One Obvious Reason The Capitals Are Such An Up And Down Team

Why has this season been such a roller coaster?

Alex Ovechkin, Dylan Strome, Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin, Dylan Strome, Washington Capitals / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

Sometimes, if not a lot of the time, people try to outsmart themselves. No matter what you do, no matter how well you know a situation we can overlook the obvious thing. The thing that is slapping us in the face telling us what the answer is and we still can't really see it. Recently, I had one of those moments.

I have watched this Capitals team for the past fifteen years now. I have been solely focused on writing about them for just about ten years. Ten years this summer if you're curious. I feel like I understand what this franchise is. I know where they've been, and where they're going. Or at least where they are trying to go.

I and probably most Washington Capitals fans and all people who write about or follow this Capitals team also know what they are. Average. Why are they average? Because this is a team that can be very inconsistent. Why are they inconsistent?

That can be the hard part for many to understand. How can a team look so good one night, or for a group of games like the Capitals have, then turn around and look like one of the worst teams in the league for a group of games? The Capitals have done that second one as well.

Need some examples? How about the start of the season? The Capitals were losers in four of their first five games. They then get settled, they win some games and lose some games. But then from the 10th of November to the 22nd of December they were a top ten team in the league. They went 12-5-2 in that stretch. How did they answer that? From December 22nd to February 14th the Capitals went 6-12-4. Only five teams had worse records in the NHL in that time.

But they have responded again recently. Before going out west to play a couple of contenders the Capitals were on a 7-2-1 run. If you want to be a glass half empty person like I am you could say the Capitals didn't really beat any good teams in that time, but you can only play and beat who is in front of you. Unfortunately we know what happened when the Capitals did play good teams recently, they got run over. Pretty badly.

How will this team go now? Is another bad run on the way? Would it shock you if they went on another 3-6-1 run? Based on how this season has gone it shouldn't.

But why? Why is this team so up and down?

Before the trade deadline I was listening to the "32 Thoughts" podcast. On this specific episode they talked about every team. They eventually got to the St. Louis Blues. Jeff Marek then said something that basically made me do a facepalm and say "that's the Capitals".

If you want to hear Marek say it go ahead and click right here. The time he says it is at exactly the 50 minute mark.

For those that don't want to hear it or try to find it I'll tell you what he said. I'm not going to directly quote Marek, because you should go listen to that clip. Basically what he says is, when you have teams that are wildly inconsistent his first thought is that team has guys playing one slot higher than they should.

That's the Washington Capitals. In so many ways.

This season the Capitals had top guys underperforming for different reasons. Alex Ovechkin only has recently started to score like we know he can. Tom Wilson has been down for most of this season. Nicklas Backstrom is gone. Evgeny Kuznetsov still didn't perform when he was with the team.

Young guys are trying to fight for roster spots, but they shouldn't be in top roles. Connor McMichael can show flashes. But until he can prove he can be consistent he is nothing more than a fairly good 3C right now. Hendrix Lapierre has come in recently and done a fantastic job. But for no reason should he be a top six or top line center yet. You're going to get those wide peaks and valleys that way.

Even goaltending has been interesting. A couple of summers ago the Capitals go out and sign a bigger free agent goalie hoping to solve their issues for that position. That guy, being Darcy Kuemper, is now the backup to a career backup in Charlie Lindgren. And that career backup has also been pretty up and down this season. He started the season great before going on a longer slump. Now he's started to find his game again recently. Something you should expect from a guy like Lindgren and how his career has gone.

Someone else we should probably mention is Dylan Strome. I love Strome. I think he is a very good player. I think his contract is a steal. So much so that Brian MacLellan should probably go to hockey jail for robbery. But Strome isn't a first line center.

He is on the Capitals though. Because who else is? Backstrom is gone. Kuznetsov always underperformed and is now also gone. Who is the Capitals number one center if it's not Strome?

Saying someone is a great number two is not an insult, even though some will say it is. As a San Jose Sharks fans I can easily say Logan Couture was a fantastic number two center. Once Joe Thornton or Joe Pavelski left and Couture then went to number one it was clear that he was a number two guy. It's not a bad thing. You just have to be on a good spot on the right team. Right now Strome isn't.

This season the Capitals have had to play guys higher in the lineup than they should be. Ovechkin for a lot of this year has not been a number one winger. He was all season. Wilson has not played well for big chunks of this season putting more pressure on others to step up. Strome is not a number one center. McMichael is not ready to be relied upon. Lapierre has come in and played top six roles.

Obvious? Probably. But like I said at the start. Sometimes the obvious thing can be right in your face and you're trying to look around it to find what the problem is. The problem is, while the Capitals have some talented players, and some young promising players, when you rely on them, either young or aging, you're going to be playing players out of position.

The Capitals older players should be playing further down the lineup. Well, they can't. Because the younger guys have shown they can't take the jobs yet. So you are going to have these spurts of great hockey, but you're also going to have those moments. The moments that put the Capitals as one of the worst teams in hockey. The moments that get you smashed by contenders like the Jets and Oilers in the last few days.

If there is anyone who is confused why this Capitals team is so up and down, to me, it really is just that simple. And you do see this kind of thing in sports all the time.