Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: Caps’ Climb Isn’t Over Yet

Tuesday night’s road win over the Nashville Predators finally got the Washington Capitals off of their four-game losing streak, but the Capitals need to continue to improve in some areas in order to maintain or improve their position in the Eastern Conference Standings.

The Caps’ play this season has been greatly improved over last year’s tale-of-two-team’s season, but Washington has not exorcised all of the demons that caused them to struggle at the start of last year.

Inopportune Turnovers

The most vexing of those problems is the giveaways at their offensive zone blue line.
Washington’s power play is one of the best in hockey. With potentially three 30+ goal scorers in Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green that’s not too surprising. Green’s contributions at this point have fueled much of that success. Unfortunately Green has also contributed to a number of shorthanded breakaways going in the other direction.
Washington’s attacking style, particularly on the power play, often activates either Green or Ovechkin from the point positions, leaving just one defender in the way of an opposing odd-man rush. The system works (file that one under “duh”) but every once and a while a lazy pass from point to point won’t have enough on it and suddenly the penalty kill is on the attack.
Washington has allowed nine shorthanded goals this season, the sixth most in the NHL. And that doesn’t count the penalties taken or penalty shots awarded after Green or another Cap hauls down the on-rushing forward. The lazy passes from point to point are a bad habit and need to stop.

Bad Penalties

There’s another side of the penalty coin too, namely taking them. Washington has taken more trips to the sin bin (330) than any team in the NHL this year. That’s a function of players being out of position and reaching, grabbing and using their sticks to play defense instead of their feet. It’s also another bad habit that needs to stop.

Shaken Confidence

Jose Theodore has played better, by leaps and bounds, than he did in his first several games with the Capitals, but he needs to keep his confidence up when the team hits the skids. When Theodore is at his best, he’s intuitive and plays with his instincts and exceptional reflexes. When he’s shaken, he tends to over-think things, committing early or backing up into his net instead of standing tall. Neither of those latter tendencies is something Theodore, at 5-foot-11, can afford.
The Caps’ netminder’s stature is something he often has to overcome. He does so by standing tall and challenging shooters, and by using those reflexes to cover up for quick passes across the crease or chances off of rebounds. When he’s confident, Theodore shows why he was a former winner of the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player. When he plays timidly, well, the Caps lose. Badly.

Silence the Doubters

Washington stood pat at the trade deadline, which was likely the right course of action given its cap issues and the high prices being asked for top defensemen. However, there is not a single person I have spoken with who covers hockey or is well versed in the game that thinks the Caps can win a Stanley Cup with Theodore in net and with their current corps of defensemen. I beg to differ. There isn’t a team in the league this year that looks unbeatable and the Caps have enough talent to make a lengthy run. However, that talent isn’t great enough to overcome the vices mentioned above. If Washington is serious about making a run at the cup, it must eliminate these bad habits from its game.

Mike Hume may be e-mailed at [email protected]