(photo by Brian Murphy)
After the Washington Capitals picked up their first win of the season over the weekend, an amusing statistic made the rounds that stated the team is a perfect 9-0 when defenseman John Erskine scores a goal.
It’s a lighthearted stats since, for his career, the 10-year pro converts on less than four percent of his shots and averages a goal roughly once every 35 shots he takes.
Because Erskine will never be confused for an offensive-minded defense and he’s more than happy staying home while letting his teammates jump up in the play, any time he lights the lamp it’s simply viewed as a bonus.
The same, of course, cannot be said about forward Alex Ovechkin.
Since the moment he came to Washington, Ovechkin has been this franchise’s most important player.
He’s the captain. He’s the face of the franchise. He’s the team’s highest paid player.
For seven years, the Capitals have lived and died with Ovi.
Unfortunately, since the beginning of last season, Ovechkin hasn’t really been Ovechkin.
Sure, he has nights when he shows flashes of his reign as the league’s most lethal player, but it’s crystal clear to anyone watching the Caps these days that the 27-year-old is a shell of his former self.
In related news, the Capitals are undefeated this season when Ovechkin — like Erskine — scores a goal. That’s the good news.
The bad news is Ovechkin has scored just once in six games this season and the team is a pitiful 1-4-1. While it’s still early, only the Florida Panthers have less points than Washington at this point of the lockout-shortened season and there’s little reason to believe that’s going to change anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong, Ovechkin isn’t the only player who has had a rough start to the 2013 season.
Center Nicklas Backstrom, who suffered a neck injury after taking a scary hit while playing overseas during the lockout, has rarely made his presence felt during the first six games of the season. Whether it’s a fluke or not, defenseman John Carlson is seemingly on the ice every single time an opponent scores a goal. And goalie Braden Holtby lasted just two games as the starting goalie before being benched for ineffective play.
But this is Ovechkin’s team, so while there’s plenty of blame to go around as the Capitals are mired in mediocrity, he’s the guy who needs to be Washington’s best player every single time he takes the ice.
The Capitals are on their third coach in three seasons. They’re running their third system in three years. They’ve even swapped out the bottom third of the roster in trying to find the right mix of complementary players to mesh with the top-tier talent.
And yet, the Caps continue to get worse; not better.
With so much change everywhere else in the organization, it’s becoming increasing clear there are only two possible people left to shoulder the blame — general manager George McPhee and Ovechkin.
How many more coaches, systems and role players need to come and go before people accept the fact that the glory days of the artists formerly known as the “Young Guns” has come and gone?
The minute the guys in the locker room tuned out former coach Bruce Boudreau, it started a chain reaction that has seen the franchise rapidly decline from the most exciting team in hockey to irrelevant almost overnight. McPhee was left with no choice but to relieve the most successful coach in franchise history and little has gone right since.
The Dale Hunter era was painfully bland for everyone involved and couldn’t end soon enough. Now, first-year coach Adam Oates is trying to teach a brand-new system on the fly to a roster full of players who may or may not have arrived in hockey shape.
Winning the mediocre Southeast Division and/or making the playoffs this season would have been difficult without the added challenge of the lockout. With those added distractions and the declining production of the team’s most pivotal player though, this season could be a tough one to watch for Caps fans.
Considering the fact that Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld remains employed by owner Ted Leonsis even though his putrid basketball team has gone just 295-470 since he was hired back in ’03, it’s safe to say GMGM isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And it’s probably an equally safe bet the Caps aren’t going to be willing or able to unload Ovechkin anytime soon either.
So unless Ovechkin, who has nine years and roughly $88 million remaining on his contract, regains his mojo and starts playing like the Russian Machine of old, it appears as if the window has closed on the “Rock the Red” era Washington Capitals.
That’s not an enjoyable thought to have to consider only six games into a season — especially when it looked for so long like there wasn’t even going to be any hockey to be played this year — but this has been coming for a lot longer than the last two weeks.
For the record, I take no joy in being the bearer of bad news. I’ve just reached a point with Ovechkin and the Capitals were it’s nearly impossible for me to believe anymore than the player or the franchise is going to flip some magic switch and magically be competitive once again.
January 30, 2013 at 8:52 am
As much as I hate to admit it, I believe your assessment is not off base.
My lady said to me last night, “I think Oates will be McPhee’s last coach.” I hope she’s right. He drafts some decent talent, but so many of his picks have not panned out as well or were utter mistakes.
Of the players we see night in and night out who actually appear to care enough to work, none of them are so-called “top tier” talent. Is it necessary to build a team consisting entirely of grinders? Maybe not, but it’s obvious that the highest paid players on this roster are not doing their jobs the way they should.
I think that if after the end of the 2013-14 season the Caps are still at the level at which they’re currently playing (showing up for only part of the game, one-and-done in the post season), McPhee should go and this team should be rebuilt differently by whomever is cursed with the GM job. It will take years for the Caps to become competitive enough to make a dent in the league, but something must change in their culture.
Hey, if nothing else at least the ticket prices will drop!
January 30, 2013 at 9:56 am
As I read this, I think of how skeptical I was that a deal was made and a Half season was the result. Then I think of the excitement of going to Opening night, and being part of the crowd again. An excitement that soon turned in to the 1-4-1 team we speak of today. I am doing my best to think of how hard it must be for the team to adjust to everything. A new coach, a new system, half of them played in a different country, the other half decided to go on a drinking binge causing tremendous hair growth on both their head and face (maybe just Green). So what is the problem?
I remember back when I first got season tickets. Ron Wilson was coaching, Peter Bondra was sniping, Adam Oates was…..assisting, and Kolzig remained a beast in the net. Then, one year, things seemed off. I went downtown to watch my team play against the Ottawa Senators (the very team we played last night). The puck dropped, skates cut the ice, stick slashed and shot…..and the night ended in disappointment. A disappointment that forever haunts myself and several other fans. Our beloved team lost the game. And as fans got on metro, drove home, went out to a bar, or did whatever they usually do after a game, we were hit while we were down. Peter Bondra, behind a mic, in tears. Explaining to fans how much he loves them, how much he loves the team, and how he is going to Ottawa because he has been traded. So marks a turning point of our 1 year rebuild. I mean 5 year rebuild. I mean 10 year rebuild. What year is it now?
I’ve seen players come and go. Coaches come and go. Ticket prices go up, and up…..and up. What have I not seen? A Third round in the playoffs, which in turn would also mean a Stanley Cup. So, if players and coaches dont seem to be the issue, now where should we look?
GMGM? Could the blame fall on him now? He has brought us amazing players such as the Young Guns though. Ovechkin who seems to be in a rut. Backstrom who seems to be frustrated. Semin, well, admit it. We kind of wish he was still on the team. And Casey Siemaszko. Oops sorry, Mike Green. Now look up the Casey name and you will find a character from the movie Young Guns that Mike Green wishes he was. Good news there is, Mike green is holding on to the past. Maybe he will become the offensive minded defensenman we once loved. Or the pressures of professional sports may weigh his shoulders down yet again….in his 8th season as a pro.
I got to catch the tail end of the game last night. Some very nice plays were going on. Great passing at times. Unfortunately, a bogus high sticking call ended the game for us, after Laughlin jinxed the whole game. But, the Caps were given the chance to get the go ahead and couldn’t follow through. They have all the pieces to the puzzle, they just have to put it together. Hopefully, if they ever figure it out, they glue the pieces together so the puzzle never comes apart.
January 30, 2013 at 10:57 am
I can go get a new jersey and finish him off for you. What say you?
January 30, 2013 at 10:59 am
Couldn’t agree with you more. There was a time when I would be excited to see Ovechkin take the ice, now I dread it as we may as well be on the PK. He does the same thing with the same results every game. Try to bullrush by defenders for a turnover followed by a halfhearted attempt to get the puck back and halfhearted play until the rest of the team recovers the puck and once again force feeds it to him. Seeing him in the Dzone is enough to make you sick. So for all this money we got a guy who is possibly the worst forward in the league on D and his O play is falling faster than a meteor. If he played hard for 60 min instead of just when he has the puck I know he can turn his game around and until he does its SSDD.
January 30, 2013 at 11:47 am
I cain’t believe, yes cain’t, cain’t believe there is already stupid rumor talk to fire Oates if the team doesn’t get better in 2 or 3 games.
I am glad I have more patience than the kids these days.
I WANT CAKE AND I WANT IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!
Let’s see how the team looks after 10 games. a two digit number at least. then can his butt.
January 30, 2013 at 11:48 am
But I do agree with others that Ovechkin does need to change, and how!
January 31, 2013 at 8:55 pm
I’ll continue waiting for haircuts.
Still the answer.
February 4, 2013 at 7:47 am
For the record this morning when I checked Bruce’s Ducks are 5-1-1 . which like the Caps when he took control were the worst team in the league. so to those who couldn’t get Bruce out of Washington quick enough. I say you have got what you deserve.