the last minute. I’ve made it something of a personal vendetta to remind people that the trophy won by the best team in the league is the Presidents’ Trophy. To win the Stanley Cup takes more luck than skill. To run into an anomaly like a Jaroslav Halak or a Joel Ward is not a reflection on the losing team (beyond its ability to deal with sudden anomalies). Ask the Columbus Blue Jackets what playoff success means. The Stanley Cup might be the only tangible evidence of playoff success, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Things need to change, but did they need to change as much as they have? And can they change back? I don’t have any suggestions or insights on how to fix these problems. I’ve been on and off the “trade Ovechkin” bandwagon, I’ve been for and against sacking McPhee, and I’ve considered throwing up my hands and supporting the Sharks. It’s just as well I’ve already come out saying I wouldn’t want to win a 48-game Cup.
The Capitals play last season’s Southeast Division Champions, the Florida Panthers, tonight. They’re not playing well, either. Or perhaps they simply aren’t any good.