Imagining myself the Capitals’ general manager this morning, with all of my scouts assembled at Kettler for the next couple of days and advising me on personnel for potential trades, I’d place two qualities foremost on my wish-list: size and discipline. The Flyers’ bulky bodies ran roughshod over the Capitals in their own end last week, yet another factor leading to their hefty mental edge over the Eastern conference’s second-best team. And while the first two periods Saturday (one minor penalty) in Boston offered a refreshing reprieve from a season of ill-timed and unnecessary penalties, the third period parade to the box ultimately cost the Capitals a point and effectively ended their long-shot bid to catch the Bs for first in the East.
This morning I’m less concerned about Jose Theodore’s resume and far more about horrible penalty habits practiced by a dozen-plus wearing Caps’ sweaters. It was a penalty in overtime of game 7 last spring that ended the Caps’ season; this season the maddening infractions have accumulated like this morning’s overnight snow, often obliterating individual players’ development in other key areas. The best way to improve penalty killing is to take fewer penalties.
Sunday’s no-show meltdown against the Panthers made for a disquieting overall assessment of just where this team is in the grand postseason scheme. If it’s true that this Capitals team operates with an on-off switch with respect to effort and intensity, rising commendably to meet the challenge offered by elite foes and mailing it in against the lesser lights, one way to remedy that is to move out one or three inconsistent bodies (Jeff Schultz anyone?) and replace them with battle-tested warriors — even ones with the tank nearing ‘E’ for empty (Bill Guerin anyone?).
Another more recent troubling trend is the Caps’ collapse on home ice. They are now 3-3 two-thirds of the way through a homestand (interrupted by Saturday’s lone road excursion) that ought to have chipped away at Boston’s conference lead and put an exclamation point on a second consecutive Southeast crown. With just one or two nights’ better results at home of late, Bruce Boudreau could have strategically managed his high-end talents’ minutes for much of this month, leading up to the postseason next month. The Caps will win the Southeast, but if it’s by a single-digit margin, will anyone regard them as a chic pick to come out of the East?
As make believe GM I’d also clutch tightly a list of organizational assets deemed untouchable: John Carlson, all young pro goalies not named Machesney, Karl Alzner, and Oskar Osala. A member of a foreign media outlet in recent days shared with me a source who informed him of Anaheim’s asking for Karl Alzner as part of a package for Chris Pronger. One name player in such a swap has perhaps just 15 months of quasi-dominant hockey left in his career; the other 15 years of potentially top-2 pairing excellence. More such ludicrousness no doubt will clutter GMGM’s voicemail early this week.
And what, if anything, will happen with Michael Nylander? Does his five (or is it 10?) healthy scratches this season inform about his standing in Bruce Boudreau’s system? A blogger I really enjoy following said to me months back that whereas Sergei Fedorov slows the game down in a very positive manner, deftly distributing, rarely turning the puck over, Nylander always slows the game down in conspicuously injurious fasion in Gabby’s high-octane hockey.
In an ideal set of manuevers, George McPhee this week would be able to secure reasonably priced assets that with their mere names carry the ability to alter the mental chess match that so isn’t encouraging against that club in orange and black. Then again, with what Martin Brodeur is up to after months on the shelf, maybe it’s best to hold the cards you got, hope for success in a playoff round or two, and tinker soberly in the summer.
A positive trend: George McPhee has in recent years emerged as a savvy player in the high stakes of roster tinkering in late February and early March. I watched him move about the Verizon Center press box the past week and I thought of Kurt Russell’s role as Herb Brooks and his exhortation “This is your time.” Seasonally appropriate.
The Caps don’t need a miracle between now and Wednesday. They do need help, though.