Publicly, McPhee is standing solidly behind his 33-20-10, second-place-in-the-Southeast squad. (The team’s 20 regulation losses before March are 5 more than the team lost in regulation all of last season.) But what are the consequences of another super short stint in the postseason? Isn’t this franchise at a bit of a competitive crossroads?
And if so, is it overstatement to suggest that there are ominous signs abounding? What comfort do you take from the team’s longstanding mediocrity this regular season? After beginning the year 14-4-1, the Capitals since November 19 are at 19-16-9. If it weren’t for the strong start the team would be in a dogfight just to qualify for the postseason.
A year ago at this time McPhee was the toast of the league, engineer of what would go on to be the best-ever Capitals’ club in regular season achievements. But since that President’s trophy winning Capitals’ club was stunned by Montreal in last postseason’s opening round, McPhee’s star has dimmed: He allowed a key roster weakpoint — second-line center — to go unfilled in the offseason, and to be staffed by an audition of mostly unready rookies throughout the season. The absence of consistency and productivity at the position has weakened the Capitals’ attack generally and helped render impotent what was once the league’s best power play.
Most importantly, perhaps, his club appears to be one without an identity: they lunchpale it one night, winning with grit and guile and a commitment to accountability in their own end, then follow soon thereafter with lifelessness — they’ve been shut out an astounding nine times already this season.
A year ago the Caps were no. 1 in the NHL in scoring; this morning they’re outside the top 20 (22nd). A year ago they boasted the league’s best power play; this morning it’s 25th. The PK is better, but it had nowhere to go but up. Stats tell some of this team’s story, but they don’t tell what’s most troubling and vexing: why this team doesn’t show up at all some nights, as with last Friday’s 6-0 molestation by the Blueshirts at Verizon Center. A compelling case could be made for McPhee to tinker or more today solely to try and change the dynamic in the room, seeking to infuse it with some veterans boasting notable postseason pedigrees . . . seeking to infuse it with some hockey heart.
It’s difficult to fathom the Capitals as presently comprised making serious postseason noise without remedy for the center of the ice for the club. The team’s first-unit power play has become relatively easy to defend by virtue of the preponderance of right-shooting skaters on it — the unit has a ton of its shots blocked as opposing PKers sag and slide and congest predictable shooting lanes. Wouldn’t be a bad idea for the GM to try and acquire a depth defenseman capable of bringing it from the point with a left-handed shot.
And there is this to consider, too: Every team surrounding the Caps in the East’s top eight has made at least one notable move toward improvement in the leadup to the trade deadline.
And there is, too, urgency for the GM from the vantage of the opportunity that is there for his team’s taking given the relative parity among the East’s top eight teams. There is no runaway-dynamo of a club in the East this season; Philly is strong but not without its own question marks. The East this spring is very much for the taking for the club of the GM who perhaps does the best work among his peers at re-shaping his roster by 3:00 today.
To try and make sense of Deadline Day madness, I’ll take part in a 2-hour long radio and podcast recap of the day, focusing on the Caps’ — and the league’s — alterations in total, with some of my best buds in pucks: studio host Sky Kerstein of 106.7 the Fan, Ted Starkey of the Washington Times, Brian McNally of the Examiner, and Ed Frankovic of Baltimore WNST. You’ll be able to listen live on 106.7 the Fan’s HD2 channel from 7:00 – 9:00 tonight, and the program will then be podcasted on 106.7’s site a bit later.We’ll delve into where we think this Caps’ team is post 3:00 today, if any moves put them over the top, keys to the Caps contending in the postseason, and how far we think they’ll go. We may even get a Caps’ player or two to join us in the fun.
First, though, here’s a look at what Washington hockeyblogdom is saying about the Caps on this huge day.
- Mike Vogel gets as inside the thinking of the Capitals’ GM as anyone in town. The Caps made a run at Mike Fisher, and all three young goalies are immune from any and all trade talks this year. McPhee is also highly unlikely to part with a no.1 pick in any dealings today.
- Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease says it’s time for management to take a risk: “This team could be primed for something special — but most likely not as currently constructed. It’s time for GMGM to lay all of his cards out on the table — and show everybody that he’ll do something more than just tweaking the roster.”
- Rock the Red reminds us that McPhee “has a knack for making moves that nobody sees coming.” The good crew there also offers a helpful analysis of the budget limitations likely to restrain McPhee a bit today — unless he gets creative. That blog, though, doesn’t seem to see the urgency of McPhee’s needing to making an impact in the middle of the second line that I do. The Red Rockers remind that the last time the team needed an impact center — in 2008 — McPhee went out and landed one: Sergei Fedorov. The second line hasn’t been stable and consistently productive since Feds left.