The Buffalo Sabres were missing nine regulars and had a lineup that more resembled the Rochester Americans, their AHL team, as they faced the Washington Capitals at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night. Sounds like a recipe for an easy Caps win, right? Well in the words of the great Sundance Kid: “You figured wrong, Butch.” Tomas Vokoun had a terrible game in net and Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik (both -3) continued to struggle on the back end and the Sabres worked harder than Washington to blow out the Caps, 5-1. The loss drops the Capitals to 12-9-1 overall after a 7-0 start.
This was a Sabres team that got blitzed by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, 5-1, so you knew Lindy’s Ruff’s club would come out hard but Bruce Boudreau’s crew didn’t respond. The work ethic was downright awful and the Sabres seemed to win every loose puck battle. Last Saturday night, after the Toronto Maple Leafs blasted the Capitals with a depleted lineup, I blogged that Caps GM George McPhee, Boudreau, and Alexander Ovechkin needed to have a “clear the air” meeting to turn this ship around. I have no idea if they had that session or not, but after two solid efforts at home on Monday and Wednesday they have once again gone the other way with two straight weak outings and this looks like a rudderless outfit.
Usually a team, when struggling, gets a strong effort from its’ captain but Ovechkin was -4 tonight and had only two shots on net. He was lazy in the defensive zone and he didn’t appear to break a sweat. His performance was downright pitiful and if there is still a rift between him and Boudreau or other players on the team, then shame on the organization for not dealing with it and correcting the issue.
As for Boudreau, I don’t know what has happened to him. He used to be great with his strategy but lately he’s become gun shy and is not using his talent properly. With the Sabres down players it seemed like the tactic for Washington would be to press the play and open the game up, but that was not the case, as the four time Southeast Division Champion coach explained after the contest. When asked about the lack of Caps forecheck, he said “The plan was to make it a 2-1 or 1-0 game because we’ve been so poor defensively.” Wrong answer in my book, when you have guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alexander Semin you have to be aggressive and get a lead, even with the problems the club is having on the back end.
Even with the bad effort, if Vokoun (23 saves) doesn’t give up a terrible third goal right after Jason Chimera scored his ninth goal of the season on a beauty of a penalty shot, then Washington might have come back. But on a Sabres three on two Zack Kassian got his first NHL goal when he beat #29 five hole. It was a shot that could not go in and it came after he failed to glove a high blast that led to the 2nd Buffalo tally in period one. On the fourth Sabres goal, Adam Luke scored on what was pretty much a one on five coming out of the corner and Vokoun didn’t have good position on that one either. The team is not playing well in their own end but they are also not getting consistent goaltending from Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth right now.
I could sit here and blog more about player X or how a particular play was executed improperly, but at this point, it has gone far beyond that. This team has lost its’ confidence, is clearly mentally weak, and is not playing hard. Hockey is an emotional game and if you don’t bring it with you when you come onto to the ice you will lose every time. Right now the Capitals look like a team that is not having fun and is lacking all emotion. There is too much talent on this team for it to play so poorly, even without Mike Green. The excuses need to stop and someone needs to step up and be a leader to get this untracked.
Notes: McPhee was in Hershey for the Bears game on Washington Capitals night so he didn’t see this debacle live…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-26…Karl Alzner and Chimera were the best Caps, not many others had a good game…Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play and gave up another shorthanded goal..the Caps next game is Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center.