The Capitals were on their second game of their five-game road stretch playing the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night. One would assume that on a three-game losing streak and the playoff picture becoming blurrier each game, the Caps would hear the wake-up call. Despite winning in Anaheim 7-6, the Capitals’ play is still troubling.
Even though the Capitals won this game and Alex Semin had a hat trick tonight, they played sloppily in neutral and their own zone, giving up multiple turnovers and leaving Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth (who entered the game after a three-goal first period) to hang dry. Many of their goals were lucky goals, playing against Curtis McElhinney who has a 3.15 GAA after tonight, his 18th game of the year. With all due respect to McElhinney, this game is not something to effectively measure the team’s offense.
So with tonight as an example, I watch every Caps game, looking at how this team plays day-in and day-out and I ponder: it is no longer as simple as needing just a stay-at-home defenseman, a skilled right winger, or a center for the second line anymore.
As some recall, over the summer, many fans and reporters were skeptical at first watching Caps’ general manager George McPhee stand pat and not make any moves the first day of free agency. Anton Volchenkov was a defenseman many in Washington wanted, but on that first day, he went to New Jersey. Such was the case for other players that were heavily wished to go to DC. The rationalization for this was that the best options for the Capitals were too pricey, and they had not resolved re-signing players like Eric Fehr and Jeff Schultz… and Tomas Fleischmann.
Days passed, and after the Caps had resolved their issues with arbitration and re-signed Fehr, Schultz and Fleischmann, they let go of Eric Belanger. Days later, they announced that they would fill the center position on the second line with players from within their system in Hershey, PA. Many assumed that would be a battle between Marcus Johansson and Matheiu Perreault, which for the greater part of the year, it has been.
The first move by the Capitals for the 2010-2011 season did not come until Nov. 30 when Washington traded Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan, who was struggling at the time with the Avs. Nonetheless, McPhee said that he was in talks with Hannan since August according to DC Pro Sports Report.
Fast forward to Feb. 17, and the Capitals are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference behind the Montreal Canadiens with 68 points. They are only six points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, who are currently placed at the eighth seed, after being projected to be one of the favorites this year to win it all. All year long, there were holes glaring at the Capitals, and until now the holes have become bigger and have even multiplied to different areas.
The biggest hole at this point is the lack of a second line for the Capitals. All year long, the Caps were essentially playing with three lines because their second line was never set, and the responsibility on Johansson and/or Perreault to fill that hole as the nucleus of that line is a bit much, especially when they are not as refined as Nicklas Backstrom coming into the league. While a center for the second line might solve a lot of problems, unless the Caps can trade for a highly touted center, there’s a lot more that needs to be done.
Jason Arnott was a name that was thrown around earlier this year to go to the Capitals, but with the way Washington’s offensive struggles have cost them games, Arnott is not a guy who will make everyone around him on the Caps that much better, and is not worth the money. In other words, Arnott does not get the Capitals over the hump to win it all.
To me, Brad Richards is that guy who can put Washington over the top. With 63 points (24 goals and 39 assists) and a 51% faceoff percentage for the Dallas Stars, I see him being a nice fit for the Capitals, who have offensively skilled players in need of someone to set them up. A productive second line can lead to a more productive first line with the ability to get the puck in deep for them and establishing a tone for the game. Richards can even add to the power play, as he is known for playing on the point, and he could allow Alex Ovechkin to be used more down low and in front of the opposing goaltender. With Washington’s power play problems, a cure to that could help spark their offense alone.
It also adds that Richards has played in the Eastern Conference with the Tampa Bay Lightning before, and won a Stanley Cup with them. Turning 31 years old this year, Richards will give the Caps lineup experience in overall play and for the playoffs.
The only issue is this: Richards may cost a lot for Washington trade-wise. If the Stars’ chances to obtain new ownership by the end of this season improve, they may try to re-sign Richards. If possible, they will make an early trade for him very difficult. What McPhee has been guilty of in the past is holding on to the team’s younger players longer than he should. He has been overly meticulous in his attempts to make a move or a trade for the past two years that the Capitals have been favored to win a championship. And nobody in Washington made any attempts to pressure him until mid-season. The last time the Capitals made a major move to change the team was in November of 2007 when the team fired then-head coach Glen Hanlon and hired Bruce Boudreau. With the promise to fans to have a Stanley Cup around this time, the moves have been either nonexistent or extremely passive in improving the makeup of the Capitals.
This is not an attempt to sensationalize the Capitals’ problems, and it is not a rant out of bitterness and impatience. Rather, it is only a reminder of what has transpired this year and to put the issues of the Capitals’ problems in perspective in relation to how they could fix their current situation. Maybe a crazy, high-scoring win like this is what the Capitals need. However, I caution that thinking everything is all right after one win or even a few wins here and there leads to complacency, which may have happened earlier this year as well.
It is tough to go back in time and change things… actually it’s impossible to do that. As mentioned in All We Do Is Puck, a move must be made aggressively because considering the Caps’ standing as a Stanley Cup contender, they should aim to win it all this year. After next year, that window starts closing, especially after the shortcomings of the previous two seasons. There is still hope, though, for the Capitals this season. That hope is not for the team to make the playoffs, or make it past the first round, but for the ultimate goal: to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.