Forget the SI Jinx, We’ve Got an HBO Curse!

As the minor penalties piled up high and thick on the guests at Verizon Center last night, and went uncapitalized upon by the hosts, a definite dread set in. It was 5-0 Caps in power plays earned through Monday’s night’s opening 20 minutes, and when the Florida Panthers escaped to their dressing room unscathed at the first intermission horn, you just got the sense that a beleaguered underdog of a Southeast road doormat was perfectly positioned to add woe to an already worrisome Caps’ week.

Woe is we!

Incredibly, the Caps would go on to earn seven of the game’s first eight extra-man opportunities. Incredibly, they did nothing with them. On the evening, the Caps authored a stunning 0-for-8 whitewashing while skating a man or more up.

The best medicine for a slumping hockey team is to have its best players perform their best. On Thursday night Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green were dreadful. It has been very much a peaks-and-valleys season thus far for the Capitals’ no. 1 center, and he is skating in another valley these days.

“If your best players aren’t your best players, you’re not going to have success,” Bruce Boudreau noted after the Caps’ 3-0 stinker Thursday night. “You have to get production out of your best players and it’s not happening for us right now.”

The best looking hockey teams are ones who skate in three-, four-, and five-man waves of integration, matched by excellent work ethic. Last night, again, the Capitals looked alarmingly individualistic. You can account for a team’s well-oiled cohesion and integration often by the length and volume of its passes. When passes are short and crisp they tend to be more accurate, finding teammates’ stick blades instead of their boots, and when passes are numerous it’s highly indicative of teammates being in synch in breakouts and attacks, of looking for, and finding, one another in open space. As last night’s game progressed the Capitals’ passes grew longer and therefore less accurate. Desperation and frustration set in. Florida patiently pounced.

Incredibly, the Caps have now been shut out three times since just November 19.

* * * * *

This slump got started with an atrocious Dan O’Rourke call thwarting another Captain America moment, you’ll recall. I wonder: what if O’Rourke had gotten it right in that moment; what if the Caps had gone on to triumph in Dallas in overtime and impressively sweep up four tough road points? Wouldn’t they have returned home last Saturday night with a special swagger in their stride? And if so, would we be where we are this morning, burdened by an increasing number of troubling thoughts?

Interesting to note that it was O’Rourke who oversaw the parade of Panthers to the penalty box Thursday night.

* * * * *

More distressing than the losing streak itself is the manner in which the Caps are losing. It. Is. Very. Montreal. In. Spring. Like.

Pump a high volume of shots on net (36 in the case of Thursday night), but have the vast majority of them pelt the opposition netminder’s crest and the center of his pads. Overrely on an umbrella game of three-man puck distribution on the power play point, which limits the volume of traffic that can be established in front of elite goaltender like Tomas Vokoun. Subsequently, make it easy for opposition rearguards to clear rebounds while penalty killing. Mostly, though, play a highly individualistic brand of hockey, one that’s earmarked for defeat.

* * * * *

At the season-inaugurating Media Day General Manager George McPhee offered every assurance that his team’s involvement with HBO and its ’24/7′ series would pose no notable distraction for the club in the middle of the season. This may yet still prove to be the case. But there are, already, anecdotal accounts to the contrary.

There are, to put it charitably, extra media obligations associated with Winter Classic related media enveloping the team these days. This impacts some players more so than others. It’s safe to say that the cable outlet’s documentarians aren’t seeking an extra 15 minutes with the fellas here and there. Professional athletes have deeply etched routines, and hockey players perhaps the most resolutely ingrained ones, and those are being impacted by this project. But to be fair: HBO’s cameras are pestering the Pens just as much, presumably, and Sidney’s guys seem to be handling it rather well.

We have some fun ideas for covering the Capitals’ involvement with the Winter Classic, and we are receiving the characteristic courteous and helpful assistance of the Capitals’ PR staff in pursuing them. But they are making us aware of the novel demands on the guys of late. And so I wonder.

* * * * *

Verizon Center, something quite less than full, was utterly lifeless last night, and that was only partly attributable to the Caps’ failing to score on Vokoun’s ‘Cats. On such nights it is my habit to remind my new media colleagues with whom I share the game experience of the novelty that is the arrival of the Southeast rival, and its attendant effect on rink atmosphere. No one in that rink last night hated a single member of the Florida Panthers. No hockey fan in the history of Washington, D.C., has ever hated the Florida Panthers. For they’ve given us no reason to hate them. Ever. Verizon Center last night was, at best, three-quarters full, and perhaps more likely closer to two-thirds capacity. That had nothing to do with locals’ need to holiday shop, or the lighting of a White House Christmas tree, last night. It had everything to do with the caliber and cache of the Capitals’ opponent. The Capitals are blameless for this.

And last night’s lifelessness in the rink matched that of the visit by the Carolina Hurricanes here a few weeks back — ostensibly the Capitals’ biggest rival in the Southeast.

In recent seasons it has become vogue for NHL clubs to designate select games as “premium” ones, pricing them as coveted commodities. In Washington we will never, ever, see a Southeast game priced as a premium one. It is metaphysically impossible.

My hockey blog has evolved over its modest lifetime, but one thing I will never change about it is my commitment to reporting the truth to my readership, painful though it be at times. Washington’s evolution from hockey outcast into a flagship franchise merits better treatment from the NHL than the perpetual puck purgatory that is the Southleast. It was yet another of Gary Bettman’s brilliant marketing creations.

Never forget that.

This entry was posted in Eastern Conference, Florida Panthers, HBO's 24/7, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Southeast Division, Washington Capitals, Washington the hockey town, Winter Classic 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Forget the SI Jinx, We’ve Got an HBO Curse!

  1. michelle says:

    not sure about an HBO curse… but I do think shaving the Mo’s didn’t help…….

  2. Geo says:

    What worries me is the coach’s and players’ comments all echo games 5-7 in the playoffs last year. Playing too fancy, not crashing the net or planting in front of it, passing the puck instead of shooting it, not doing the dirty work etc. etc. etc. More worrisome is the early season spunk that saw them rallying all the time seems to have faded away for the most part.

    You wouldn’t think a team with veteran players (despite the young influx) would constantly need remedial training to remember how to play properly.

  3. Hittman says:

    Alright…time for Boudreau to get the axe. Enough is enough. This team has basically stunk up the joint since the playoffs last year, with a few bright spots in between. The roster is too talented for these kinds of games. Bob Hartley is available. Chelios seems bored. Something’s gotta give. Boudreau’s commercials also suck.

  4. red army soldier #1337 says:

    RAWR! Angry words and sentiments. These are the hallmarks of the enraged fan. Unfortunately i was there for this game… i felt defeated along with the team. But then again… what is this? We have another game?? Its not the end of the season?!? Well heck yeah let’s get that red flowing one more time. Optimism, enthusiasm, genuine heartbreak, I’ll take those any day.

  5. Tre Kronor says:

    HBO is the problem? What if the Dallas game had gone differently? Are you kidding? The Pens are facing the same HBO intensity and face adversity – and look what they are doing – racking up the points in a far superior division. Boudreau has to go – he can’t motivate this team – and he is stubborn. Hittman’s spot on – give him the axe and bring in a disciplinarian with a Stanley Cup pedigree like Hartley who runs a much tighter system. These players will respond – just like the Pens and Flyers did with Bylsma and Laviolette. Remember that Boudreau has not been able to do anything in the playoffs for 3 years running. Watching Oveckin swim around at the top of the circle last night on the PPs was painful.

  6. xke4me says:

    One of my kids’ coaches has a quote I like: “the harder I work, the luckier I am.”

  7. SkinsCapsTerps says:

    “umbrella game of three-man puck distribution on the power play point”

    Agreed, it looked like the hockey equivalent of the Four Corners offense from basketball.

    And the D men are regulary out of position, not facing play

  8. Tough crowd, tough crowd. At the holidays, too. Some perspective, attributable to the data digging of James Mirtle: since 2008-09, the winning-est team in the NHL is your Washington Capitals. Gabby’s gotta get some credit that, doesn’t he? I also *greatly* admired the owner yesterday acknowledging the elephant in the team room on his blog — there is indeed a hangover from the April loss, one that makes a grand mission to this regular season difficult to fathom. Not an excuse, but a reality.

  9. OvieTracker says:

    I’m not buying the “HBO is the problem” excuse either. As TRE KRONOR said, the Pens are getting the same attention and exposure as the Caps. The difference is, the Pens are thriving in the spotlight whereas the Caps are fading, playing sloppy lazy hockey on their way to a fifth straight defeat tonight.

    The fact that the Pens are playing stronger teams in their own division is also a factor in their success. I’ve felt for quite a while that the Caps suffer because they have to play weaker teams in the Southeast division so often. They get used to winning, and then when it’s time to face stronger teams in the playoffs, they are totally unprepared because they didn’t have to make adjustments during the regular season. The best thing for the Caps would be to move out of the SE graveyard, not just for attendance at Verizon Center, but also to get them used to playing tough hockey on a routing basis. I’m not holding my breath this will happen anytime soon.

  10. Hittman says:

    @OVIETRACKER: Tampa just beat the Canucks last night, in Vancouver. Atlanta is one of the best teams in the East. This all comes down to what RJ Umberger said last season, prophetic as his words were: the Caps don’t play the right way. This will continue until Boudreau is removed from command. His time has come. If he can’t win with THIS team, a Cup is out of the question. Right now, I’m wondering if making the playoffs would be a victory.

  11. aphid69 says:

    Arrrrggghhh! Someone’s adding goat’s blood to my kool-aide! This has indeed been a frustrating period for Caps fans. Losing five in row. Losing four straight home games. The continued and inexplicable lack of–at least what we’ve become used to–scoring from our top guys.

    However, while the Southeast Division may have been the “Southleast” in the past, unless I’m mistaken, the Caps, Bolts, and Thrash are each in the top 10 of the league standings right now. Perhaps some stats geek can point out why that’s meaningless, but until they do I think that’s an indication that the SE is doing pretty well, thank you very much.

    With Stamkos, St Louis, Lacavallier, and company led by Guy Boucher in TBL, and Byfuglien, Kane, Ladd, et al. led by Craig Ramsay in ATL, it seems to me we have some fairly worthy competition here in the SE.

    @HITTMAN and @KRONOR, I would agree that Boudreau’s American Service Center (Mercedes) commercials from the last two seasons (eg, “No problem, Coach”) are better than this year’s.

    However, I would respectfully disagree that now is the time to drop BB as head coach.

    I, too, get frustrated at the seeming lack of preparation or competitive fire for many games (particularly against lower-ranked teams), along with a seeming inability to make in-game adjustments to overcome evident shortcomings in game plan or personnel. Both coaches and players share responsibility for this.

    Has BB “lost the room,” as some have suggested? Is he arrogant to the point where he refuses to admit his gameplan or system has room for improvement or at least adjustment? Will he ever stop tinkering with line combinations long enough to allow real chemistry to develop? Are these even the right questions? They all seem debatable to me.

    Does he have the respect of his players? Does he have the support of his organization? Does he have a wealth of hockey knowledge and experience culled from a lifetime’s involvement with the sport he loves? Is he able to share his passion, improve players’ abilities, and devise/teach new schemes/systems? Do his teams win? I’d say the answer to each of those questions is yes.


    GO CAPS!

  12. OvieTracker says:

    @HITTMAN & APHID69: I mis-stated my case somewhat. It’s true, as you said, the Southeast division is vastly improved this season. Last postseason, I believe the Caps underestimated the Habs, having gotten used to playing so many games in the regular season against inferior teams, most especially in their own SE division. This year, while two of the SE teams have vastly improved, I think the Caps continue to treat them, and most of their opponents actually, as inferior and haven’t put out 100% effort, thinking they should win easily as they have in the past. This tendency of not respecting their opponents, of not having learned from being upset by the Habs in last season’s playoffs, is something I see being repeated this year. It almost seems like they need a nightly dose of playing the Pens or some other rivalry team to get them motivated to play a complete 60 minute game on a consistent basis. Lessons have definitely not been learned IMO, and this could come back to haunt them again IF and WHEN they make the playoffs this year.

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