In an 82-game season it usually isn’t wise to zoom in on a small fraction of contests and make large scale assessments about a team and their abilities. But the book has been written on the Capitals thus far and the next four games might be their best chance to turn around what has been a rocky season to date.
The Eastern Conference is fairly wide open and it could come down to which team gets hot at the right time. That’s certainly good for Washington since they have yet to even come close to peaking, but at the same time there is the concern that they might never actually peak.
“I don’t know what we’re waiting for,” said Mike Knuble after a 4-1 loss to the Kings on Saturday. “There’s a lot to play for-as players, as individuals, as a team. Every game is important.”
Knuble is right on the money because the Caps are not guaranteed a playoff spot at this point. They are only the sixth seed in the East and a few more losses could leave them on the outside looking by March. Buffalo and Atlanta sit eight points out of the playoff race, but the Sabres are heating up having gone 7-2-1 in their last ten games.
Both the Rangers and Capitals have struggled the past few weeks, meaning the door is open for a team like Buffalo to sneak in and knock out one of the bottom seeds. The Caps are in the midst of what is their most important five game stretch under Bruce Boudreau and one of those contests will be on national TV Sunday at the HSBC Arena against the Sabres.
Game one of this road trip against the Coyotes didn’t do much to alleviate the pressure on Washington. They haven’t been scoring all season, but three goals in the past three games has led to even more second-guessing. Watching Boudreau’s press conferences it’s becoming evident he’s running out of options and should the Capitals drop the next four games (a serious possibility), it wouldn’t be surprising to see some sort of change. And I don’t mean just on the player side of this organization.
Boudreau hasn’t done a good job instilling any stability into a tumultuous situation. He juggles lines far too often and never seems to stick with a gameplan. Obviously the goal is to win each and every night, but Boudreau’s game-by-game knee jerk reactions hurt the team over the long-term.
He hasn’t chosen a goalie yet and his line combinations are a complete mess. The team hasn’t played with enough energy in weeks and yet he said with a straight face the Caps played well in Phoenix. The game could have been much worse than the 3-2 final score as Washington couldn’t hardly muster a scoring chance in the third period after Matt Bradley pulled them within a goal.
Boudreau has been reduced to the role of encouraging the Caps to improve or else. He’s lost the ear of many key players in the locker room. If you doubt it, then explain the flat performances of late. A shakeup of some sort is needed.
I don’t like panicking with over a month and a half of season left, but when the team displays gaping holes in their lineup, skate with little urgency, and calls player-only meetings, it’s time to be worried. Knuble’s words don’t offer much of a pick-me-up either.
“It’s like we’re waiting for something to happen,” he said. “We’re waiting for something. We’re entering the toughest part of the season. It’s going to be a real indicator if we’re a serious contender or not, quite honestly. We’ve got our work cut out for us and [need to] decide if we’re serious or not.”
Those are some pretty damning words from a guy who wants to win more than anyone on this roster. While Alex Ovechkin slumps and shoots commercials, Knuble calls his team’s effort into question. Who’s wearing the “C” on his sweater again?
Something will happen if the Caps can’t pull it together on this road trip. Maybe a trade or maybe something bigger. Washington has all the reason in the world to be motivated yet they are presently a complacent bunch of individuals with no apparent desire to be the best.
A shame since they could be.