With his team last in the NHL standings with a 2-8-1 record after 11 games, Capitals general manager George McPhee met with reporters Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In the third of a thee-part series, McPhee addresses the mental toughness of his players, leadership concerns and more on Alex Ovechkin:
On players being mentally weak:
Sometimes players will talk in clichés. They don’t want to throw another player under the bus. They don’t want to throw darts at anyone. Not being mentally prepared to play, I don’t think that’s the case. I think we’ve been really well prepared to play. I think we’ve started games really well, with the exception of Toronto [Tuesday night]. Are they fragile? Yeah, they are. It all seems to start with the penalties. We’ve played so well in so many games and we take penalties at inopportune times and clusters of them. You’re just putting yourself in jail. That part I would agree with, that they have to stay out of the box and stay stronger and give themselves a chance. This league’s too good. You can’t take the most penalties in the league and expect to be doing well.
On being concerned that a lack of mental toughness is an enduring problem:
Not really. I mean, this team has been to the second round [of the playoffs] three of the last four years and only three other teams have done that. Does that mean 26 other teams are mentally weak? No. This team plays hard enough, it’s good enough. It’s just having a heck of a bad stretch, but it can flip, you know? You can win a game, win another one and then it goes the other way.
On the team being fragile:
It just seems that we’re playing well and then we take some bad penalties and they score a goal or two and we’re not closing the door when we need to close the door. Close them out. When you’re up 1-0, 2-0 don’t give them anything to get back in the game and we haven’t been doing that. In fact, we’re helping teams get back into the games by giving them power plays.
On how you get past that:
Stop doing it. Stop taking the penalties. There are areas of our game where we’re playing real well. I think you’d agree 5-on-5 we’ve been playing really well. Our power play is starting to click. Ovi is really starting to play well. We need some other players to play a little bit better. But we have to stop giving the other team a chance to beat us by sitting in the box. It’s a tough way to win.
On if better discipline falls on the players:
It does. I mean, you can start sitting players out. Karl Alzner took a couple penalties last night, [Troy] Brouwer’s had a couple, [Joel] Ward. They’ve all taken penalties, but you can’t start sitting out for that. If one guy’s persistently taking too many then you park him for while. But it’s sort of been spread throughout.
On the possibility of a leadership issue:
I don’t think so, no. Troy Brouwer is as good a leader as there is in this game. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.
On concern over Ovechkin not having an even-strength goal:
No. I really like the way he’s playing right now. We knew it would be a process. We knew there would be an adjustment to stay at right wing and it’s going to have to evolve a little bit. Now that he’s gone back to right wing he’s playing better, I think he likes it and those goals will come. I worry when he’s not getting chances. He’s getting lots of chances now and he’s creating them. I thought he was pretty dominant last night. I thought he was the one guy that stood out in the game for both teams. I didn’t think Pittsburgh did a whole lot until they got on the power play and that’s our fault.
On whether Ovechkin is getting checked tighter without Alexander Semin in the lineup:
Not necessarily. We can move Nicky [Backstrom] and [Mike Ribeiro] around. Ribeiro is leading our team in scoring. There’s not a lot of goals scored 5-on-5 in this league anymore. A lot are on special teams. Goals are coming hard right now. Tips, deflections, rebounds, going to the net, that’s where a lot of the goals are. If it’s not special teams, that’s where a lot of the goals are. We could do better there. I like some things about our team but there are a lot of things we can do better. I mentioned the ones that have to be addressed but certainly going to the net and parking yourself there and crashing is one.