(photo by Tom Mihalek)
Some nights you’ve got it and some nights you don’t.
Well, it took all of 23 seconds Wednesday night to see that the Washington Capitals didn’t have it against the Philadelphia Flyers, who cruised to an emphatic 4-1 victory at Wells Fargo Center.
During the course of an 82-game season, games like this are bound to happen. Sometimes the energy level isn’t there thanks to back-to-back games. Or maybe the players find themselves emotionally drained after getting up for a meaningful game against a former teammate.
Whatever the case, it’s not uncommon for a team to fall flat from time to time during the course of the regular season. That being said, games like that are much tougher to write off when you’re only playing a 48-game schedule and when you’re attempting to shed the title of worst record in the entire league.
“When you give up the first goal on the first shift, that’s disappointing,” said forward Joel Ward. “I don’t know. You just have to have the will to get in there and make things happen, and it’s just a disappointing start that we got off to.”
Unfortunately for the Capitals, once they dug themselves into such a gaping hole, each and every game remaining on the books takes on a heightened importance.
“We didn’t play good at all,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “Just got outworked. It definitely seemed like we played the night before, mentally and physically just weren’t going. It looked like at least mentally, in my opinion, we weren’t executing on the plays that we have been in the past few games and that wasn’t a good effort by us.”
Flyers forward Claude Giroux scored just 23 seconds into the contest and Philadelphia lit the lamp again a few minutes later when forward Wayne Simmonds scored on the powerplay to give the home team a commanding 2-0 lead barely four minutes into the game. A game that looked completely winnable on the schedule, with the Flyers having an equally disappointing start to the 2013 season, was suddenly out of control for Washington.
“You just have to stick to the plan,” said forward Alex Ovechkin. “But maybe tired. Maybe we just don’t have that kind of jump like we have couple games. It happen. We have to forget it and just move forward.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the game was just how little momentum factored into the outcome. These two teams seemed to be headed in opposite directions, and yet, none of that mattered once the puck dropped.
In the previous seven games, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby had been phenomenal — with a 2.01 goals against average, .937 save percentage and two shutouts. Conversely, Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov would be the first to admit he’s struggled of late — with a 4.30 goals against average and .857 save percentage in his previous four outings.
“We had a terrible start,” said Caps coach Adam Oates. “First shift and then down two quick and playing against a team that needs it as bad as us. We had no answer for them.”
Now, most reasonable human beings realize that this is a transition year for the Capitals, who are still trying to learn Oates’ brand of hockey.
Sure, it’s easy to pile on a team who didn’t have the benefit of a standard NHL offseason to learn the first-time coach’s system and has struggled, at times, with adapting from the Dale Hunter era to something completely different. But most people are bright enough to see what’s going on here and have already tempered their expectations.
And then there’s Mike Milbury, the blowhard analyst for NBC Sports Network who loves nothing more than running his mouth every chance he gets. He’s like a less credible version of Stephen A. Smith or a less likeable version of Skip Bayless (if that’s even possible). Basically, he’s a troll who, for reasons unbeknownst to me, continues to be given a platform by NBC.
Milbury apparently didn’t get the memo that this ain’t the same Caps squad who used to score five or six goals a night while taking home the Presidents’ Trophy. I guess, in his mind the Capitals should still be the toast of the league and therefore, when they have their first bad game in their last eight contests, that’s cause for another diatribe.
“When you have great talent, it comes with great expectations and accountability,” Milbury said of Ovechkin during the second intermission. “If you put him up to those two standards tonight, he fails the test miserably. This is an awful display of hockey by Alex Ovechkin. He should be ashamed of himself.”
He went on to say the Caps’ captain should be embarrassed for trying to draw a penalty during the course of the game and other gems, such as “Eight-year-olds don’t do this in the offensive zone.”
Maybe I’m biased because long ago I decided nothing good comes from allowing Milbury the privilege to speak publicly. And I fully admit, had the same exact message been delivered by someone else — like, say Jeremy Roenick rather than Milbury — I’d be much more inclined to give the words some merit. But I simply can’t find it in myself to crush Ovechkin or anyone else on the Capitals for one bad outing against an equally desperate opponent.
Over the last seven games, the Caps have begun to show signs of life. They’ve begun to prove that Oates might be a solid coach with a sound system and have even begun the early stages of forming an identity — thanks to solid goaltending and a lethal powerplay.
Why on earth would any reasonable human being hyperventilate over one off night? Maybe if this performance came during the first seven games of the season, when Washington looked lost and struggled to do much of anything right, I could see getting worked up.
But this season is already lost for Washington, and yet, on most nights the team is showing signs of improvement. So for me, Milbury’s diatribe simply comes across as a pathetic failed former coach getting blue in the face as he yells and screams because it’s the only way he knows how to keep the camera pointed in his direction.
As for Ovechkin and the Caps, I’m not worried about them. It was an off night. They’ve already moved past it and have turned their attention to the next game on the schedule. Reasonable human beings will do the same.