The Washington Capitals went into Toronto to face a depleted Maple Leafs club on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday looking to snap a three game losing streak and they were blasted, 7-1, in what was clearly their worst performance of the season. Caps killer Joffrey Lupul had a goal and three assists and Phil Kessel also potted one and added a helper. Jonas Gustavsson made 40 saves for Toronto but by the time he needed to make them his team was already comfortably ahead. Washington has now lost four straight contests and is 10-7-1 overall after starting with seven straight wins.
Rather than do a detailed look at this game like I normally do, tonight I am going to focus on the big issues facing this team:
– We will address the problems on the blue line next, but the effort hasn’t been there the last two games and has been missing in noticeable stretches all season. To me the first order of business for General Manager George McPhee is to sit down with head coach Bruce Boudreau and team captain Alexander Ovechkin to have a “clear the air” meeting because it looks like the entire hockey team is not listening to either one of its’ leaders right now. Boudreau’s constant line shuffling is not getting results and when the team captain is not giving 100% every shift the rest of the guys will start to take them off at some point, too. This team looks rudderless right now and if there is any strife in the locker room or between coaches and players it needs to be worked out, pronto. A Leafs squad that had several AHLers on it made a team some have picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals look like the 1974-75 Caps. The horrible play on this recent road trip has to be a major concern.
– I know I’ve written several times that the Mike Green injury is a big blow to this Capitals team but you can’t put all of the their problems on one player. #52 is the best d-man on the Caps, he stabilizes the blue line and they are 8-0 with him in the lineup. However, when he went out last February the Caps played great hockey down the stretch (16-3-1) and overtook several teams to capture the Eastern Conference #1 seed. So what has gone so wrong this season that they can’t overcome the absence of the One Man Breakout? In the playoffs against Tampa when both Green and Dennis Wideman were out, the Lightning used their speed to go by some of the slower Capitals defensemen. Right now teams are taking advantage of Jeff Schultz, Roman Hamrlik, and to a lesser degree John Erskine. Schultz may have hit rock bottom in this game tonight with a horrible giveaway that started the whole debacle. Wideman is not playing like he did before his awful hip injury last spring and Karl Alzner has been the only defensemen who is performing above expectations. Boudreau did make a good move putting John Carlson back with Alzner tonight because #74 had his best game in awhile, but that just left an awful pairing of Hamrlik and Schultz, which Toronto coach Ron Wilson took advantage of fully.
– Special teams have just been atrocious during this bad stretch, especially the power play. There is far too much overhandling and passing of the puck and not enough shots on goal with traffic. The coaching staff needs to put guys out there who will simplify their game and outwork the opponent. I don’t think a guy like Alexander Semin fits that bill right now. The penalty kill has regressed primarily because of the poor play by the defensemen but the forwards aren’t doing their part either. On the Leafs sixth goal tonight Nicklas Backstrom did a super job of screening Michal Neuvirth (who was in the game because the team stunk in front of #1 goalie Tomas Vokoun early on).
– Overall, there is so much talent on this team that something is clearly wrong. The coaches and players don’t appear to be on the same page. McPhee has put together, on paper, what looks to be the best team he’s had in several years but the sum of the parts is far less than the whole right now. It is his job to find out where the problems are and correct them.