WASHINGTON, D.C. -- I warned you it was coming and the inevitable is here. The Washington Capitals are falling back to earth.
After an unbelievable run from New Year’s Eve until their bye on February 11, the Capitals are now 5-6-1 and on a four game losing streak. The losing streak resulted in a closed door team meeting following the loss to Anaheim on Sunday night.
Following the meeting, Brooks Orpik told the Capitals media contingent, "We make hockey our first priority and focus a little better than we did on this trip. We don’t need to elaborate."
Things are not all rosy for the Capitals. I am not 100% sure what transpired on the roadtrip, but from Orpik’s quote you can surmise that a veteran team was not acting how they should. Some may have an issue with this and some may brush it off, but when it draws the ire of a locker room leader it has my attention.
John Carlson, one of the many Capitals who has struggled in the last 12 games, might have summed up the current situation the best.
He said, "Everyone’s got to get it figured out, me included, for sure, and I think the only good thing is that there’s been parts of our game where you can tell we’re laying it on the line, we’re trying to do the right things. Maybe we do deserve a little better, but it doesn’t really matter at this point. I truly believe you’re going to get slapped in the face a lot throughout the year, and you can pout about it or get over it and get better."
The Puck Will Go In Again
During the Capitals twenty-two games stretch from New Year’s Eve to their bye on February 11 it seemed like everything the Capitals put on net was going in. In fact, the team shooting percentage during this run was 16.4%, way above the league average which is around 9.5%. The team shooting percentage for the season is around 10.8%, still solidly above the league average.
The post bye week blues have the Capitals holding their sticks too tight. Over the last twelve games, the team has failed to score more than 2 goals ten times. The team shooting percentage during this stretch has plummeted to 7.4%.
As I mentioned in my last post the Capitals weren’t as good as their unbelievable stretch run. They also definitely aren’t as bad the current stretch either. So to calm Capitals fans down -- things will improve, the puck will start to go in the net, but don’t expect that six week stretch of hockey again anytime soon.
Before the NHL trade deadline, General Manager Brian MacLellan went bold and acquired Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues. At the price it cost the Capitals it wasn’t a bad acquisition but as I tweeted before the deadline Shattenkirk was not high on my list.
The Capitals have John Carlson and Matt Niskanen on their roster -- two right handed D that are more than capable of manning the power play unit, which is what Shattenkirk is best at. So by adding him you are going to take away from their ice time and limit their time on ice.
This may help the Capitals in the long run by keeping Niskanen and Carlson fresher as the season winds down but I am not sure that matters.
The main reason the acquisition didn’t work for me is it wasn’t the main need for the Capitals. Did they need a defenseman? Yes, but someone like Oduya better fit the profile. The Capitals main need was a top six forward that could score goals at even strength. As mentioned, the Capitals have failed to score more than two goals in ten of their last twelve games. A goal scorer would come in pretty handy about now, wouldn’t it?
Down the Stretch They Come
The Capitals have fourteen games remaining and the next five are a bear. They face current playoff teams in Minnesota, Nashville, Calgary, and Columbus as well as a Tampa Bay squad who is fighting for its playoff life.
The battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division will likely come down to the last few games of the regular season. If the Capitals want to have an easier matchup in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they will fight through this adversity and treat the last fourteen games like they are already in the playoffs.
Last But Definitely Not Least
What is wrong with him? What to do with him?
Ovechkin has not scored a goal in 10 games. He has not scored an even-strength goal in 18 games.
He is on pace to finish with 32 goals. That will be his lowest goal total over an 82 game season since the 2010-11 season. His shooting percentage is 1.6% below his career average and his total shots for the season will likely come in close to 100 below what you’d expect.
Is he hurt? Maybe. But if he is why not sit him and let him heal.
When you watch him play the game, that youthful exuberance and passion for the game of hockey he always had doesn’t appear to be there anymore. Hopefully over the last fourteen games of the regular season and in the playoffs he can dig deep and find it. There aren’t many things better in the game of hockey than Ovi’s toothless smile on the bench after he scores a big goal.
What happens if he can’t find it down the stretch and the Capitals fail to achieve their ultimate goal?
Remember MacLellan gave this Capitals team a two year window and the second year is coming to an end. If Mac wants to field the most competitive team moving beyond this season does he consider moving perhaps the greatest goal scorer to ever play the game to revamp his roster this summer?
Patrick Greissing is the Washington Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.