2014 has not been kind to the Washington Capitals, posting a 2-3-3 record since the start of the new year and having seen themselves fall from second in the newly formed Metropolitan division to fourth. With a tough stretch of games ahead, which includes a lengthy road trip for a team that has been less than stellar on the road with a record of 8-10-4, without a strong performance the season might start slipping away before the Olympic break.
The questions Caps fans find themselves asking while watching the games are what is wrong?, Is it the coaching?, or just simply the personnel?
First, the general question of what is wrong? After last nights poor performance in Columbus, the Capitals have now gone 5 straight games without a power play goal. For a team that relies heavily on one of the best specialty units in the league, they have gone a unsurprising 1-2-2 during this power play drought. Despite the recent dry spell the Capitals still rank second in the league on the power play with a conversion rate of 24.1%, so I do not think making changes to that unit is the answer YET. The game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday was one of the better played games of the season, and coming on the road it gave Caps fans hope, but they still found away to let both points slip away late. Amid a three man goalie controversy and multiple trade requests could this just be a confidence issue?
After all the slow starts this season, getting into 2 or 3 goal holes early in games, the question can be asked is it the coaching? This might be the toughest question to ask and the toughest question to answer, but after having seen the Capitals come out flat in big games or against lesser opponents time after time for years now I’d have to say no. With a first time head coach like Adam Oates some growing pains are to be expected, and after having a slow start during the lockout shortened season and now a somewhat compressed schedule due to the upcoming Olympic break he hasn’t had the easiest start to his head coaching career. In the end Adam Oates will be judged on his ability to get this team back on track and make the playoffs, like he was able to do last season, but to also build off of last years experience and take the next step win a playoff series.
The last question I find myself asking during Caps games is do we simply not have the right personnel? This team tends to allow a massive amount of shots on goal while going on long stretches without any themselves. While the defensive pairing of Alzner and Carlson has blossomed into a legitimate first pairing the lack of a shut down pairing below them is troubling. When not scoring Mike Green can be just painful to watch at times looking lost in his own end or taking the untimely penalty. Orlov has been impressive at times with his skating ability and vision on the ice opening things up but when paired with a defender as offensive minded as Green his tendency to look to make a play can be just as hurtful as it is helpful. Conner Carrick has been impressive since his return from the World Juniors but expecting anything more than what he has been giving would be unfair to the young defender. Could all the Capitals problems be solved by George Mcphee looking to make a move for a defensive minded first or second pairing D-man? No probably not, but it is a move that needs to be made, this team can score, has depth, and has some promising prospects on the way but none of those things are helping us win NOW. After last years swap of top prospect Forsburg, 2013 World Juniors MVP, for Marty Erat and Michael Latta not working out would Mcphee hesitate to make a similar move again? Or could just taking the distractions of Erat and Neivirth out of the mix be enough? Simply, addition by subtraction.
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