Former Washington Capitals Coach Jim Schoenfeld once said about his club back in the mid-90′s, “I don’t care how hard you work, you’ll never open a can of beans with a banana.”
That saying is a perfect description of why the Washington Capitals got behind 5-1 in Florida on Monday night before their furious late rally fell a goal short to the Panthers. The Caps are clearly working harder under new Coach Dale Hunter, but their energy was extremely misguided in the first half of this game. Washington took several poor penalties and to top it off, their goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, gave up a few softies. That combination led to three Panthers power play goals. Perhaps the biggest example of waste of energy was the Cats fifth goal. The Caps had five guys all back in their own zone but they got so focused on the puck carrier, former Capital Tomas Fleischmann, that #14 skated right between all of them and then slid a pass to Stephen Weiss for a tap in. It was likely the worst single defensive play in the entire Capitals season. It is very difficult to win when you play that bad for 32 minutes, although the Capitals made this one very interesting late, something they can take some pride in.
10 days ago this game probably would have looked like those blowouts in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Buffalo, but under Hunter, the team seems to be finding some mental toughness, although clearly they aren’t all the way there yet. Alexander Ovechkin is skating his rear off but at times he is still trying to do too much himself. You can see that he wants it bad but he doesn’t know how to get the results right now. He had a golden chance to break out of his slump on the final faceoff in the last dozen seconds and send this one to extra time but his laser sailed wide of the cage.
There will be some that will say, “See, the coaching change isn’t working!” But those people are flat out wrong. This team had big work work ethic and confidence problems under Bruce Boudreau over his last three weeks behind the bench. The work ethic is back, but like I said above, it is still misguided for stretches of the game. The confidence is clearly an issue and you need look no further than Ovechkin to see that. He doesn’t have a goal in four games under Hunter and he is pressing. It is a tough cycle and the only way to dig out of that is with hard work and resolve.
On the other hand, the team can work as hard as possible and be smarter but one thing that the skaters can’t fix is their goaltending. Neuvirth was downright terrible at times in the first period and Tomas Vokoun has allowed his share of easy goals this season, too. Unless one of those guys starts stepping up and making the saves, it is going to be harder for the Capitals to regain their confidence. After Saturday night’s strong performance against the Senators I figured #30 would be ready to get on a roll on Monday but he regressed once again. Hunter and goaltending coaches Dave Prior and Olie Kolzig have to be scratching their heads right now because what looked to be a real strength is the squad’s biggest weakness right now.
So far under Hunter the Caps are a poor 1-3 but we’ve seen glimpses of what could be for Washington if they get their effort focused in the right places. They also need some quality goaltending. Caps legend Rod Langway used to say everything starts with the goaltender and it goes out from there. Right now the guys wearing the goalie pads need to step it up.
So it is on to Ottawa for Wednesday’s tilt with the Senators. Hunter correctly blamed the penalties after the contest for primarily putting the Caps behind the eight ball but what I liked was his team is starting to take on his character of working hard and not quitting. They nearly tied this game up after some putrid hockey and that shows heart.
“[the guys] showed character, and that is what winners are all about,” added Hunter in his final analysis, following the loss.
I’m thinking he’s right and that the wins will eventually start to come in bunches if they continue to work hard but play smarter.
Now where’s that can opener?
Notes: The NHL Board of Governors meeting concluded Monday night from Pebble Beach, California and there was big news on realignment for next season. The league will go to four conferences. Washington is in a conference with the following teams: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New Jersey, and Carolina. Basically it is the old Patrick Division plus the Canes. I really like this for the Caps and it should help bring those old rivalry games back to the Verizon Center. Word has it that each squad will play every team in their own division six times and they will also play every team in the league at least twice (home and away). Right now, it appears that the top four teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs with first place playing fourth place and second facing third in the first round.
John Carlson played 26:04, had eight shots on goal, was +3 and had three assists. He was the Capitals best player on this night…the Caps won the faceoff battle 33-29…Ovechkin was -2 and only got four of his nine shot attempts on net.