Saturday, November 03, 2007

Changes...Turn and Face the Strain

I've been doing my best to hold off the naysayers of the world and the doubts in my own mind, but last night's loss and the prolonged slump the Caps appear to be in can no longer be dismissed simply by saying "oh, it's early," or "but there are so many injuries!" Something has to change or this team is going to dig itself a hole that is far too deep to crawl out of come April - if that hasn't already happened.

There is no reason for this team to be showing up for 20-30 minutes a night and thinking that's okay. There is no reason for this team with all its offensive talent to be ranked in the bottom third of the league in goals per game. There is no reason for this team with all its alleged prowess with the extra man to be routinely blowing golden power play opportunities, including several 5 on 3 chances over the past few weeks.

Last night's win was disheartening for many reasons. For one thing it was against the Flyers - and no one likes to lose to Philly. For another, the Caps looked to be in control of this game after the first period. And for another, Briere scored - admit it, you were kind of hoping he got eaten by that goldfish, weren't you?

Last night the team simply decided they could skate to a 1-0 victory, riding that single tally all the way to the bank. Well, no one told the Flyers that. For the rest of the game the Caps were back on their heels, with Olie making some great plays to keep them in it but ultimately unable to stave off repeated power play chances. Even a late strike by Ovechkin (and how many times have we seen those) seemed to have little effect and the Caps were once again unable to get the puck out of their zone with the goalie pulled and the seconds ticking away.

So after coming out of the gate with a startling record of 3-0, the Caps have won just two of their last ten. Dropping the majority of those by just one goal is of little comfort to me - it might as well be ten, since the team seems completely uninterested in producing any sort of offensive spark, save for one game against the Leafs that was clearly a fluke.

We keep saying that the Caps have played well in almost all of their losses lately, and its true. They've never looked completely outclassed for long stretches of time and have hung in there almost every night. But at what point do we say, okay, playing well and still not getting the win is a problem? When do we get to see them get over the hump and actually win a game in which they are the more deserving team? The talent is there, the potential is there, they're just not putting it in action. And therein lies the problem.

So what needs to change? Is it a new coach? A trade? Or could it really be that missing the captain, the other Russian superstar and the new defenseman is throwing this team off so much that the ship will be righted once they return? If that's the case then the Caps will not make the playoffs - that depth that we were bragging about all summer is simply a figment of our imagination and just a scattering of injuries is still enough to send them into a downward spiral.

I've always been a fan of Hanlon. I've held off saying he should be replaced because I like him, I think he's done a fantastic job, and I've been hesitant to suggest a mere coaching change will do the trick. But maybe it is time. Maybe the boys really have stopped listening to him. And if that's the case he needs to be pulled, and now - before things get really bad.

The Caps get the weekend off before embarking on a stretch where they will play eight of their next ten against Southeast rivals...the only division to this point that they've had any success against. And rest assured, both Tampa and Carolina will be looking to avenge that first loss. (Atlanta will, too, but I have less confidence in their ability to actually do so, four third period goals against the mighty Senators aside.) Throw in two meetings with the Panthers, a team that has routinely and for no apparent reason bitch-slapped the Caps around in recent years and a date with Ottawa and you're looking at a rough patch.

If the Caps don't figure out a way to string a few wins together by the end of next week, I think its time to make some changes. Because two points now counts the same as two points in March and the days are slipping by with frightening speed...

7 comments:

DMG said...

Like any Caps fan I'm frustrating by the 2-8 stretch but the fact that they have been mostly by one or two goals margins is does help me. It seems to me that in most of those games had the Caps been able to have another call go their way, another bounce go their way or a healthy lineup they would have won. The team is competitive and what it's going to take to turn things around is a tweak in playing style (forechecking strategy or changing the lines) or just a little less bad luck.

kristin said...

The first two paragraphs of this post could very easily be me writing about the Flyers' last several games (except I am not that articulate).

The fact is that it is early. You do have a lot of injuries.

The hole that you're digging isn't that deep, and you have plenty of time to get out of it, and lots of talent to make that happen.

At least they are playing well in their losses...(unlike the Flyers in their losses who look like a bunch of guys off the street playing together for the first time.)

(Also, your team is hotter than the Devils, and everyone over at IPB has been brainwashed.)

Biff said...

Semin, Clark AND Poti is more than just "a scattering of injuries". It is the team's 2nd best scorer from last year, the team's captain and 3rd best scorer and the team's (alleged) power play QB. Imagine how badly the Caps would be losing games with the same injuries AND last year's roster (i.e. no Nylander, Kozlov or Backstrom).

That said, Hanlon still needs to go.

CapsChick said...

DMG: I guess what's frustrating to me is that after one game you can say the calls and/or the bounces didn't go your way; after two you can say it; even after three. It may continue to be true, but when does that stop being an excuse? I don't know. After 25 years you'd think I'd be less frustrated or surprised by this but...I guess I'm just a big sucker ;)

Kristin: Yeah, it is still early. I really, really hate making that excuse though. Good starts are SO important and the Caps finish the year with a really rough stretch - I'd like to see them pick up some points now just in case. I think what kills me is we see glimpses of the talent and the potential because they play fairly well in their losses...and that's it. Just a glimpse. (And they ARE, aren't they?? The day Elias or Pandolfo are better looking than any of our guys is the day I declare my love for Jagr.)

Biff: They're significant injuries, sure. But where's the depth they've been talking about that should be able to overcome the injuries? Where's the team we saw against Toronto? Saying that, we haven't had Semin for four of our five wins...and scoring needs to come from someone other than the Alexes or we're screwed. I'm not even sure Hanlon should be gone just yet, I'm just throwing it out there in my frustration. I just hate losing to the Flyers. (Sorry Kristin! :P)

DMG said...

Capschick:

I definitely understand where you're coming from. Bad calls and bad bounces can explain (excuse?) some losses, but not 8 when you're only 13 games into the season. In my opinion the Caps have been outplayed 4-6 times this year, but even that should yield 6-9 wins at this point in the season.

Last night was a perfect example: Jurcina pinches when he sees a chance, they give him the puck and he gets a good shots off, but it's saved and the Flyers take it down the other way and score. It was the right play by the Capitals but if ended badly and I feel like as I watch the games more and more I'm just seeing things like that happen and just saying to myself 'Of course, of course that would happen, that's just how the season is going for us so far'.

But I still have some hope because the Capitals are playing fairly well, on a whole and all thing considered so I'm still hopeful that when things start breaking there way and once they get healthy they'll be a good team. I just hope they aren't too far out of the playoff race at that point.

CapsChick said...

DMG: You make a very good point, and its true. I'm not ready to count this team out just yet because there is a lot of talent and they are doing a lot of things right that maybe last year or the year before they didn't.

And I'm not quite ready to run Hanlon out of town yet, either, regardless of how annoyed I may sound ;) I want to see what he does with a full roster of healthy bodies. If we're still playing Brashear on the power play or Schultz on the penalty kill (or at all, yeesh), then maybe we start looking around.

By the way, thanks for talking me and the others in from the ledge...its frustrating and like I said, I should be less sensitive after so many years, but you're right. A little faith, a little health, a little good luck, and hopefully we can put this bad stretch behind us and begin the playoff push ;)

DMG said...

Capschick

I agree that those calling for Hanlon to be fired are premature and I think perhaps the victims of unrealistic expectations. Going into the year I thought the Caps were much better but would still be a team that would have to fight until the April for one of the last few playoffs spots.

Given that if you'd asked me how I thought they would fare through 13 games with Semin battling an extended injury and Clark and Poti both missing several games I would have guessed they'd be a couple games under .500, maybe 5-7-1 or something. However, like I said, I think they're outplaying their opposition more often than not and thus they have actually exceed my expectations given their injuries in gameplay if not in points.

I like Hanlon; I respect what he's done the last couple years with little talent, building the Caps reputation as one of the hardest working teams in the league. But with the way he;s been doing lines recently I wonder if he's in need of some common sense!

Rather than re-hash it all here:
(http://capsblueline.blogspot.com/2007/11/key-to-successful-road-trip-change.html)