The Washington Capitals have completed a season long five-game homestand, but after winning four of their last six games, one prevailing question reverberates around this Caps season: has this team found its true identity yet?
Many Caps fans are asking because they have seen a couple of instances where the team just looks flat-out lethargic. So much so that common core values instilled throughout the organization over the years just haven’t shown up, and it has to be a little concerning.
Washington Capitals’ Nate Schmidt, center, takes a shot as Toronto Maple Leafs’ Roman Polak, left, defends during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto, Saturday Nov. 26, 2016. (Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press via AP)
After the aforementioned homestand, the Caps were totally out-hustled and outplayed by the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 26 in a 4-2 loss, a score which does not indicate how pitiful the performance was on all fronts. Even soft-spoken goalie Braden Holtby, who took the loss, called out his team for their lack of energy.
“We didn’t look like the Washington Capitals out there at all,” Holtby said. “Completely embarrassed by a young team. It’s not acceptable in our culture here. We’re going to have to be better. Every one of us. It was completely embarrassing.”
“I think we need to get to work in practice,” he added. “Get in better shape. Get working harder. Realize it’s not easy just because we had success last year.”
This isn’t the first time a coach or a team leader has called the Caps out for their lack of focus. While their defense has been stellar this season, allowing only 47 goals so far, third best in the league, something just isn’t right. Washington is in the middle of the pack in some of the most telling team statistics, and it has shown on the ice. No way should a team this talented on offense be ranked 13th in scoring, 18th on the power play, and 16th in penalty kill percentage.
Star players Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have assumed their usual roles as top scorers during the first quarter of the season. What fans are clamoring for is some sort of sustained continuity from the others. After starting the season like gangbusters, Marcus Johansson has slowed down his production, a possible cause of the team’s sometimes-lackluster play.
A hangover from last season’s record-breaking season wasn’t unthinkable. But this lack of urgency, attention to detail and intensity could derail the team before the playoffs. Being in third place in the same division as the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins and always stellar New York Rangers isn’t a death sentence by any means. Maybe the inflated expectations after last season have caused fans to notice the small intricacies that cause talented teams to stumble from time to time.
There is plenty of time to change this narrative, and to fix whatever ails the team, whether through a trade or other means. Let’s just hope that past regular season success and playoff failures have not caused irrevocable damage to the team’s overall psyche.