When a lockout runs as long as the NHL’s did, teams are just expected to be rusty.
Teams had shortened training camps, new players had less time to adapt, and coaches had their hands full as they tried to ready their teams for a basically impromptu opening night.
All of this has added up to be the perfect storm for the Washington Capitals. A team that is used to standing on top of the Southeast division and vying for a top seed in the playoffs has sputtered out of the gate, losing four of their first five games.
They’re losing by more than two goals on average, goalie Braden Holtby is looking like a total fluke, and first-year head coach Adam Oates has been questioning the team’s effort.
Holtby was sensational in the postseason last year, but after allowing 10 goals in two games to open the 2013 season, he’s landed back on the bench. The Caps gambled on the same player who kept Michal Neuvirth on the bench and helped get Tomas Vokoun traded, and even though the jury’s still out on Holtby, he’s off to a very rocky start.
A common trend among the Stanley Cup winners in recent years has been consistent play from a dominating goalie. Right now the Caps don’t even know who the starter should be.
It’s not all unusual for retired NHL players to take on coaching. The Los Angeles Kings just won a Stanley Cup being led by Blackhawks legend Darryl Sutter. But Sutter is the exception to the rule. Great players are rarely great coaches in the NHL. Bryan Trottier was a Hall of Famer on the rink, but a massive flop on the bench.
Even Wayne Gretzky tried his hand at coaching and fell flat. The Great One was literally the best player to ever step on the ice, yet he couldn’t win as a coach.
So the forecast isn’t good for Adam Oates, who was one of the most unselfish playmakers in league history, but is now unproven and losing as a coach.
The Capitals have looked indifferent and uninspired under Oates so far, which could be an effect of losing instead of a cause. But a coach publicly berating his team’s effort is never a good thing and certainly not something that happens to playoff teams. It’s on veteran leaders to rally around the coach and help change the results on the ice. Sounds like a job the team captain would be perfect for, right? Wrong.
Alex Ovechkin has not been playing up to his $124 million price tag. After a down year last season, it’s looking like he’s on the same disappointing path this year.
Maybe he just misses Alexander Semin. Ovechkin and Semin had been playing together for years, not only on the Capitals but also for the Russian national team. But Semin and the Capitals dumped one another and Semin has since landed on the rival Carolina Hurricanes roster.
Ever since Ovechkin was named the Capitals’ captain, his point totals have only gone down. The “C” on his sweater might be just that, but it’s added a lot of pressure, and maybe it’s best that he’s no longer the focal point of the Capitals’ offense. Veteran Mike Ribeiro is the only player producing and even though he’s new in Washington, he might be better suited to be team captain.
Washington’s a young team under a new coach that had a lot of roster turnover in the extended offseason, so of course there’s going to be some growing pains. But in a 48-game season, every game is obviously much more valuable than usual, and it might be time for the Capitals to start panicking if the team doesn’t at least stop losing in such pathetic fashion.
In the 1994-95 season that was shortened to 48 games, the New Jersey Devils started out 0-3-1 and went on to bring back Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Caps started this season with that exact record, but they can’t count on lightning striking the same place twice.
In a stacked Eastern Conference, the Capitals will have to turn it around — quick.