By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, DCpuckDrop
The Washington Capitals were in command of Thursday night’s matchup against the Florida Panthers inside an emotional BB&T Center in Sunshine, Florida. However, with less than four minutes left to play, they went from getting two solid points to getting at least one point to ending up with nothing to show for an evening’s work. Why? Extending a common trend this term, the Caps failed to play to their strengths for the entire 60 minutes of a hockey game. This particular 40-minute performance ended with a 3-2 loss for the Caps in a game they dominated.
The Capitals’ ‘Drastic’ Period
In the excellent Capitals Extra podcast today, analyst Alan May put it this way: “You look at how they’re losing these games, and it’s usually one drastic period a game.” May is correct, and on Thursday, the ‘drastic’ period was the third. On Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the ‘drastic’ period was the first; against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 11, it was the second period; against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 13, it was the third period; and so it goes on. There have been few exceptions – other than when the Caps play bad enough to create three ‘drastic’ periods like the 8-2 drilling by the Flyers earlier in the season and the 7-1 mess against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 17. Whatever the reasons, it’s hard to imagine the Capitals going deep into the postseason if they continue to show up for only two thirds of every game.
Caps Frustrated By ‘Irreconcilable Differences’
Following a heartbreaking pregame tribute to the 17 souls lost in the senseless Valentines Day massacre in Parkland, Florida (Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is only 13 miles from the arena) the Panthers were the first to score. Once again, the Capitals failed to score first in a game; this has happened countless times this season. This time, unlike in recent matchups, goaltender Braden Holtby was not at fault. In fact, he was not at fault for any of the goals in this game, and he turned in his best performance in a couple of weeks. That’s what is so frustrating about this Washington Capitals team – when one part of the team plays well, other parts don’t. It’s almost as if the whole team needs to partake in counselling sessions to iron out their seemingly irreconcilable differences.
Holtby has now lost five straight starts for the first time in his career, but he had a great game in Florida and kept his team in the contest by pulling off spectacular saves in all three periods. In his four games prior to last night, Holtby admitted culpability for a couple of his team’s recent disappointing performances – which was a noble gesture given that his teammates were often guilty of leaving their netminder out to dry, especially in the embarrassing unraveling against the Blackhawks.
The Caps’ loss against the Panthers, however, partly came down to an error in judgement from forward Lars Eller. Maybe Eller was thinking that the officials had let so many calls fall by the wayside, they wouldn’t notice him picking Nick Bjugstad and taking him down with only 42 seconds left in the game and the score sitting at 2-2. But, an interference penalty was the result, and the Panthers capitalized on the ensuing power play by scoring with less than 19 seconds left. However, it was by no means Eller’s fault that the game ended in a Caps’ loss; there was a massive breakdown, team-wide, during the final five minutes.
Oshie Out of Sorts
There are many questions that need answering regarding the inconsistent Caps including what has happened to T.J. Oshie? Since returning from a concussion-related absence in December, Oshie has now gone a string of 27 games without producing much offense and only two goals. Before the questionable hit by the Sharks’ Joe Thornton on Oshie on Dec. 4, Oshie had registered 10 goals and a ton of assists. It’s obvious to some, including May, that something is amiss with the forward who put away 30 goals last season. Here is what May said in the Capitals Extra podcast:
“He’s not healthy; there’s no way that anyone can tell me that he’s right since he came back from that concussion…he doesn’t have his legs under him yet; he’s making plays that are uncharacteristic of him.”
The Caps’ current problems, however, are related to a lot more than just one forward having a difficult time readjusting since a blow to the head. Other forwards are under-producing, the defense is failing to clear the puck, the backcheck has been on an extended vacation, the Caps rarely out-shoot their opponents, the shots are way down, and the giveaways are through the roof. All of that has combined to make this season an up-and-down mess.
What’s Next For The Caps?
So, what is the solution for the Capitals? It comes down to chemistry and staying power, neither of which are currently in abundance in Washington. Perhaps it’s time to switch up the lines again; shake things up and promote a player or two up one line; maybe the addition of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek to the blue line will help. Kempny was adequate in his Caps debut, but he looked a little out of sorts playing on the right side of his pairing with Brooks Orpik – since he’s played left his entire career. I’m not sure of the logic behind starting an already adjusting Kempny on his weaker side.
Whatever the remedy, the Capitals are now in danger of losing it all unless they right the ship soon. The team has 75 points with 21 games left to play in the regular season, while the pack chasing a wild card playoff spot have only 10 points less than the Caps. A losing streak for the Caps coupled with a winning streak for the Islanders or Blue Jackets is all it would take for Washington to sit out the postseason.
It’s time for every single Washington Capitals player to put in consistent 60-minute performances.