Frustration, Hope as Caps Offense M.I.A Once Again

(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.”

Remember, folks, he's not frustrated.(Photo credit: Rob Carr)

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.

  • Bobby Gee

    The game didn’t live up to all the hype but I didn’t expect it to so in that respect I wasn’t disappointed.  What I was disappointed in was how the Caps offense continues to be MIA, and Ovie is the most glaring example of that.  Sure, he ran around the ice hitting people, a fruitless feelble attempt to do something useful, to do SOMETHING.  But at the end of the day, he had only one shot on goal the entire game.  ONE SHOT ON GOAL.   Disappointing, frustrating, exasperating.

    Ovie and Crosby will be forever linked, but now the comparison is totally unfair, as painful as it is for me to admit.  The stats tell it all:  Ovie has just 18 points in 24 games (0.75 PPG), whereas Crosby has 11 points in only 6 games (1.83 PPG).  Ovie is having an awful season not just by his standards but also by the standards of his fans.  The fall from greatness has been shocking.  It’s painful to watch him play now, it’s like standing by helpless while a loved one slowly slips away into death.

    Chris, the observation you make about how Ovie is not at all frustrated about what’s going on with the Caps is especially troubling.  IMO he just doesn’t seem to care much at all about his or the team’s performance.  And so I wonder what happened to the passion and enthusiasm that once were trademarks of his game.  It almost seems like playing hockey is just a job for him now, he’d much rather be doing other things.  If this is his mindset, what a shame.  What a waste of talent.

  • Avtopilot

    let’s divide apples and oranges.
    There are hopeless losses, that make me angry and the losses, that are close and competitive and are not that frustrating.
    The same with Ovi. When he is lazy, unfit and out of energy it is absolutely obvious.
    This time it’s not the case.  he made a couple of passes, that could be assists, he hit a lot and he actually moves his feet more showing better fitness. I hope to see Dale Hunter finds the right words for the guys and kicks their asses in the process.

  • Jim

    Hitting is not fruitless.  We saw an example of this the other night when an Ovi hit helped lead to a goal.  Those are the kind of things that don’t necessarily show on the stat sheet but are important regardless.  To be honest, while I’d like to see him score more, in the context of how the team is playing as a whole I think he is doing fine.  

  • Brian

    I find it curious that in the last comments from Ovi he is thinking that luck will soon be on their side. Sure it helps to have a little luck that gets you some bounces here and there. Sometimes that does help win a game or two. That is not, however, something that you should be hoping to find. Especially when you wear the C on your chest. He’s not frustrated and hoping to get some luck to help win games. That seems like the opposite message that you should be hearing from your leader. I would expect to hear that losing is frustrating whether it’s one game or more particularly a streak like this. Hard work and consistant play will get you wins. Amvivalence and wishing to luck will not.

  • One main difference between Crosby and Ovechkin is that Crosby’s whole team surrounds him and clears the way so that he can score.  They make it possible for him to be as good as he is.  Ovechkin’s team wants him to clear the path for them.  They want him to make them better.  The Penguins are a team that plays together.  The Capitals are a team that plays for themselves.  I think that’s the major problem that Dale Hunter is going to have to overcome … once he does that, everything else will fall into place.  I think they are working on it along with everything else.  But it’s going to take time.  There are a lot of really bad habits that need to work their way out. 

  • obviuoustrollisobvious

    17 shots.  Against a team with 2 rookie defensemen, 1 of whom was playing his first NHL game, and 3 of our top 6 d-men to start the season out in Michalek, Letang, and Lovejoy.  

    Certainly reeks of great effort.

    Im sure you guys will be fine….unless…..nah, you guys will be fine.

  • ORazor

    I think that the effort and the intensity was certainly there last night.  If a couple of breaks had gone differently (Party-in-the-Backstrom’s ringer, etc) the game would have been different.  I thought that the cycle was pretty good – it just didn’t yield as many CLEAN shots as I would have liked. 

    Overall, I’m most pleased with the mentality change that was very evident with the Caps.  They played hard, and were in the game the entire time.  Let’s just hope we can start getting more clean opportunities.

  • Bobby Gee

    That’s what bothers me most of all.  Ovie thinks luck will snap him and team out of their rut.  How about hard work?  Is Ovie doing everything he can on and off the ice to get better?   He’s projecting a cavalier non-chalant attitude, not taking responsibility for his and the team’s slide.   IMO he still hasn’t embraced the gritty hard work ethic of his new coach.  Maybe that will take more time.  Bad habits are hard to break.

    The Caps play Ottawa next. Last December the Caps defeated the Sens to end their 8-game losing streak. Right now that’s my only cause for hope, that a win Saturday will turn the tide and get Ovie and the Caps going in the right direction. 

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  • Bigbillhaywood

    Please, Crosby has not had decent linemates once in his entire career; in terms of performance thus far this year his current linemates may be the best of his career. He elevated his goal scoring despite this the past two seasons. What’s more, the Pens have not had a particularly spectacular defense until this year, and last year to a certain extent. I think Ovie shares more responsibility for his slump than his teammates. His performance is uninspired and his comments betray a lack of motivation. He is the Captain and is not behaving as one. His attitude reminds me of that of Jagr shortly before his exit, except 8 does alot less whining than 68, to his credit. Not implying Ovie will leave at all, I believe he wants to be here, they both just seem(ed) (He and Jagr in the late 90s) unmotivated and a little depressed, frankly.