It’s cliche, it’s boring, it’s obvious, it’s true: We don’t know what’s going on with the Washington Capitals right now.
At the risk of selling the sizzle before the steak, here’s the point of all this: I don’t know. People who make their living by watching this team don’t know. No one knows.
Better defensively. Penalty kill — much improved. The power-play can’t score. They’re dirty. Or they’re not. They’re
physical. Or they’re not. Too young. Too slow. Too old. Too wild. Not wild enough. Is a notable shakeup coming?
Rather than go over the obvious questions, let’s figure out if we’re even asking the right ones:
- George McPhee’s defining characteristic in the rebuild has been patience — but when does the patience change to imperative-of-the-moment aggressiveness? Should it? Does that translate well into the Caps’ current cycle? Is it time to ‘go for it’? Is it time to face hard truths about the team’s viability as a Cup contender? It seems unseemly to question it, but McPhee has stated the past few years that the organization has thought that it had a chance to contend for the Cup. Considering the results, does that thought process need to be revisited?
- How flawed are the teams at the top of the Eastern conference? Is this setting up to be an especially ripe time for management to make a bold roster move, precisely because the East lacks a thoroughbred at the top, and one key addition (let’s just say for the sake of argument an impact second-line center) could catapult the Caps to legit conference finals contender?
- How would you feel, generally, about this hockey team’s chances this postseason absent any notable acquisition by management this weekend?
- A defensive state of mind. The Caps are much better defensively, likely better than most national media realize. Shutting out teams once in a while, even. Blocking shots. But not scoring. Not scoring a lot. Getting shut out a ton. Not a lot of offense, and a lot of defense. Will the Caps be able to win the 1-0 games in the playoffs, when things are even tighter? How much better would this team be if the power play converted on a 20 percent basis?
- What do you most want to see from this hockey club over the final 20 games of the regular season? More scoring generally? The emergence of a true no.1 netminder? A heated up power play?
- As far as you’re concerned, is Ovi enough of the Ovi of old to instill confidence in you that he’s poised to lead the Caps to a reasonably lengthy postseason run? Do the Caps need the Ovi of old? Is Ovi 2.0 where he should be as a hockey player, ready to stake a credible claim to Cup aspirant? How exactly would you describe Old Ovi and how would you describe Ovi in 2010-11? Perhaps most importantly: is it necessarily the case that Alexander Ovechkin had to radically adapt his game — individually, and radically — to advance his hockey team’s postseason ambitions?
- In the same vein, Mike Green, too, has significantly modified his game this season, subsuming individual offensive stats in pursuit of a more complete game. Is it your view that the reigned in Mike Green is a net benefit to this team’s postseason viability, or like Old Ovi, is the experiment with Green another instance perhaps of the team cutting off its nose to spite its face?
- In your view, is there any notable identity crisis with this hockey team? Put another way, can a tiger change its stripes — can this club built for speed and scoring and an up-tempo attack re-engineer itself, and reliably, for the duress of the postseason?
- Play GM for a weekend. Give me one move — any move. Who and what is going, and who’s coming?
- The Room. Who owns it? Who is accountable to who? Being a good interview is nice, but it doesn’t follow that it gives you clout when the doors are closed. Bruce Boudreau is capable of screaming at the team, as we amply saw on cable television, but what Caps player can raise his voice (if need be) and get results? Can this group of players take the challenge? The team’s style has changed significantly, but it’s been very slow to adapt/embrace it — the effort is there, no doubt. When will they fully adapt to the new system to take advantage of the chances their commitment to defense is creating?
Just a few questions, almost every one of which opens a can of worms. The Caps are young, they are changing their style, they are dealing with injuries, and certainly they are being questioned in the media. If they get through it, it seems like they will be tougher, stronger, and more resolute. But almost certainly they need to score more, and almost certainly they need to be more threatening on the power play. If not, it’s hard not to wonder where this group of players is next year.