The Caps got shut out at home Tuesday night to the New York Islanders, 3-0. The defeat cost them a chance to move into sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division since Florida is up just a point on the Capitals.
I will pull no punches and just flat out say that this Washington team was pretty bad tonight. They made big mistakes in their own zone at even strength and shorthanded and it cost them three goals. At the other end of the ice, they didn’t get enough pucks or bodies to the net five on five or on their power plays and that is why the red light never went on for them.
The Islanders scored two power play goals while Washington had none. Both goaltenders, Tomas Vokoun (25 saves) for the Caps and Evgeny Nabokov (17 saves) for New York, were good, although the Isles net minder had a relatively easy night outside of some Alexander Ovechkin chances. The puck also bounced New York’s way a few times but when you are the club that is working harder, that is the way that black rubber disc usually goes.
Clearly the Capitals have some issues, they’ve been outshot routinely lately and when it comes to scoring chances they aren’t on the positive side of the ledger in that area either on the majority of nights. I put a lot of that on their weakness up the center of the ice that is compounded by the absence of Nicklas Backstrom (still out due to head injury suffered from Rene Bourque cheap shot).
There was a lot not to like about this Tuesday night game in the middle of the season. So naturally, I waited after the game to see how Caps Coach Dale Hunter would react. Knowing ole’ number 32 as long as I have (since he came to the Caps in 1987), I had a pretty good idea what he’d do and once again, I was right.
Lots of coaches would come in and huff and puff or blow a gasket after a game like that. They would get emotional and wear themselves and likely their team out after a performance like this one. You didn’t see that happen with Hunter tonight and I’ll bet the bottom dollar in my wallet that might never happen with him. In fact, when the Caps win, you won’t see him sky high either, so get used to those type of press conferences.
Hunter has been around this game his whole life. He is smart enough to see the issues and work to address them. Unlike what Tampa Coach Guy Boucher has been doing lately, he won’t wear his heart on his sleeve in the post game pressers. Hunter handles the media portion of his job the right way and he made it pretty clear tonight that “the video won’t lie.” He’ll point out those mistakes on Wednesday morning as the Caps get ready to take on Montreal and the players will get the message. But that message won’t carry any additional emotional baggage. Through the course of an 82 game season that is what a hockey team needs, and I believe the Capitals will be better in the spring because of it.
Yes, they laid a clunker tonight and the fan base is obviously upset. There are concerns on the ice from a personnel standpoint and the execution needs to improve, but you won’t see Hunter getting all worked up over it. That is why he is the right coach for this collection of players, they don’t need to be beaten down right now, they need to have their mistakes pointed out and made to work to address them.
The Caps have rarely looked that bad at home this season, but games like that happen. It was a discouraging performance, but with Hunter behind the bench, I wouldn’t go jumping off of any bridges. Hunter certainly won’t do that, he’ll just come to work on Wednesday and focus on beating Montreal. That’s what you want from a coach and I imagine his players will feed off of that commitment.
Going on what I know about Hunter and seeing time and time again how he stays on an even keel after each game, I am still confident that he has things handled, especially when it comes to getting this Caps team past this poor performance against the Islanders.
Notes: Mike Green had abdominal surgery today and will miss four to six weeks…Bourque was traded to Montreal last week so the Capitals will get a chance to get back at the cheap shot artist on Wednesday. I am sure the league has put both teams on notice and the referees will be calling everything to prevent things from gettting out of hand…speaking of the referees, Stephane Auger and Dan O’Rourke turned in a poor effort. They didn’t cost the Caps the game but they were terribly inconsistent. Jason Chimera was hit from behind in period one but all that was whistled was the retaliatory slash from #25. Then late in the 3rd period Ovechkin was called for cross checking when it was apparent the Islander d-man was losing an edge and fell to the ice as the Gr8 made minimal contact with him…the Islanders had six power plays to just three for the Caps…Washington won the face-off battle, 25-19.