“Unfamiliar Territory” — Also, Intolerable

Can a legitimate Stanley Cup contender lose any hockey game by a touchdown — and to a middle-of-the-pack outfit at that? “Unfamiliar territory” is where the Caps are these days, according to the head coach after Sunday night’s preposterous 7-0 humiliation at the sticks of the New York Rangers.

Incredibly, the Rangers had merely 20 shots on Semyon Varlamov on the night, and put seven past him. The Blueshirts took just two shots on the Capitals’ cage in the final 20 minutes; both shots lit the lamp.

What was so disconcerting about last night’s Massacre in Madison Square Garden was that it came hard on the heels of what most believed was a turn-the-corner performance Saturday versus the Avalanche, when the Capitals brought great work ethic to their effort. Sunday night? Not so much.

Behold, and weep from, the vulgarity of column four:

I can’t add up all those minuses.

It’s now up to six consecutive losses for the Caps, the most consecutive losses in the Bruce Boudreau era, during which time they’ve scored a grand total of 8 goals while surrendering 22. In their past 13 games the Caps have been shut out an astounding four times.

Injuries are playing a part; so too is illness. But the Caps are hardly the most beleaguered club in the league — it’s not like they don’t have big guns in the lineup. They have three of the best players in the world dressing, in fact. Moreover, they have workhorses in the lineup, and when guys like Matt Hendricks time and time again selflessly sacrifice injury by dropping gloves to try and ignite a spark in his teammates, time and time again there is no following ignition.

There has been, from the vantage of this blogger, a palpable unease largely a consistent undercurrent to the season. Comfortable wins are hard to come by. Leads are difficult to protect. There’s been a penchant for falling behind. Ovechkin just doesn’t look himself. Ditto Nick Backstrom. Everyone in opposing sweater brings their best shot to an encounter with Washington, and most nights the Caps aren’t mentally up to the challenge.

It’s under such circumstances that typically you begin to hear whispers about players and their coach in some manner of disconnect. And so it was interesting for me to hear Al Koken take to the Comcast Sportsnet postgame last night and raise the spectre of a coaching change. He didn’t advocate it; he merely articulated it. Telling. Bruce Boudreau’s standing rested somewhat uneasy after last April — the owner had to come out and clear that air. For Gabby the context for this malicious malaise, to some extent, has to be a trend of coming up short when the stakes are highest.

It’s one thing to lose, and lose in prolonged fashion. It’s quite another to get consistently outworked, by opponents mediocre and worse. From some sectors of observers I’m hearing talk of Don’t worry; it’s only December. But there is no lightswitch flipping in hockey, and work ethic knows no calendar.

If you are gravely concerned, you are not alone.

This entry was posted in Al koken, Alexander Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau, Comcast SportsNet, National Hockey League, New York Rangers, Nicklas Backstrom, Semyon Varlamov, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to “Unfamiliar Territory” — Also, Intolerable

  1. OvieTracker says:

    I hear you loud and clear P&B. I’ve read the same stuff elsewhere about how we shouldn’t worry, shouldn’t panic because this is only December, it’s important that the Caps peak for the playoffs and not now, etc, yada yada yada… I expressed my concerns about the heart and the will of this team and was accused of being overly negative. It’s as if my accusers and I weren’t watching the same games.

    I’ve tried to remain optimistic, to maintain a half glass full attitude throughout the Caps slide. I’ve read about all the excuses for their poor play–the injuries, the illnesses, the HBO exposure, etc, yada yada yada… I don’t accept these excuses, and the players shouldn’t either.

    Because in truth, there is no excuse for how the Caps have played–listless, sloppy, indifferent, selfish. I also noted how Ovie hasn’t been himself and was criticized for that too, as if any criticism of the team or the Captain is blasphemy. If anyone thinks all is OK with Ovie and the Caps will be just fine, we haven’t been watching the same games or the same players. It’s that simple.

    It isn’t any one thing wrong with them, and from my vantage point, there won’t be a quick easy fix. It’s on the head coach AND the players to make a course correction and make it quickly. Work ethic and priorities are the main issues IMO. If the players think they can slide and and be satisfied just to make the playoffs, and expect to turn on the effort and motivation in April when the playoffs start, they will be in for a very rude awakening.

  2. Shaun says:

    There can’t be any half-full/half-empty glasses this season, because with every game I watch, win or lose, I need to immediately finish whatever is in my glass and promptly fill it back up.

    The last time the Caps were this hard to watch, they wore black sweaters. They just don’t have any sort of spark to speak of this season. Even in the wins, I can only think of one that I would consider a dominant performance, the first game they played against NJD. Everyone on Twitter is saying it’s not BB’s fault, that it’s solely on the team, however it IS BB’s responsibility to get the team back on track, and he hasn’t so far this season. Earlier this year, I was hoping the Caps would lose a game like this, just as a wake up call, they’ve been shut out a bunch of times, and honestly, they’ve responded largely by putting forth the same effort (or lack there of) the following night. It’s not a fun time to be watching this team right now, but I’ll soldier on, just like I have in past years and hope that they can have a stick of dynamite lit under them to get the blood flowing again.

  3. chrisd says:

    Obviously, it’s Hannan. The Caps are 0-for-Hannan, right? Someone going to tell me this isn’t suspicious? I mean, really. Hannan arrives, Ovechkin suddenly looks like someone you’d want your sister to go out with, Backstrom starts politely passing to the other guys, Semin reverts to being, well, Semin.

    Clearly the dude is putting something in the Gatorade.

  4. Doc says:

    Well Its only Mid Dec and the Team is on a loosing streak started off good first of the Season, However I believe if this style of Hockey continues with the Caps maybe It will Backfire on them.

    Well there has been alot of talk lately concerning Coaching/Goalie/Leadership If these 3 issues are not
    looked at and taken in consideration The Caps may be in BIG Trouble !!!

    Last nights game was a total Shock and Ovie dropping the gloves makes one wonder what the outcome of this Team has to look forward to.

  5. sonja says:

    I read all the excuses … the illness, the injuries, the HBO and even the work ethic. None of them make any sense to me. These are elite athletes who LOVE hockey. They eat, sleep and breath hockey. Ovechkin has not been himself since the beginning of the season. None of them have been. I don’t think they expect to slide into the playoffs in April; I don’t think they have that sense of entitlement.

    When Fleischmann got traded I said that he was the heart and energy of the team. I don’t think this has anything to do with Hannan coming on board, but the current drama may have something to do with Fleischmann being gone.

    I don’t think that firing Boudreau is the answer. But I do think that he needs a new plan. He needs to shake things up in a huge way … beyond just tinkering with line combinations. A tweet I saw last night went something like, “Down 4-0 and BB won’t even adjust his tie,” (which was crooked all game and bugging me). That is the heart of the problem.

    I don’t believe for a moment that Mike Green is sick. Everyone else played while they were ill, why is he getting special treatment? He’s either injured (most likely) or there is some bad mojo between him and Hannan (least likely). Or … maybe, just maybe, he’s sitting out for lackluster performance. That would be the sort of shakeup that needs to happen. Sit these guys out for a game or two. Semin (tho I love his ability to score) should never have been playing last night after that stupid penalty he took on Saturday. I don’t care that the league didn’t suspend him, his boss should have made him sit for a game. That might have gotten the team’s attention.

    The old plan/system isn’t working. It’s time for a new one and BB needs to come up with it soon, or he really will get replaced. He’ll have to.

    P.S. RMNB has a Panic Protocol that he has initiated, which includes shutting down his blog until the Caps win again. It’s going dark as of this evening.

  6. sonja says:

    P.P.S The cynic in me says that if this current trend continues maybe ticket prices will come down out of the stratosphere and I can afford for my kids to play hockey AND go to a Caps game or two again.

  7. Hittman says:

    Boudreau needs to go. Hartley guided a talented Avs team to the Cup. Chelios is bored. Caps need to hire one of those dudes or maybe promote from within like the Pens did with Bylsma.

  8. As awful as things are for the Capitals right now, you have to believe they’ll improve. There is too much world-class talent on that club to continue struggling for much longer. This is rock bottom, the only place to go is up.

    I can’t see BB keeping his job much longer, this is reminiscent of the Penguins the year they won the cup. God awful hockey followed by a coaching change and success.

  9. The Sky Is Falling!

    It’s a long season. If we’re still talking about this in march I’ll be concerned.

  10. mark says:

    the caps have no heart no goaltending and the worst leadership in the game

  11. Tre Kronor says:

    The Caps are a “legitimate Stanley Cup contender” and the Rangers are a “middle-of-the-pack outfit?” How can OFB write this stuff? No, it’s the reverse. Nothing like disrespecting the opponent that just annihilated you. The Rangers are just 2 points behind the Caps and play a tougher schedule – just like all the teams in NE division. Aside from self promoting hype, what has given anyone the sense that the Caps are Stanley Cup worthy? 3 years running of failed playoffs and now this? Please.

  12. Darryl says:

    Here is what we know BB has done.

    1.Yelled at them
    2.Bag Skate at practice, For not working hard.
    3.Demoted Players- Liach to the 4th line.
    4.Promoted Players- Hendricks to the 2nd line.
    5.Benched players- Matt Bradley… WHY WHY WHY.

    None of that has worked, I hate to say it, But do to BB not adjusting, not adapting, I dont think the players hear what he is saying. They lose Wed night, He needs to go. Plain and Simple.

  13. Darryl says:

    Sorry for the mis-spelling, I should read “due to BB not adjusting”

  14. mike says:


  15. Bob L says:

    Not happy to see what is going on with the CAPS this season. I do not want to see BB go, and that is not the answer! What I don’t understand is why he cant pick a starting goalie and go with it. There is no reason, other than “bullheadedness” that Varley remained in the net after the first three/four goals in last nights game! We need a starting goalie and need to quit flip flopping goalies every night!

  16. Geo says:

    It doesn’t matter what any of us think. It only matters what Leonsis and GMGM think.

    If GMGM believes Bruce has “lost control of the team,” which is about what McPhee said back when they fired Hanlon after a 3-14-1 slump in 2007, then BB’ll be gone if the slide turns into a lengthier tailspin.

    The difference is the Caps were 18-5-3 before the current slide (not 3-0 like in 2007) and BB’s teams had a tremendous record. With Hanlon it was pretty clear the team was not coming around; BB probably has a heckuva lot more good will built up with Leonsis and gmgm.

    BB and co. instituted a more aggressive penalty kill, he moved Ovy to different positions to try to get him more room to operate. I don’t think he’s so arrogant, that he’s not willing to try something new. We’re not privy to the locker room game planning; maybe he’s trying new things and they aren’t doing it, maybe coaches are trying to simplify and the players just aren’t executing.

    You could argue all this frantic line shaking up isn’t much better than rearranging deck chairs on the Titantic. I’m not ready to panic just that far just yet. 🙂

  17. Hittman says:

    Still better than NFL football.

  18. alank says:

    Why can’t Gabby fix lines that suit the players and leave it alone? They’re going crazy ape bonkers with the lines, at this point.

  19. penguin pete says:

    it’s a blog i enjoy (along with this one – though 2 opposite ends of the class spectrum!) but the pens blog offers this and i couldn’t agree more…

    “The Capitals have lost 6 straight. And although it’s enjoyable to watch, ProHockeyTalk asks if this will help the Caps in the long run. And that’s what we’re worried about, too. Any eventual Cup winner has to overcome balls of controversy sometime in the regular season.”

    hang in there…

  20. Aflac says:

    Suck on that game caps fans.

  21. wherestheslide says:

    This situation feels similar, but worse, than right after last year’s trade of Clark (Captain, are you serious?) and Pothier. Another heart and soul removal (Fleischman) and another slump (yes, worse perhaps). I know they are pros but it does take time to build chemistry. Last year the Caps got it back together after the trade slump in time for the playoffs, but we all know how that went. Instead of thinking Boudreau might have to go, maybe McPhee should go, or at least leave the roster alone for a bit.

  22. Hey Penguin Pete! – Great post. You are absolutely right.

  23. Harry Pospekhin says:

    Everything starts with the captain. Just look at Sid Crosby and his work ethic. This guy has not contracted a star disease yet and during the off-season he also worked hard to improve his craftsmanship and we see the fruit now: Sid is on the way to a 60-goal season and his team is far ahead of others. And what did Ovi do during the same time? He made fun at parties with numerous girls, drank quite a bit, and diverted in every way possible. Having said that, I must admit that Ovi is definitely a more gifted and universal player compared to Sid; if he worked on his skills as much as Sid does, he would be scoring 70 goals per season. And now he sometimes finds it hard to keep his balance on the skates, does not check the puck as impressively as he did before, does not use his chances. Sid cannot shoot such rockets as Ovi can and he is not so good at force play, but Sid makes the most of his chances and what he can do he is doing better and better with each coming season. He is now a king on deflections and number one player working on rebounds, and he uses almost all chances like two on one or shootouts. Ovi can do more things than Sid, but he does them worse and worse season after season. Where are his famous raids from one end of the field to another? I’ll continue in the second message.

  24. Harry Pospekhin says:

    Other Washington’s forwards are too slow in their thinking and often do not understand each other. Bruce should better stop reshuffling his trios. Two Russians and a Swede are European guys who play a different hockey than do Canadian guys, so let them stick together; they are better together. Another super trio as I see it is Perrault, Juhansson and Chimera; they all are incredibly fast. These two trios are to be given 60% of the ice time (30% each) while other guys like Knuble-Laich-Fehr and Bradley-Hendrix-Gordon could be given 20% of the ice time each. And forwards must be more enthusiastic about assisting their defensemen and goalies. They should be much faster switching from defense to attack and create a lot more two on one chances. They should definitely put more soul, more heart and far greater energy and drive into their play. Look: even fortune turns away from Washington’s forwards: they hit posts and crossbars, goalies demonstrate miraculous saves against their them, and they seem to have lost their ability to perform really wicked shots, to catch goalies unawares. The line-up of Washington’s forwards is definitely the best in the league, but they should apply more brain as they shoot on goal, as does Sidney Crosby, a less talented guy than Ovi, but a harder working guy by a gross margin.

  25. Harry Pospekhin says:

    Now about defense men: Mike Green has greater passion about scoring than about his direct duties; as a result he is not good at either this season. The loss of Schultz was a serious blow, since this guy is a very good force player and can deliver beautiful passes to his forwards. Erskin is too slow, albeit a very strong man. Hannan is absolutely unimpressive; it was a gross mistake for Bruce to trade this guy. Fleischman could be traded, of course, but not for this type of fellow. The only thing Hannan is really good at is deserving penalties, because he does not know how to choose the right position on ice and is always behind the opposing forwards.

  26. Harry Pospekhin says:

    The goalies are losing their inspiration with each new game. It’s indicative that both Varley and Neuvirth initially did a good job, but they are young guys and the general spirit in the team does a mean trick to them, so both let stupid first goals in the last two games and I’m afraid, unless Ovi and his mates stop playing the fool, the young European goalies of Washington won’t be encouraged to play as good as they can, since their spirits are at their lowest now – they are not hardened warriors yet. Defense men do no really help them and the entire team shows them a very misleading example. Both guys are good (though arguably not as good as Bryzgalov, Miller or Anderson) but they need more confidence and inspiration

  27. Attempt at humor? says:

    How can you believe that Ovechkin is a more universal player then Sid. Crosby is a 200 ft player who takes face-offs, can score from anywhere, and can lead a team. Ovi can shoot hard. Anyone in the right mind would take Crosby over Ovechkin.

  28. OvieTracker says:

    @PENGUIN PETE: great post! Thanks for the encouragement. It means a lot to us Caps fans coming from a Pens fan.

    @BOB L: good point about Boudreau leaving Varly in so long. Who does Boudreau think he is, Mario Tremblay? He must think Varly is Patrick Roy too.

  29. Doc says:

    This comment is addressed to HARRY POSPEKHIN.
    What are you talking about needless to say that you are trying to compare Ovie To Sid there is no comparrison what so ever .Ist of all Sid has MORE TALENT with the puck and Energy while Ovie sits up front waiting for a pass so he can slap it at the nets. Crosby is a Goal Getter and sets up Plays with his fellow Team Mates and as far as your Comment Ovie is more Gifted Give Me A Break.

    Crosby is the next Great one where the Russian Machine needs a Major overhaul.Ovie will NEVER lead his team to the Stanley Cup .The news is that maybe you haven,t heard the past month but Crosby was mentioned as Number One in the NHL.

    So Harry get a Life and Change your Team and think about what you say before you put it on the blog you are starting to Disturb & upset all the Cap Fans .

    As i mentioned early today on the Blog there is 3 Major Changes to be Addressed.#1.Get rid of Boudreau he is washed up. #2 The Caps need a Goaltender get rid of the 2 they got.And now for #3 Get Rid of Ovie he is not a Leader too busy drinking Vodka.

    The Pens have overcome the first of the Season and now they are on Fire!!! I will be waiting for the outcome of their first game of the season when the meet Dec 23rd.

    Devoted Penguins Fan .

  30. Mark In NOVA says:

    The rationale for keeping Varley in goal was simple: Neuvy was sick and told BB that he couldn’t go. There was no choice in the matter…he had to keep Varley in and risk further damage to his confidence.

  31. Harry Pospekhin says:

    Come on, guys, look at the facts squarely and impartially. If you read my post carefully, I praised Sid much above Ovie because he is a very hard-working guy and gets better all the time. But look at his goals and be unbiased – almost all of them are the result of either a crafty deflection or working on rebounds, or else two on one chances, shootouts and shots on empty net in the end of the game. I never doubt Sid’s ability to do amazing work in front of the goalie. But did you see him scoring a lot from the blue line? Even Semin sends the puck more forcefully with his wrist shots than does Sid, though Sid is definitely more intelligent and he is excellent at wicked shots making the fool of any goaltender. And I fully agree with the columnist who compares Datsyuk with Ovie on this site. This is surely a more correct comparison, since both are center forwards and Ovie is a left-winger.

  32. Harry Pospekhin says:

    Sorry for a mistake – I certainly meant the comparison between Datsyuk and Sidney Crosby in the previous comment, but misspelled Ovie for Sid in the last sentence but one of the previous comment

  33. Harry Pospekhin says:

    To be really impartial, I’d like to say that the only thing Ovie has become better in this season compared to the previous ones is in his play making ability. His passes are really a beauty now, though his shots on goal and his scoring ability have unfortunately deteriorated.

  34. Harry Pospekhin says:

    Look through all the goals recently scored by Sidney Crosby – they are scored from a short distance – not more than 20 feet from the goal. I’ve never seen him scoring from the blue line because he cannot send real rockets or delivery powerful wrist shots. This is just an objective reality, though this does not mean a forward necessarily needs such skills more inherent to defense men. But this only means that Sid is not a universal player, and his face-offs are not very impressive. When big and tough defense men put real pressure on him he would not fight because he is too shy and timid like a fledgling. Have you ever seen him fighting? And have you ever seen him boarding off any guy, which Ovie does occasionally?

  35. penguin pete says:

    first, i apologize in advance for hijacking the comments section here with a sid/alex discussion.

    alright harry. i’m not going to argue who’s better because we all feel a healthy bias towards our own guy. however, to question sid’s board/corner play is insane. find me someone who’s better in a corner.

    fighting? sure, he’s no probert, and you can question his tactics, but he’s had his share of fights and acted like a good captain in initiating a couple of them (okay, maybe just one!)

    umm, shootout goals DON’T count in your goal totals.

    he’s got ONE empty net goal. ONE.

    and as far as faceoffs go, maybe you should click here…

    again, i apologize to OFB for the rant. thanks for the opportunity to do so.

  36. Gary says:

    No need to apologize. Your comments are always respectful and thoughtful and always welcome.

  37. sean says:

    I didn’t know this had turned into the “I worship Cindy Cosby” blog?

  38. donna says:

    I don’t understand how Harry can say That Sid is not a universal player and that Ovi is more gifted. I am probably on the top ten list of fans who love Ovechkin, but it really is becoming clear who is more skilled. Harry if you are watching the games then you must see that Ovechkin continues to make the same plays over and over and if you look at the stats, it’s not working. When you talk about where Sidney gets his goals from and how, does that not mean he has skill and talent?? I think it does show his skills with his hand eye co ordination. He also has shown the ability to move the puck from end to end and making a scoring play. Ovechkin’s plays are going down the one side and trying to manouver around a player, drag and curl and shoot, or shooting from the blue line on a PP. Yes it worked for him in the past, but it is no longer working and if he had the skill, he should be able to change his game and still be amazing. Sometimes to change, a player needs direction and perhaps that direction might have to come from a new coach. I think the change has to start with the coach. The team is extremely talented, but not using the talent properly. I love BB, but he seems to be getting outcoached.

  39. donnab says:

    I don’t understand how Harry can say That Sid is not a universal player and that Ovi is more gifted. I am probably on the top ten list of fans who love Ovechkin, but it really is becoming clear who is more skilled. Harry if you are watching the games then you must see that Ovechkin continues to make the same plays over and over and if you look at the stats, it’s not working. When you talk about where Sidney gets his goals from and how, does that not mean he has skill and talent?? I think it does show his skills with his hand eye co ordination. He also has shown the ability to move the puck from end to end and making a scoring play. Ovechkin’s plays are going down the one side and trying to manouver around a player, drag and curl and shoot, or shooting from the blue line on a PP. Yes it worked for him in the past, but it is no longer working and if he had the skill, he should be able to change his game and still be amazing. Sometimes to change, a player needs direction and perhaps that direction might have to come from a new coach. I think the change has to start with the coach. The team is extremely talented, but not using the talent properly. I love BB, but he seems to be getting outcoached.

  40. cdk says:

    for gods sake why the debate between ovie and crosby? it has nothing to do w/ a 7-0 loss to the rangers. aside from some listless and sloppy play for which the caps are guilty it’s that it seems to me BB does not make adjustments to the defenses other teams throw at the caps. the good coaches in hockey or football, etc will adjust to what they confront. I don’t see BB doing that. his tail all of the time. where is aggrssive forechecking? the other teams have ovie figures out by sliding someone over to pick him up when he comes down the wing. let’s see some adjustments by BB and then consider when and if a change is necessary on the bench. maybe it’s just me but who else out there would like to see more of holtby. the other two between the pipes don’t impress me too much.

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