Photo credit: Michael Martin
For those of you who stayed up late Saturday with the hopes of getting an up-close-and-personal look at #AvsFailWatch, sorry. The Capitals are scuffling. The team has mustered only one goal in each of the past three games (1-2-0), they have failed to win more than two straight games since starting the season 7-0, and they have an unimpressive 4-5-0 record since Dale Hunter was hired as coach. 31 games into the season, the Caps are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and would not qualify for the playoffs if they started today. Bummer city.
While it’s easy to fret about all the unmet expectations this season, there are also some positive changes going on– though you might have to get out a magnifying glass to see them.
First, the Capitals are giving up nearly one less goal per game under Hunter (3.27 GAA with Bruce, 2.55 with Dale). Five-on-five, the Capitals are finally subscribing to more of a chip-and-chase system and are trying to be a tougher team to compete against. “Unfortunately, it’s a really hard way to play,” Tomas Vokoun recently explained to CSN’s Chuck Gormley. “But it’s the only way you can win a Stanley Cup. And the sooner we learn it as a team the better off we’re going to be.”
There are other positives too. 20-year-old defenseman Dmitry Orlov, whom Bruce Boudreau said in November was called-up to give the defensive corps “a spark,” has shown that he can play at the NHL level and contribute offensively (five points in 13 games) without being overly aggressive in joining the rush. He will only get better with time. Jeff Schultz, who has struggled off-and-on since signing a four-year deal in 2010, has been scratched the last few games and is getting individual attention from new Caps assistant coach Jim Johnson in the hopes of regaining his lost form. Even Alex Semin has been getting some tough love from his new coach, which — I’m sure we’d all agree — is a long time coming. Tarik El-Bashir explains:
When Alexander Semin complained about shoulder soreness before the Dec. 3 game against Ottawa, Hunter told the enigmatic winger to take the night off. He gave him the next game off, too, just for good measure. An NHL source confirmed that Semin was healthy enough to play in both games.
And then there’s the Caps captain. While Alex Ovechkin has not had much more luck potting goals (though these two recent tallies were pretty impressive) or racketing up points, he has been playing with a renewed vigor. And the statistics tell the tale.
|Coaches||Games||GWG||Points Per Game||Shots Per Game||Hits Per Game|
|Ovi with Boudreau||22||0||.77||3.59||2.45|
|Ovi with Hunter||9||1||.56||4.22||3.11|
Ovechkin, who has a lifetime shooting percentage of 11.8%, is stuck at 8.5% right now. If he continues to shoot like he has been, the goals will come.
It seems like Hunter is trying to take pressure off his 26-year-old left wing too. In the Capitals’ practice a day ahead of their game against the Avalanche, Ovechkin threw on Neuvy’s gear and took some shots in net.
The next day, as cameras captured Alex walking into the Pepsi Center, he threw some gang signs.
Screengrabs via carrotbazooka on Tumblr.
While the significance of Ovi having fun with the cameras is minimal, having your superstar captain happy, relaxed, and committed is a necessity. No one liked this guy.
So while the lack of offense is excruciating, we’ve got to have faith. The Caps will continue to practice hard and master their new system. The goals will eventually come. And if they don’t, well, Mike Green (Caps are 8-0-0 this year when he plays) has to return to the line-up sometime. Right?