One game does not represent an entire NHL season.
But Washington’s 5-0 loss to Carolina Monday night was another of the growing number of nails being hammered into the coffin laying rest to the Washington Capitals – 2011-12 edition.
Make no mistake, this Washington team is taking after Monty Python’s dead parrot – it’s bereft of life, destined to rest in peace.
And to think just 24 months ago this was a team destined to transform and dominate the NHL landscape.
There are two reasons why the juggernaut Washington Capitals of 2009-10 have transformed into a Cinderella-sized pumpkin.
The Little Reason: Injuries to their core players
Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games in the 2009-10 season. In the two seasons since, Green has played just 61 regular season games total. He is the straw that stirs the Washington attack, and he’s been MIA for most of the last two seasons.
This year, the team’s number #1 centre – Nicklas Backstrom – has missed significant time due to a concussion. The drop-off in talent from Backstrom to Marcus Johansson is the equivalent of leaving Charlize Theron to date Mayim Bialik.
Other than Alex Ovechkin, these are the team’s two best, most dynamic players. Without them it’s a no brainer the Capitals have struggled more.
The Big Reason: GM George McPhee abandoned his plan
The 2009-10 Capitals were having fun tearing up the league on their way to a 121-point season. They were the “go-go” Capitals, featuring seven 20+ goal scorers.
Flash forward to today, and the Capitals will be lucky to have four 20-goal scorers.
2009-10 Capitals 20-goal scorers:
2011-12 Capitals 20-goal scorers (on pace):
Where did the offense go?
It was left in Montreal during the Spring of 2010.
That seven game loss to the Canadiens was devastating to the Capitals front office, who expected nothing less than a championship run that year.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how the Capitals lost the series after being up three-games-to-one:
1) They were a young team (younger than the team that lost to Pittsburgh the year before). Inexperienced playoff teams are extremely suspect to the whims of momentum (both positive and negative).
2) Confidence is a major factor in the success of special teams, and the Capitals just didn’t have it in their powerplay (1-for-33 in the series). This meant the Habs could take penalties without punishment.
3) Montreal employed a passive trap when they had the lead, which confounded coach Bruce Boudreau.
4) Montreal paid extra-special attention to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom defensively, challenging the rest of the Capitals to create offense.
5) Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak put on the greatest playoff goaltending performance since Patrick Roy in 1992-93, if not longer.
Given the above, the steps that had to be taken to get the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final were clear:
1) Find some playoff experience to add to the dressing room.
2) Count on better luck (Halak-esque performances don’t happen every year).
3) Support coach Boudreau in figuring out how to beat the trap.
4) Find an impact second-line centre to take the pressure off of Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Instead, General Manager George McPhee went in the opposite direction, abandoning the style of play he’d built the team on for one that put a priority on defensive accountability.
It’s been downhill ever since.
The 2010-11 Capitals racked up 107 points but their goals per game rate fell more than a full goal (-1.09). A distance emerged between the team’s run-and-gun – and best – player (Ovechkin) and its coach. Talented Tomas Fleischmann was shipped out for the blueline carcass known as Scott Hannan.
Come playoff time, Washington was swept by another trapping team, this time the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. But unlike during the Montreal series (where Washington generated scoring chances to no avail), the Capitals went meekly into the off-season, and with little offensive push back.
This past summer, GM George McPhee doubled-down on his defensive bet. He added Tomas Vokoun to play goal, and brought in Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik to bring size and grit to the team.
What none of these players do is create offense on their own.
And, for the first part of the 2011-12 season, they couldn’t stop a puck either. Vokoun got off to a poor start, and despite his team out-shooting and out-chancing the opposition, Bruce Boudreau was fired.
The hiring of Dale Hunter was the last bit of “defensive desperation” to come out of the Washington front office. As discussed last week, Hunter’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach has stifled what creativity has remained in the Capitals attack.
The transformation of this team from “go-go” to “no-go” is now complete.
Today the Washington Capitals are in a desperate fight for their playoff lives. It didn’t have to be this way.
If Capitals fans should blame anyone, it’s GM George McPhee.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]
Heading into tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the Vancouver Canucks have gone to extra-time in their last 5 games (winning 4 of them) and in 8 of their last 10 (7-1-2 record). Through it all, they’ve amassed 16 out of a possible 20 points, making them the hottest team in the Western Conference despite winning just one game in regulation over that span. That alone is something to make you go hmmm! Alas, I’ve also found a few more:
1. What happened to the forward depth? For those who argue that this year’s Canucks team is better than last year’s, they point to the depth at the forward position as the primary reason. David Booth and Cody Hodgson have bolstered the top 9, giving the Canucks four decent lines when everyone is going (paging Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen). However, the Canucks will be facing a formidable challenge if captain Henrik Sedin is out for any considerable length of time (his status was undetermined at the time of this writing). Add to that the recurring staph infection-related issues of Chris Higgins, and suddenly the Canucks are without two of their top six forwards.
This means a couple of things. Firstly, coach Alain Vigneault will once again have to use his line juggling blender to concoct some new combinations. It likely means more ice-team for rookie Cody Hodgson, which will be music to many people’s ears. And the recently-maligned and aforementioned Raymond and Hansen will have a golden opportunity to dig themselves out of their respective funks.
As of this writing, the Canucks had not called anyone up from the Chicago Wolves. But if they do, don’t expect it to be veteran Steven Reinprecht as he’ll likely get claimed through re-entry waivers. I think the Canucks should give 2009 first-round pick Jordan Schroeder a look. He is third on the Wolves in scoring and he would slot into a top-9 role with his nifty skating. He also had a decent preseason and didn’t look out of place in scoring 3 points. But then again, so did Marco Sturm.
2. Get Booth out for the shootout. With 5 of the last 7 games ending in a shootout (including the last 3) and 7 shootout games already in 2012, it’s obvious how important these points are in the ultra-tight Western Conference. Surprisingly, the Canucks have done well in the 2012 shootouts, winning four of those seven contests. Recently, Roberto Luongo has looked better in the shootout, trading in his belly-flop for a calmer, deeper-in-the-crease approach.
It’s a good thing, because he’s certainly not getting a lot of help from the Vancouver shooters. In the 2012 shootouts, the Canucks have gone 7-for-23 for a percentage of 30%. That’s not particularly good, but it’s not surprising given the career shootout stats of the Canucks. As Daniel Wagner of Pass it to Bulis pointed out earlier this week, Vancouver doesn’t have anyone close to 50% (except for Andrew Ebbett but he’s taken a total of 2 shootout attempts, scoring on one of them). Alex Burrows is at 43.8%, Maxim Lapierre is 42.9% and the rest of the players are 33% or below. In the 2012 shootouts, the 7 Canucks goals have come from Alex Edler (2-for-3), Burrows (2-for-4), Raymond (2-for-6) and Hodgson (1-for-4).
Why not try David Booth in the shootout? His career stats aren’t great (2-for-10) but he hasn’t had a chance yet this season. He’s a very quick skater and thus has the ability to at least have the goalie guessing. He’s put up seasons of 31 goals, 23 goals, and 22 goals in the past proving that he can score. And he’s played well since coming back from his injury. Plus, he can do this:
3. Tim Thomas doesn’t like Barack Obama. The Boston Bruins have won only 2 of the 6 games they’ve played since visiting the White House without goaltender Tim Thomas back on January 23rd. Granted, it’s not the largest sample size, but it certainly qualifies as a mini-slump. At the time, the Bruins tried to downplay the incident but it set off a firestorm in hockey circles. Now, Tim Thomas is at it again, this time posting on his Facebook page, “I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom” in response to Obama’s move to have all health insurance plans provide birth control to women (a plan that has Catholic hospitals, charities and schools up in arms).
This isn’t the time and place to get into the specifics of Obama’s proposal for health-care reform. However, as both a Catholic and a Canucks fan I find this whole situation quite fascinating. I’ve been a fan of Thomas for a few years now (for his playing style and not necessarily for his personal and political views), even if he was the main obstacle to the Canucks winning the Stanley Cup last June. It will be interesting to see how much his latest statement serves as a distraction to his team at a time where they need to turn their game around.
[Every week, Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@cayking).]
Last week, the Canucks split its two games. On Tuesday, the Canucks lost to the Kings in a shootout. Luongo had a huge game stopping 39 of 41 shots and was the huge factor in stealing the team one point. On the other hand, Saturday’s early matinee game, against the Sharks, was the best performance from the Canucks since beating the Boston Bruins two weeks ago in another early Saturday game. The team put together a solid 60-minute effort to win the two points.
With the All-Star break coming up, this week brings with it good and bad news. Good news: the Sedins, Hodgson and Edler will represent the Canucks in Ottawa. The bad news: Canucks Nation will have one Canucks game to watch in seven days. Before you go into withdrawal mode, look at the bright side, a week-long break will be give the boys a chance to recharge their batteries and get ready for the home stretch.
48 GP, 29-15-4, 62 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)
Welcome back, David Booth. After missing 18 games due to a knee-sprain, Booth has come back into the lineup and picked up where he left off. He has 3 points (2G-1A) in his last 3 games.
The American Express line has finally been reunited and seem to have found their chemistry again. The line, with Booth, Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins, was great, especially in the 1st period of the Sharks game.
Alex Edler is off to the All-Star game, and while some were surprised by this selection, he has actually, quietly been putting up a strong campaign. Edler has recorded at least one point in 5 of his last 7 games; he has 1 goal and 5 assists in that span. His 34 points (7G-27A) is 3rd in overall scoring on the Canucks, behind just Daniel and Henrik, and ties him for 2nd in points amongst all NHL defensemen.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012 vs. Edmonton oilers (7:00 PM start, home)
It’s a Northwest Division battle as the Canucks go against the struggling Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers sit in 14th place and have been hit hard by the injury bug. The absence of rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been greatly noticed as the Oilers have gone 2-7-1 without him in the lineup.
The Canucks have won 2 of the 3 games so far against Edmonton this season. Roberto Luongo backstopped the Canucks in both victories and will start again tonight.
It was just announced that Jordan Eberle will replace the injured Mikko Koivu at the All-Star Game, a deserved honor. In just his second season in the NHL, Eberle leads the Oilers in goals (18), assists (27) and points (45). He is currently riding a 2-game point streak and will look to extend it against the Canucks.
[Every week, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]
Since the epic win against the Bruins, the Canucks are 2-2-0 and haven’t looked like the team that rolled through much of November and December. You can even say they were lucky to win against the Lightning and Blues. In their most recent loss, against the 14th place Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks looked out of synch and were outshot and outhustled most of the night. That said, the great thing about an 82-game season is that the Canucks have every opportunity to right their wrongs and move on from these recent lackluster performances.
46 GP, 28-15-3, 59 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)
Cody Hodgson has made quite the impression by being one of the better and more consistent Canucks on the ice. Since December 11, CoHo has not gone more than 1 game without recording a point. Despite logging an average of 12:44 minutes of ice-time per game, he has 11 points (5G-6A) in his last 14 games (0.79 points/game).
Hodgson is currently tied for 4th in rookie scoring with 26 points (11G-15A) and has a plus-10 rating. Last week, he was selected to participate in the rookie All-Star weekend festivities.
Chris Higgins has been plagued with a mysterious infection twice already this season. In late December, he missed a few games due to a swollen hand, but ever since his return at the beginning of January, Higgins has struggled to find the scoresheet. In his last 7 games, Higgy has just 1 assist; prior to that, he had 6 points (2G-4A) in his previous 7 games.
Despite this setback, Higgins has recorded 10 goals and 14 assists already this season, and is on pace to exceed the 28 points he recorded all of last season. With David Booth also back in the lineup, the American Express line is back together, and hopefully, they can find the same chemistry they had before Higgy’s and Booth’s injuries, and start producing more consistently again.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 vs. Los Angles Kings (7:00 PM start, home)
Only 6 points separate the Canucks and the Kings as they meet for the third time this season. So far, both teams have won one game each in this series. In their last meeting, on New Year’s Eve, the Canucks lost 4-1 to the Kings at Staples Center.
The Kings are 3-4-2 against Northwest opponents so far this season. Both teams have a good penalty-kill; the Kings’ PK is ranked 3rd in the NHL (87.6%) and the Canucks’ PK is ranked 4th in the NHL (86.7%).
Anze Kopitar leads the Kings in goals (14), points (42) and has been their best player against the Canucks. He has 3 points (1G-2A) and a plus-2 rating in their first two meetings. He is currently on a 4-game point streak (3G-3A-6P).
Saturday January 21, 2012 vs. San Jose Sharks (1:00 PM start, home)
With another early afternoon game this Saturday, it’s the perfect time to head down to the Hog Shack for the Canucks Hockey Blog tweetup as the boys take on the dangerous San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks have had a great start to the month of January going 6-1-1 in their first 8 games. They currently lead the Pacific Division; they also sit in 3rd place in the Western Conference, just 4 points back of the Canucks, with 4 games in hand.
The Sharks have played great against the Northwest Division this season. They’ve taken points in 8 of 10 games – a 5-2-3 record – against Northwest Division opponents. This will be the last regular season meeting between the two teams this season.
In three games against the Canucks this season, Patrick Marleau leads the Sharks with 3 points (2G-1A) and about 23 minutes of ice time.
He is also tied with Joe Thornton for the team lead in scoring with 36 points (17G-19A), and is tied for the team lead with 4 powerplay goals with 3 other Sharks (Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Ryan Clowe).