Can a legitimate Stanley Cup contender lose any hockey game by a touchdown — and to a middle-of-the-pack outfit at that? “Unfamiliar territory” is where the Caps are these days, according to the head coach after Sunday night’s preposterous 7-0 humiliation at the sticks of the New York Rangers.
Incredibly, the Rangers had merely 20 shots on Semyon Varlamov on the night, and put seven past him. The Blueshirts took just two shots on the Capitals’ cage in the final 20 minutes; both shots lit the lamp.
What was so disconcerting about last night’s Massacre in Madison Square Garden was that it came hard on the heels of what most believed was a turn-the-corner performance Saturday versus the Avalanche, when the Capitals brought great work ethic to their effort. Sunday night? Not so much.
Behold, and weep from, the vulgarity of column four:
I can’t add up all those minuses.
It’s now up to six consecutive losses for the Caps, the most consecutive losses in the Bruce Boudreau era, during which time they’ve scored a grand total of 8 goals while surrendering 22. In their past 13 games the Caps have been shut out an astounding four times.
Injuries are playing a part; so too is illness. But the Caps are hardly the most beleaguered club in the league — it’s not like they don’t have big guns in the lineup. They have three of the best players in the world dressing, in fact. Moreover, they have workhorses in the lineup, and when guys like Matt Hendricks time and time again selflessly sacrifice injury by dropping gloves to try and ignite a spark in his teammates, time and time again there is no following ignition.
There has been, from the vantage of this blogger, a palpable unease largely a consistent undercurrent to the season. Comfortable wins are hard to come by. Leads are difficult to protect. There’s been a penchant for falling behind. Ovechkin just doesn’t look himself. Ditto Nick Backstrom. Everyone in opposing sweater brings their best shot to an encounter with Washington, and most nights the Caps aren’t mentally up to the challenge.
It’s under such circumstances that typically you begin to hear whispers about players and their coach in some manner of disconnect. And so it was interesting for me to hear Al Koken take to the Comcast Sportsnet postgame last night and raise the spectre of a coaching change. He didn’t advocate it; he merely articulated it. Telling. Bruce Boudreau’s standing rested somewhat uneasy after last April — the owner had to come out and clear that air. For Gabby the context for this malicious malaise, to some extent, has to be a trend of coming up short when the stakes are highest.
It’s one thing to lose, and lose in prolonged fashion. It’s quite another to get consistently outworked, by opponents mediocre and worse. From some sectors of observers I’m hearing talk of Don’t worry; it’s only December. But there is no lightswitch flipping in hockey, and work ethic knows no calendar.
If you are gravely concerned, you are not alone.