There were high expectations coming into Monday night’s game against the Calgary Flames (12-8-0), but the Washington Capitals (11-10-1) failed again to produce two decent games in succession.
By Glynn Cosker
DCpuckDrop Managing Editor
In what is turning into one of the NHL’s biggest unsolved mysteries this season, the Washington Capitals did another ‘180’ Monday night and turned any positive vibes they took from their impressive outing versus the Minnesota Wild and turned them into mutterings of discontent. The Capitals looked sluggish, clumsy and unfocused in a haphazard 4-1 thrashing by the Calgary Flames. Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau tallied a goal and an assist to extend his current career-best points streak to 10 games.
The Capitals gave up too many penalties (five of them), gave the puck away too often, were left puck-watching on numerous occasions, and were out-shot 39-30 on a night that must have left Caps fans, coaching staff and backroom bigwigs all scratching their heads.
The evening started out promising enough for the Capitals when Lars Eller scored after just 62 seconds from a dandy Jakub Vrana pass. However, that was before the Flames’ goalie Mike Smith had fully warmed up – because it was all Calgary from that point onward. Smith went on to be first star of the game with 29 saves.
‘Johnny Hockey’ Has A Good Game
Gaudreau’s goal came at 4:49 in the first period to tie the game at one goal apiece. Nicknamed “Johnny Hockey,” he and line-mate Sean Monahan were the best two players on the ice. Monahan scored a power-play goal at 5:22 into the second period – assisted by Gaudreau; a power-play goal by Mikael Backlund with just over four minutes played in the third made the score 3-1 to the Flames, and a fourth goal went in to seal Washington’s fate when Calgary’s captain Mark Giordano scored at 6:39 to bring up the 4-1 scoreline.
What Happened To The Capitals’ Never-Give-Up Style Of Play?
All in all, it was another disastrous performance by the Capitals. This season is proving to be one of the most frustrating in recent memory.
In previous years, the Capitals have gone on extended win streaks, put up some huge scores, recorded a slew of shutouts, lost some close games (but received A+ for effort in them), been number one on the power-play charts, and they’ve always displayed a never-give-up mentality. All of that is missing this term, and it’s hard to come up with any reasons why.
The Defensemen Who Left Washington
One could point the team turning over six talented players during the offseason, and there is a lot of validity to that argument. Blue-liners Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt (who all moved on from Washington) turned the puck over a lot less than their replacements Madison Bowey, Taylor Chorney, and Christian Djoos. That is not to disparage Bowey, Chorney and Djoos – it’s merely an analyst attempting to find some sense to apply to a team that is so up and down; so hit or miss.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 21, 2017
The Forwards Who Left Washington
One might also compare last-season’s forwards Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik to their replacements: Devante Smith-Pelly, Jakub Vrana and Alex Chiasson (Chandler Stephenson wouldn’t be on the ice if Andre Burakovsky was healthy).
There is no comparison, however. Johansson, Williams and Winnik have combined for 2,346 games played, 459 goals and 765 assists. Vrana, Smith-Pelly and Chiasson have combined for 668 games played, 94 goals and 111 assists.
The Buck Stops With The Core Talent
However, along with all the changes to the team, there is a core set of high-paid talent that hasn’t gone anywhere, and those are the players who should consistently step up and produce the goods to balance all the newness within the club. They have not stepped up. They did in the first five games of the season, but not since that point. The game-to-game focus and killer instinct has been sporadic from the top-two lines.
For instance, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie each had one shot on goal and each of them ended the night with a minus-1 plus/minus rating against the Flames. That said, this was actually an anomaly for Oshie, as he has turned in some great games and rarely gives up. But, Kuznetsov is starting to appear reminiscent of the Capitals’ old friend, Alexander Semin – another extremely talented Russian who (for whatever reason) simply phoned in his performances on many occasions. It’s time for Kuznetsov to start playing with the same passion he exuded last season.
Barry Trotz Must Make Some Difficult Decisions
So, what does Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz do at this point? He scratched Vrana last week; he should look to scratch one or two other forwards. Vrana is by no means the only player on the team worthy of a healthy scratch status. Trotz could make a weak statement by benching Smith-Pelly, Chiasson, or Brett Connolly – or he could make a bold statement and take a player like Kuznetsov out.
Whatever Trotz does, he needs to do it soon because the writing is slowly getting etched onto the wall, and hockey clubs don’t fire players, they fire coaches.
What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below.