Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at how much of a factor Alex Ovechkin’s lack of production has contributed to the Capitals' slump.
Burnside: Well, my friend, a busy night in the NHL with Ilya Bryzgalov defeating his old team, the Phoenix Coyotes, the Bruins continuing to win, and the Blue Jackets continuing to lose. But for me, the most interesting tilt of the night was Winnipeg's handling of Washington by a 4-1 count. That's two straight wins by the once lowly Jets over division foes, as they whipped Tampa Bay earlier in the week. The loss for the Caps leaves them with a 1-4-1 record in their past six games. The power play, so important to the team's strong start to the season, has gone cold as the Caps have failed to deliver with the man advantage in four straight games. They've scored just 12 times in the past six games, and while a lot of folks will point the finger at Alex Ovechkin, who continues to slump with just seven goals on the season and none in his past three games, it goes deeper than that.
LeBrun: Ovechkin’s point production has been a hot topic of late. His 14 points (7-7) in 17 games has him 49th in league scoring. I chatted with GM George McPhee and coach Bruce Boudreau on Thursday, and neither was concerned about his points tally, pointing to the fact the club is a four-line team now. The Caps don’t rely as much on him as they did a few years ago when they were a team without as much depth. The theory, of course, is that they’re better built for the playoffs by not relying on one forward line. But to your point, right now that team is not playing very well.
“We felt like we were a little too soft; we weren’t winning the battles,” Caps blueliner Karl Alzner told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “The pucks didn’t seem to want to sit down for us all that much. [The Jets] buried every single chance that they got -- at least most of the chances. It was just not a good effort by us. You can’t do that. We’re supposed to beat a team like this -- one that’s below .500. We’re not doing that right now.”
It just so happens that star defenseman Mike Green has played only one game since Oct. 22. Whatever the reason, if you look at when Green was out of the lineup last season as well, the Caps aren’t the same team. His absence seems to hurt the Caps more than when Ovechkin has missed games.
Burnside: With the Caps faltering, the Southeast is suddenly a four-team race with the Jets just four back of first-place Washington. Claude Noel is starting to get some offense out of his young team, and Ondrej Pavelec has been solid and is playing virtually every game for the Jets. It will be interesting to see how he holds up as the season moves along, but he's got to carry the load if Winnipeg is to stay in the playoff race.
Meanwhile, Tampa beat Pittsburgh on Thursday and Florida was knocked off by Ken Hitchcock's red-hot St. Louis Blues, although the Panthers remain tied with the Caps for first place in the division, just one point ahead of Tampa. So, do the Caps rebound and win the division, or will we see that prized Southeast Division banner hanging somewhere else at the end of the season?
LeBrun: You’re crazy if you think the Caps won’t win the Southeast this season. They’re going through a slump right now, yes, but they’ve got the best lineup in the division, and they’ll prevail in the end. A much more compelling division race to me is the Pacific -- for my money the best division in the NHL. The suddenly surging Kings lead the Pacific with 23 points after sweeping a home-and-home with their rival Ducks. The Stars are one point back in second place. The perennial contending Sharks are in third place, just two points back, having knocked around the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. And the never-say-die Coyotes are fourth, tied in points with San Jose. All four teams occupy a spot in the top eight of the Western Conference playoff race -- the four clubs a combined 17 games over .500. That’s a tough division, my friend.
Burnside: Whoa, take it easy, big fella, just asked. I'm curious to see how Dallas handles its first bit of adversity after roaring to the top of the conference standings. The Stars have lost three in a row and travel to Colorado to face the fading Avs. This before starting a four-game homestand that will presumably welcome in new ownership as the deal to hand over the team to Tom Gaglardi is imminent. The Stars have been outscored 14-3 over the three-game slide, so rookie coach Glen Gulutzan has his first slump to deal with. As for the Ducks, wow, they're brutal, and you wonder about GM Bob Murray's patience for a prolonged slide from a team that most of us thought would be in the middle of the playoff mix.
LeBrun: I spoke with Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk on Thursday, Scott, and this is the test he had tried to prepare for by stocking up on players July 1. Nieuwendyk felt his team was derailed last season by injuries and the lack of depth required to stem the tide. So when Brad Richards left town last summer, Nieuwendyk used those payroll savings to sign six players on July 1, and the hope/theory is that when injuries came this time around, the Stars would be ready.
Well, the injuries are here now. Winger Adam Burish is expected to be out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand, and top defenseman Alex Goligoski is expected to be out at least four weeks after suffering a broken thumb. Now we’ll see how Dallas responds. The Ducks? Mercy. Dead last in the NHL in goals per game. Murray picked up Niklas Hagman from re-entry waivers to try to spark his team, but more is needed, agreed.
Have a great weekend, Scotty.