By Adam Vingan
Accountability: a word used so much this season in regards to the Washington Capitals that it might as well be stitched onto their jerseys, especially this week. After Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, the “comfort” that the Caps may have been feeling from starting 7-0-0 seemingly vanished after a grueling 90-minute bag skate Wednesday. Whatever message head coach Bruce Boudreau was trying to send Wednesday also seemed to work in Washington’s 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, but the message continued into the game as Alexander Semin sat on the bench for the entire third period – a period that the Caps and Devils entered tied at 1-1 – for poor play and untimely penalties.
Yet, Saturday, against the same Devils team that they handled less than 24 hours earlier, the Caps once again fell into the same traps (no pun intended) that have cost them games not just this season, but for several seasons. A 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils proved that despite a new-found sense of accountability, the Caps still lack the discipline and killer instinct that will ultimately lead them to the success that they feel that they deserve.
Saturday’s first period was the best of the young season. The Caps had nine shots on goal, played sound defense and made the Devils pay for sloppy defensive zone play. Troy Brouwer gave Washington just their sixth 1-0 lead of the season and Jason Chimera added to it later in the period to give the Caps what seemed like a comfortable 2-0 cushion.
Then, to be blunt, the bottom dropped out. The Caps mustered two shots on goal in the second period As J.P. of Japers’ Rink points out, “from the time Jersey scored their first goal to cut the lead in half until the time the Caps registered their next shot on goal, 14:18 elapsed off the clock.” Not only that, but Washington went over 20 minutes without a shot on goal (the forwards went over 30 minutes without a shot on goal). Washington had 16 shots in regulation and 11 offside calls. In fact, they had more offside calls in the third period (six) than shots on goal (five).
In predictable fashion, Semin committed the first penalty of the game – in the offensive zone on the power play, rendering his benching pointless – and his fellow stars (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) followed suit with untimely penalties throughout the game. The Caps killed off all five Devils power plays, but giving the Devils five chances to get back into the game and take the lead was uncalled for.
Friday’s win is beginning to look like a temporary aberration. The Caps are 3-4-1 in their last eight games and even fell into second place in the Southeast Division earlier this week. Washington has now blown two two-goal leads in the last week and what could and should have been two easy wins brought just one point. Much has been made about Boudreau holding his players accountable, but at what point does Boudreau hold himself accountable? While his attempt to finally “punish” his players for poor play is admirable, it’s several years too late. To his credit, the Caps responded to Boudreau’s defensive gameplan when their offense failed last season, but it’s obvious that those same players are not responding properly to the idea of accountability so far. Favoring his stars and giving them preferential treatment for almost four years has done more harm than good. The damage may be irreversible.
The Caps will continue to press on with Boudreau for the rest of the season, but unless Boudreau can find a way to finally reach his players and harness some sort of killer instinct, there won’t be a need for him behind the shortened bench because he won’t be there at all.