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
[Every week, Clayton Imoo sits down and talks hockey with a CHB follower and fellow fan. If you're interested in being featured in "Shooting from the Hip", send us a tweet at @canuckshockey or @CanuckClay.]
Born and raised in glorious Vancouver, BC, Lindsay (@causticchick) grew up in a household where being a Canucks fan was only a casual affair. She’s always considered herself a fan, with her love for the team growing especially in the early ’90s leading up to the 1994 cup run, but her true devotion reached a fever pitch in the last five years, mostly due to her involvement in the amazing Canucks community on Twitter. Now she’s gone from casual fan to diehard, and is inconsolable if she has to miss a game, especially if the Calgary Flames are the opposing team. Who doesn’t love to hate the Flames?
When she’s not cheering on the best team in the league, you can usually find Lindsay lounging in her Thuggie, taking pictures and pretending to know something about photography, blogging, studying, tweeting, or making coffee for the good people of Vancouver.
1. Where did the Twitter handle @causticchick come from?
I wish it was Canucks-related, or even a good story, but it’s not. In fact, it’s actually pretty embarrassing. The gist is that I’m a huge dork and, since my presence on the vast interwebs is dense and far-reaching, it was easier just to keep using the name that I’ve been using for five years. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I wrote a blog post about it last year that you can check out here. Feel free to mock and snigger.
2. Henrik on the wing to Daniel down low and back to Henrik. Henrik to the point to Edler. Edler fakes and to the other point to Shea Weber. Kinda has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? What would it take to make this happen in real life?
Sitting at The Five Point on Main Street with some great Canucks fans last week, we threw this topic around. It’s not a secret that the Canucks defence needs a little work; it’s frustrating seeing Luongo taking so much flack from fans and media for having little or no support in his end when the going gets tough. You don’t have to be on the Luongo bandwagon to see that building defence needs to be a priority for this team, especially coming up on the trade deadline. And when our defencemen drop like flies and we have to call the farm, anybody can see that depth at the blue line is what we need.
Ignoring cap rules, because I’m not knowledgeable enough in that area to pretend that I know what I’m talking about, and the fact that he’s a winger, give Raymond to the Preds, but mostly because I’d rather lose him with the way he’s been playing than somebody like Ballard. Ballard’s not the most consistent d-man, but when he’s on, he’s on, and I think he’s proven himself an asset when he’s given the chance. And those sexy hip-checks are nothing to sneeze at! In reality, though, either of them could be up. With Ballard making so much money, trading him could free up cap space to allow somebody like Weber to skate for the Canucks.
But, obviously, what it REALLY comes down to is the hotness factor. Trading Raymond for Weber would up the factor by a million, because MayRay looks twelve and Weber looks amazing with a playoff beard.
3. With the Sedins and Edler on Team Alfredsson going against Team Chara, there were a lot of intriguing plot lines this All-Star weekend: Canucks vs. Bruins, Senators vs. Leafs, all the Swedes on one team, etc. Of all the All-Star festivities, what aspect did you enjoy or were you most interested in?
If you followed me on Twitter on Sunday, you’ll know that I have a certain disdain for the All Star Weekend. While the thought of seeing all these elite players together on the ice at the same time is intriguing, in reality it’s not as impressive with the All Star playing style. I want to see them go balls-to-the-wall, crazy hits and fights, real hustle – you know, actual hockey. The amazing range of skill is lost on the airy-fairy pseudo-hockey that is the All Star Game.
No matter what rivalries there are within the NHL, they’re moot at the All Star level, at least when it comes to the players. I’m sure they could care less about whether they’re there or not, let alone what team they end up on. It’s clear that the teams are chosen to pander to the audience. As @misst0pia said on Twitter, in response to my tweet about Team Chara being totally random, “It’s sort of weird, like they crammed all of the Habs, Leafs, and Bruins onto one team so Ottawa didn’t have to cheer for them.” I think this is spot on. There’s really nothing wrong with any of it, of course, because the All-Star Game is, ultimately, about the fans. It’s important to remember not to take things too seriously, hence my endless mocking of the whole ordeal.
I missed the skills competition because of work, which is a shame because I would have loved to see it. The fancy skating and trick shots are always fun to see and it really showcases some of the skills that make these players so great.
My favourite moment of the game was Hartnell scoring for Team Alfredsson in the first, assisted by both Sedins. “The Sedin triplets score a goal,” quipped a mic’d Hartnell. “Suck it, Phaneuf!” Sometimes I wish players were mic’d during regular games. Can you imagine hearing Lapierre chirp the opposing bench for an entire game? Endlessly entertaining.
When all’s said and done, one thing’s for sure: I could go without hearing The Whip by Locksley for the rest of my life. It seems like the NHL has a boner for that goal song. Also, the post should have gotten first star. There were more pings than the Monty Python Ping Machine.
4. At the All-Star break, which Canucks have exceeded your expectations and which have been most disappointing?
At the beginning of the season, I drafted Cody Hodgson to my fantasy team during an auto-draft situation and I was laughed at by the entire pool. Though I wasn’t entirely convinced by his play last season, I stuck with him, and he’s been one of the best producers of points for Team Gingerbangs and the Canucks. He’s shown that he’s ready to play in the big leagues, being picked as a rookie for Team Chara at the All Star Game, and earning points left and right for the Canucks. He’s developing into a solid player, and that’s a good investment for the Canucks in the long run.
Disappointing? Mason Raymond, as evidenced by his play in the last game before the All Star break against the Oilers. Countless dropped passes, losing his edge and falling down, not being able to skate in a straight line…you can just call him Mason “Hit The Post” Raymond. He’s not producing the way I want him to, the way the Canucks want him to and, probably, the way HE wants him to. MayRay’s got a lot to prove before the trade deadline, because if the organization were to make a move I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the block. The spin-a-ma-jig in the shoot out can only carry him so far.
To quote @C_Forrest: “The MayRay Hattrick. Open net, missed shot, fall down.”
5. Why should people follow you on Twitter? What can new followers expect?
It’s a personal account, so you really can’t expect anything in particular. I’m inappropriate more often than not, sometimes shocking, sometimes emo, all the time craving poutine. I just tweet A LOT, and you should be prepared for that. Mostly, though, I love talking to people, and meeting those people in real life. The Vancouver Twitter scene puts the social in social media, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.