The Washington Capitals have struggled since the winter break. They have played eleven games since Christmas day and only have three wins to show for it. Those three wins came back-to-back-to-back. There have been some tough opponents on the schedule, but the Caps could have, and maybe even should have come away with more than six points.
Last night the Caps lost 5-2 to the Ottawa Senators. It was a much different game than their meeting in December that saw Washington thrash the Sens 6-2. Ottawa is experiencing a re-resurgence of sorts at the moment, and is starting to look a lot more like the dominant team that people expected this season. Unfortunately for the Caps, last night they were
on the receiving end of this new found confidence from the Senators. It was Ottawa's fifth straight win, they're 10th win in the last 12 games, and they now sit perched in second place in the Northeast Division with 56 points.
Brent Johnson got the start for Washington and stopped 29 shots. The five shots he couldn't stop came from Mike Comrie (2), Daniel Alfredsson (short-handed), Andrej Meszaros and Peter Schaefer. Johnson fell to 4-6-3 in his fourteenth appearance this season for the Caps.
Comrie came over to Ottawa in a trade with Phoenix on January 3rd and has taken full advantage of his new surroundings. He has seven points in seven games with Ottawa, and last night's two goal effort gave him four goals in the last four games. The Sens lost Jason Spezza to injury late in December and brought Comrie in to help fill the roster void. Obviously the Edmonton native has done more than just fill a void; Ottawa has lost just one game in seven since Comrie arrived. On top of that, the Sens have scored at least five goals in every game that Comrie has played.
Washington got goals from captain Chris Clark, and defenseman Steve Eminger. Clark's goal brought the Caps to within one at 2-1 to end the first period and came short-handed. Eminger's goal was his first of the season and it came early in the third period on a pass from Alex Ovechkin, to put the Caps back in the game at 4-2. Eminger also assisted on Clark's goal.
Ovechkin may not speak English fluently, but sometimes his words are still quite apropos, "We didn't play very well tonight and we need to score more goals."
They certainly do. With the wide open brand of hockey that Washington employs, they aren't going to win many of the games that they only score two goals.
So as this Caps team falters slightly, is it a case of the other teams in the league getting better, or are the Capitals just struggling? They have showed on many nights that they can play with anyone, but 2007 hasn't seen that same effort very often from the Caps. Washington has just two games remaining before the All-Star break; they conclude their four-game road trip in Carolina on Thursday and then are back at home on Saturday to faceoff against the Florida Panthers. Then Caps players will get a seemingly much needed rest, and a chance to regroup and get ready for the back half of the season.
Glen Hanlon will surely use the time off to try and re-capture some of the magic that Washington put together frequently in the first three months of the season. His young team needs to focus and bear down before the season gets away from them amidst a mid-season slide. Last night's loss dropped Washington to below .500 at 19-20-7 on the season. They suddenly find themselves thirteenth in the Eastern Conference standings, and seemingly well out of a playoff spot.
The Capitals are only five points back though, and with 36 games remaining, they have plenty of time to right the ship. They have to do it now though if they want to have a chance at playoff contention. The All-Star break, gives everyone a chance to charge their batteries. Washington needs to re-find their identity and ability to play to their potential every night. Anything short of that will not be good enough most nights for this young, inexperienced team.
The real positive is that streaky teams have hot streaks as well as cold streaks, and Washington have proven that they have it in them. Hanlon and his Caps need to find their groove and peel off some consecutive win streaks, not just consecutive wins.
Their season depends on it.
There was no All-Star game last season due to the Olympics, so Alex Ovechkin will be making his All-Star debut, and he is the sole Capitals representative. Hockey fans could be in for quite a treat next week if Ovie is paired with play making sensation Sidney Crosby on a line. Crosby led all players in All-Star votes with 825,783 to earn what will also obviously be his first NHL All-Star appearance.
With Ovechkin's phenomenal shot and hunger for goals, it would seem that putting him on a line with the league's best set up man would be just what the fans want to see. Can the league mandate to a coach that he puts two guys on the same All-Star line? If they could, they surely would. Crosby and Ovechkin shoulder a monumental burden of carrying the league for the next decade in just their second seasons in the NHL. While the All-Star festivities will see the two bombarded by the hockey media and not a moments peace between them, surely the two of them are excited about the prospect of playing together.