Caps players know they need to take accountability
It is not unusual for Capitals general manager George McPhee to huddle with coach Adam Oates after a game.
So when McPhee walked into the visiting coaches’ office at MadisonSquareGarden and closed the door behind him following the Caps’ 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers Sunday night, it might have been nothing out of the ordinary.
Or, it might have been the start of a long conversation about how to fix what’s broken with D.C.’s hockey team.
The Capitals have lost five in a row and 12 of their last 16. They are 10th in the Eastern Conference and currently out of a playoff spot.
They have three goalies on their roster and no clear-cut No. 1.
They have two players who have requested trades.
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They have a pair of young defensemen prone to making mistakes.
And they have a coach who is growing increasingly frustrated by seeing the same mistakes made every night.
“Every night it’s a different speech I’m giving you guys,” Oates told reporters Sunday night. “Five-on-five we’re playing decent hockey.”
True enough. By Oates’ estimation the Caps allowed just three 5-on-5 offensive chances to the Rangers in the first two periods. But because of penalties in the offensive zone and mistakes in the defensive zone they trailed 4-1 and the Rangers didn’t need to do much more than clear the puck out of their zone.
Which leads to this question: Are the Caps just a few corrected mistakes away from turning their season around? Or, is there something deeper in their inability to string together any wins.
“You have to be honest with yourself,” Caps goalie Braden Holtby said. “Last game [a 5-1 loss in Columbus] we didn’t deserve a win and I don’t think we did [Sunday night]. We have to play better.
“This is the time of year clubs are figuring themselves out. Look at the Rangers. They’re a completely different team than we played a month ago. We have to be honest with our efforts. We can be better.”
Back on Dec. 8, the Capitals played one of their best games of the season in a 4-1 win in New York. They made clean, crisp passes out of their defensive zone, kept the Rangers’ shots to the perimeter and stayed out of the penalty box.
Back then, the Capitals looked like a team that had turned things around. They were in the midst of four wins in five games and were six games over .500.
Today, they are three games over .500 and looking like a team destined for mediocrity.
Back-to-back losses by a combined score of 9-2 often trigger moves by a general manager.
But what should McPhee do?
Should he send Philipp Grubauer back to Hershey after seeing him get pulled in his last two starts? Should he keep Grubauer and trade Michal Neuvierh, who has played twice in the past two months?
Should he trade Marty Erat, who took three killer penalties against the Rangers Sunday night?
Should he do something much bigger and consider trading one of the Capitals’ core players?
Or should he do nothing and let the Caps figure out what they need to do to get back on track?
“We’re in a slump right now, that’s for sure,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We have to start playing way better around here. It’s tough right now. “