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February 9, 2013 | 2:54pm ET
Capitals need a wake-up call
 Alex Ovechkin needs to lead the charge in Washington if the Caps want to make up any ground this season.

NEW YORK, NY -- It's difficult to gauge where a team will be standing come the final puck drop of the regular season, but through the first month of the 2013 campaign, a few teams have separated themselves from the pack.

And with time running short, the window for improvement is closing quickly.

The Washington Capitals have been grabbing negative headlines and pieces about firing first-year head coach Adam Oates, thus far.

Through 11 games, the Capitals have managed a meager five points leaving them in sole possession of last place in the NHL. Things can change quickly of course with a few more quick wins and back-to-back losses by one of the several teams standing ahead of them, but with the way the team had played its beginning to seem unlikely.

Alex Ovechkin, once promoted as a rival to Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, and the face of a resurgent Capitals team that seemed to be able to score at will, has struggled on the ice and even earned himself the prestigious linemates of Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle. An experiment that well, didn't work, because he was playing with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb.

The team has struggled so far and seems to fall apart when they play shifts to their end.

"We can't start leaking oil," Oates said after a morning practice following to team's 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh last week.

"That's part of being a pro. You have to fight through that and you have to learn from that."

A look at some statistics provides another trouble look at the team has performed through the first 11 games.

Currently, Washington ranks third in five on five shooting percentage. The statistic is not incredibly indicative of team success and shows that perhaps a little bit more luck could be a reason that the Capitals have even managed two wins so far. Several guys are outperforming their career shooting percentage by leaps and bounds.

Of course you can't measure heart with statistics but you can measure it with a piece of string and a ruler. You can, however, use statistics to help measure a team's on-ice performance.

It does work both ways with the Capitals towards the bottom of the league in even strength shooting percentage against. That does have a large amount to do the team's wretched goaltending thus far.

When the team shipped Semyon Varlamov west to Colorado, the emergence of Michael Neuvirth helped make that decision a little easier for GM George McPhee. And as a bonus, Brayden Holtby emerged to play an incredible playoff series against the powerhouse Boston Bruins and a New York Ranger team they eventually would fall to.

Both young netminders have played some forgettable hockey, capped off with the quick hook of Neuvirth in the 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh.

Several members of the organization have blamed the overall lack of discipline for the slow start, which is usually an easy thing to do because it's quite fixable and something that needs to trickle down through the organization. Blaming a problem that can be easily corrected is a nice way to mask larger problems with the roster.

"The issue with our club right now is all of these penalties we're taking... it's too hard on the goaltenders and it's too hard on the team," McPhee explained to the media after practice.

"I don't think it's system related or anything. I think it's just a lack of discipline."

The Capitals have the fourth-worst five-on-five goals for/goals-against ratio in the NHL. The problems are deeper than taking too many penalties. They sit at the bottom with the likes of Columbus and Florida, two teams that have also struggled mightily this season.

McPhee has said at this point he will not blow the team up, which granted has not stopped the whirlwind of trade rumors that have circled the club. They have been associated with Roberto Luongo in the early weeks of the season and some have advocated trading Ovechkin.

Ovechkin carries a cap hit of slightly over $9.5 million and is signed through the 2020-21 season. He will be playing in the nation's capital for the foreseeable future unless Paul Holmgren gets bored or the CBA just randomly radically changes.

Instead, a few things will need to go the way of the Capitals for them to right the ship. They need to suffocate teams into giving up more chances by possessing the puck significantly more. They need to take a lot more shots on goal, especially Ovechkin, who needs to put himself into position to receive the puck to take shots. And they need a little luck to go their way.

And while McPhee assured the media the other day that he won't blow the team up, if they continue to struggled it might be time to take the team in another direction.

Of course they have a lot of hockey to play before that bridge needs to be crossed. This could just be a situation of a team learning a new system, although Washington brass has assured the media and fans that the team learned the system stunningly fast.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.



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