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heading down the stretch, caps still lack consistency

(photo by Paul Bereswill)

The Washington Capitals were just nine seconds away from being .500 for the first time this season … and inexplicably let it slip away in heartbreaking fashion.

Roughly 24 hours after rallying to steal two points from the Buffalo Sabres by tying the game in the final minute and then earning a 4-3 shootout victory, the Caps allowed the script to be flipped by blowing a two-goal, third-period lead — punctuated with a game-tying goal by Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen with 9.5 seconds to play — and then blowing it in overtime, 5-4.

Had Washington lasted just 10 more seconds, everything would be great in our nation’s capital on a dreary Monday morning as the Capitals head into April. But because nothing is ever easy with this team, the Caps played just well enough over the weekend to get everyone’s hopes up and then imploded in spectacular fashion.

“We got a point there, but we obviously want two there,” said coach Adam Oates. “We let it get away.”

What happens next, boys and girls, is anyone’s guess. That’s because, with just 13 games remaining on the schedule, the Capitals have had a losing record every single day of the 2013 season. And yet, they still remain only one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Realistically, this isn’t a playoff-caliber team. Not this season, at least. But they’ve still almost managed to back their way into the postseason without actually playing anything close to a consistent brand of hockey. That’s how watered down the playoff hunt is this season.

Despite scoring two powerplay goals in a 26-second span to take a commanding 4-2 lead against an injury-riddled Flyers squad, the Capitals squandered a chance to enter the final month of the season with momentum.

Now the Caps have one game left to play before the NHL’s trade deadline. Should they be buyers or sellers? Is there a move or two to be made to bolster this roster and get them over the hump? Or should general manager George McPhee realize that this team, as presently constructed, is incapable of winning the Stanley Cup and trade away any players that don’t fit Oates’ brand of hockey?

Well, regardless of what the franchise should do, it’s a safe bet GMGM won’t admit defeat and start dumping overpaid/under-performing players. With the exception of “The Plan,” McPhee has never really been inclined to sell at the deadline.

Typically, he’s very aggressive this time of year — willing to rent a veteran player or two for the stretch run rather than deal away talent from his own organization. He’s always been able to convince himself (and the rest of this hockey-loving town) that his team is only a piece or two away from greatness and acts accordingly this time of year.

That’s why I still believe the chances of free-agent-to-be Mike Ribeiro being dealt this week are slim. McPhee sees the Capitals as a playoff team. He has to. And he obviously knows that guys like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green aren’t getting any younger, so he’s going to continue to operate with a sense of urgency.

So don’t think for a second that McPhee is magically going to have a change of heart this time around and start sending players like Ribeiro elsewhere, when it’s ultimately his job on the line. There’s no real reason to believe GMGM is on the hot seat — especially when owner Ted Leonsis continues to employ Ernie Grunfeld to run his inept basketball franchise — but that doesn’t mean McPhee is eager to admit how flawed this team is.

Basically what I’m trying to say is, anyone waiting for the Capitals to make a flurry of moves between now and Wednesday’s deadline is likely to be as disappointed as any hockey fan waiting for this franchise to turn the corner in 2013.

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2 Responses

  1. I will just say a few things. You are taught to play until the whistle blows, right? Ovechkin and Ribeiro played out of their minds yesterday. When we took the 4-2 lead, I think the Caps got slightly complacent. No more hard work in the zone to clear it. No more break out plays. Then, Giroux scored the 3rd goal. We all saw that coming. His stupidity caused the Ovechkin goal that made Giroux throw his stick and bury his face in his hands on the ice. BUT THEN…..In my opinion, the linesman lets philly get away with murder when it comes to an icing call. Does that matter? Slightly, but whats the simple solution? With less than one minute left in a game that is crucial to the standings, the Caps are forces to send their tired line back to their own zone for a faceoff. Coaching calls a time out just to give them a 30 second breather, and give out possible strategies for the remaining seconds in the game. Faceoff happens, Caps try to clear, Caps fail. Philly made it seem like it was 6 on 3 out there. Worst of all, our tired squad stays on the ice and simply stands there in attempt to bloc a shot or pass. When in history has this worked for us? I hate to sound bad, but best thing to do there is take a penalty to not only give the guys more rest, but get FRESH LEGS out there. I would take 6 on 4 with 4 fresh skaters over 6 on 5 with 5 tired/semi-useless skaters any day.
    But, back to fighting for that hopeful 8th seed in the NHL season that will forever had an asterisk next to it…..

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