After the Caps beat the Calgary Flames last Tuesday, one of the weaker teams in the league, for their fourth straight victory, I wrote that we’d really find out how far the Caps have progressed under Dale Hunter when they went to California to face the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, two of the better teams in the Western Conference.
Well after a 5-2 loss at HP Pavilion the Capitals followed that up with a dud at the Staples Center losing to the Kings by the same score. To top it off, Washington played both games without center Nicklas Backstrom, who is out as a result of Rene Bourque’s cheap shot hit to #19’s head, and lost defensemen to Mike Green to injury (groin) again on Saturday night. Without Backstrom, arguably the Capitals MVP this season, the hole up the middle of the ice is rather large as Washington still doesn’t have a true second line center. Both the Sharks and Kings exploited that issue as well as took advantage of Caps defensive miscues.
Heading out on the road the Caps had hoped to get off to better starts because that had been something that worked well for them at home in their recent four game winning streak. Believe it or not, Washington started strong in San Jose on Saturday playing a scoreless period and they managed to strike just under two minutes into the game in Los Angeles (Marcus Johansson on a two on one break). But after a solid first five minutes, Darryl Sutter’s Kings took over and when Brooks Laich made a horrible turnover with just 33 ticks left in period one to give Anze Kopitar an easy goal, Los Angeles rolled from there.
Alexander Ovechkin had a seven game point scoring streak before this trip commenced. His numbers in the two road games: 0 goals and 0 assists with a -4 rating. The Gr8 tried to be physical against Los Angeles but defensemen Drew Doughty and his teammates didn’t give him much room. The Capitals won’t win many games when Ovechkin has those kinds of numbers.
So the loss in game number 40 drops the Caps to 10th place in the Eastern Conference at 21-17-2 (44 points). Simply put, this team looks good at home but has been terrible on the road. Sure the injury to Backstrom really hurt them, but other guys needed to step up and didn’t. It’s becoming pretty clear that General Manager George McPhee needs to make a move to add a center and perhaps another winger, because his club is too inconsistent as currently configured. The NHL trade deadline is February 27th, right now it can’t come soon enough, because this squad regressed against good teams on the left coast and needs some personnel changes if they want to do something good this spring.