(Photo credit: Nick Wass)
The Dale Hunter era hasn’t exactly started with a bang. With Hunter looking for his first NHL win behind the bench and the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby playing Washington for the first time since his Winter Classic concussion heard ’round the world, everybody from TSN to The New York Times descended on the Verizon Center Thursday night. And for the second game in a row the Caps were easily outplayed and doubled up in shots on goal (65 to 36 over the two games) — even if they lost by just one tally.
Still, the Caps aren’t exactly playing like Bruce Boudreau remains behind the bench. The team has instituted Hunter’s new defensive system (they had the second worst goal-against average in the league under the old regime) which will take some getting used to. The players, of course, know this as they made an even more dramatic shift in their play in the midst of their eight-game losing streak less than one year ago. So far, though, it’s yet to yield a victory.
“We’re going to stick with it because we all know that it does work and it sucks when you play against it,” Karl Alzner said after the 2-1 defeat. “If we start losing games 4-0, 4-1, or 5-1 maybe you start [worrying]. But 2-1 — we should have scored a few more goals, we can score more than one goal a game. That’s our fault.”
“It’s going to take a little bit of time, and it’s not like last year when we switched our whole system and it just seemed to work for us right away,” he added. “It takes a little bit of practice and it’ll come eventually.”
Things may get better for the Capitals as they get accustomed to the coaching ways of Hunter, but the facts are undeniable. The squad has won just three out of their last 13 games, losing the last pair under the new coach. Being outshot 10-2 in the final period isn’t going to help you rally for a victory either. While the Capitals allowed 35 shots, the Pens obviously didn’t light up the scoreboard — neither did St. Louis on Tuesday. Rather, it was the Caps’ current offensive ineptitude (they’ve scored one goal in six of the last nine games) that handed them another L.
“We gave them quite a few shots — we would like to shore that up a little bit — but we got to create more offensively,” Dennis Wideman said. “We didn’t get enough shots again.”
“We’re not getting the puck to the net, we’re not getting pucks through when we get the opportunity,” he continued. “We got to get to the net and when we get our scoring chances we got to hit the net.”
One of the players who did get an opportunity but failed to convent was Nick Backstrom, who came close but hit the crossbar in the second period.
“We’ve got to turn defense to offense and that’s that we’ve got to get better on and make sure we got the puck stuck in their offensive zone,” a noticeably agitated Backstrom said after the game. “Obviously we don’t score enough and that’s something we have to deal with.”
Of the Caps struggling to score, no one has more pressure on him than Ovechkin. Ovi pinballed around the rink for a game-high 10 hits but in a far more important category — shots on goal — his total was one. He’s still stuck at 18 points in 24 games for those keeping track at home. The contrast to Crosby — and his 11 points in just six games — is inevitable.
“I’m 26, he’s 24,” Ovechkin said before the game. “We’re not young anymore. We play different positions and we’re on different teams. Everybody will always be comparing, but I don’t pay attention to what you or what anybody else is going to say about his game or my game. I don’t listen to that.”
As for the team overall, Ovi thinks it’s just a matter of time.
“It’s not frustrating,” the Russian told reporters following the loss. “It’s nothing. If we’re going to play like this, it’s going to turn around and it’s going to be luck on our side.”
The Capitals are struggling mightily, so much so that Boudreau — a former Jack Adams winner and the fastest coach ever to 200 wins — got canned and Ovi is having an awful season (by his standards) so far. Then, he’s asked about both those things countless times. If the captain isn’t frustrated by that, then there is a problem. The team can’t just hope it will turn around eventually forever.