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Posted at 1:19 PM ET, 01/19/2011

The Capitals are not elite

By Ryan Cooper

In last night’s recap of the Flyers game on Japers Rink, the author mentioned that “if there's one thing this game showed, it's that the Caps as a team are not among the elite right now,” and I for one, could not agree more. The Capitals aren’t elite right now by any stretch. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The Capitals should not be playing their best hockey right now, and it would bother me more if they were. From my angle, it seems that a lot of their problems lately have had to do with bad luck. Things like the puck stopping on Alex Ovechkin in Tampa, or Mike Green trying to do his best Pete Peeters imitation last night, or Ovi breaking roughly 250,000 different hockey sticks in the same game. Hell, even last night’s goals weren’t easy. Marcus Johansson’s shot hit the post and just stopped there waiting for Sergei Bobrovsky to cover up before Mike Knuble put it home, and Alex Ovechkin’s tying goal came perilously close to being called off.

I have to believe, though, that all these things will even out. Much like when Jerry was known as “Even Steven” on Seinfeld, the Caps will eventually throw a $20 bill out the window and then find another one in their coat pocket. Ovi will not keep shooting 7.6 percent. Nick Backstrom and Alexander Semin will score goals again despite both going through a longer scoring drought than A.C. Green.

Last night, the Caps were down 2-0 after two to a team that almost never loses (24-1-2) when leading after two. They gutted out two goals in the third period and gained a point they had no business getting. That type of character will pay off in April and May. It doesn’t matter if they “struggle” to get into the playoffs as long as they get there (which they will), because wacky things happen in the playoffs.

A few more notes:

  • I may be crazy, but I’m not really “convinced” by the Flyers. They’re unquestionably deep and talented, but they play in a terrible division with the two worst teams in the NHL, a mediocre Rangers team, and the Pens (who I believe are better, at least when Sid is healthy). I’m not really sold yet on Sergei Bobrovsky either, even though he looked really good at times last night. I still think they go out early in April.
  • Michal Neuvirth must have a pretty fragile constitution if he’s getting sick all the time. At least I hope it’s something simple like that and not a significant injury. He still went down way too early on the Jeff Carter goal, though.
  • DJ King. Yikes.
  • Marcus Johansson has been one of the best, if not the best, forward on the ice the Caps have had the last couple of weeks. Of course, that hasn’t stopped some from suggesting he be sent to the A. Mind boggling.

By Ryan Cooper  | January 19, 2011; 1:19 PM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Ryan Cooper  | Tags:  Capitals, Ryan Cooper  
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Haha. How about that? I Caps writer who actually knows something about hockey. I do think the Rangers are a bit better then mediocre, but I understand why you feel they aren't.

Posted by: jcreech1 | January 19, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Yea, the point about people thinking MJ should be sent to Hershey is histarical. He's already a legit second line center. Much better then Matty P. I do, however, think the Caps need to make one more trade for a forward before the deadline.

Posted by: jcreech1 | January 19, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

The point is well taken, the Caps last season clearly peaked too soon.

However, the neverendingstringofinjuries spells doom for this team come playoff time.

Sure, everybody could have a legit clean bill of health come playoff time but with all the games that key guys are missing/have missed/are playing through, the team just won't have it when it really counts.

As for the On Frozen Bozos, really, you should know better than to waste your time with them.

Posted by: CapsNut | January 19, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Who cares if someone says 'the Capitals are clearly not among the elite teams in the NHL'?? Like Ryan Cooper stated, it really doesn't matter if the Caps are not playing their best hockey right now; and personally it seems to me that they're really not trying to play their best hockey right now. I can still remember last season, when the Caps were rolling through one opponent after another, then when the playoffs began, everyone in this area--and throughout the hockey world for that matter-- thought the Caps would make a strong run for the Stanley Cup; only to have the Caps shockingly outsted by Montreal. If history has shown us anything, its that YOU DON'T HAVE TO EXCEL IN THE REGULAR SEASON TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP. Its almost a given in hockey that some--if not all of the top-seeded teams don't make it past the first two rounds. Perhaps that's because the teams that dominate during the regular season lose their competitive edge or they underestimate the lower-seeded teams they face. So let the Philly Fly Guys roll through the season, and win the President's Trophy. That may be the only trophy they'll win this season. Ovechkin is STILL one of the best hockey players in the world, regardless of his current struggles.

Posted by: | January 19, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

DJ King yikes?

Posted by: weetabixjihad | January 19, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

As good as MJ has been in the offensive zone, I still think he's a liability defensively. Look at the 2nd goal from last night, he was out muscled and couldn't keep up with Carter(I believe it was him not 100% sure), and looked to be lost once the goal was scored. Yeah he's playing well offensively, but I think in a playoff series against Philly or pitt he becomes a liability.

He'll be good and he can play 3C (if he could win a face off more consistently) but he's not the 2C solution this season.

One thing I can say about philly and pitt, is that they play right. They cycle the puck on O, they do the little things well, they play correct defensively and they minimize their mistakes. That's why they'll succeed in the playoffs. Bobrovsky doesn't have to be amazing, when he has that D corp in front of him.

Posted by: goskinsgo | January 19, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Caps are not an elite team without shedding the extra weight and deciding on some working lines. It's okay that that hasn't happened yet, but it needs to happen in the next 6 weeks and its not going to happen from within.

Trade Michal Neuvirth and David Steckel for C Travis Zajac of the NJ Devils. Zajac has 3 years remaining in his deal at 3.87 mil/year. He's 6'3, 200, with good faceoff ability, speed, good hands, and offensive upside. He's proven he can make his teammates better, and would fit perfectly between Semin and whoever. He's 25, has recorded 60+ points the last two seasons, and was +33 and +22 in plus/minus the last two seasons. That fits perfectly into Bruce's two-way forward approach. He's a hardworker with a big offensive upside, and someone the Caps could get at least 3 years out of, relatively cheap (as opposed to paying Richards or someone a ridiculous amount to back-up Backstrom.) I would even throw in Bradley, either of the Gordon's, Beagle, or Perreault if they want more. They have too many of those forwards as it is.

Secondly, GMGM needs to make a run at a Goalie. I know the stats are pretty decent for both Neuvy and Varly, but I just don't have the confidence in them yet, game in and game out. The Caps should look into what Florida would take for Tomas Vokoun. They have a good back-up in Scott Clemmensen, and if you've been watching at all, Vokoun is having a pretty damn good year, especially against the Caps. Yeah, we pay him the rest of what he's owed this year, but he's a UFA after the season and THEN maybe it's Varly time. But Florida probably thinks they'll lose Vokoun after the season anyway, they are in last place in the Southeast, and I think they'd be happy to bring in a Beagle/Perrault and a pick or someone in the system.

The Caps would be playoff ready, with Ovie-Backstrom-Knuble
Hendricks, Gordon, Bradley, King, whoever we have left get worked in the rotation.

Defense is set for the year.

Vokoun and Varly compete down the stretch, providing stability and competition, and a back-up plan if Varly's groin acts up. I think Neuvirth and Varlamov are getting too comfortable in their platoon role, I don't see either making a push. Only advantages come with injuries.

Caps can win this year, and win for years to come, but this in-season trade deadline is crucial.

Posted by: caps131313 | January 19, 2011 4:52 PM | Report abuse

While I don't think that unlucky bounces are an excuse since there are plenty of scoring chances in any game, I do like your even steven reference.

I would much rather have the same record as now with ov, backstrom, semin, and green struggling than with them carrying the load. This tells me that role players can support the stars and the team has tons of room for improvement.

Posted by: novjo | January 19, 2011 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Wow caps131313, put down the video games and get a clue.

Posted by: GFisher1 | January 20, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse

"From my angle, it seems that a lot of their problems lately have had to do with bad luck."

Sorry. A lot of their problems are due to their long-standing inability to play sixty minutes.

Two years ago the team constantly took nights off. Result: a night off coming their way when they didn't want one, game 7 - Pittsburgh. They looked like kids.

Last year: the team constantly fell behind by 2 goals only to make miracle finishes with their offensive horsepower. The result: they go down by 2 goals in 5 of 7 games in the stunning series loss to Montreal.

This year: player after player after player is talking about the team's inability to play 60 minutes, as if this is something new.

It's not: it's coaching. The Capitals problems "lately" are not due to bad luck. The problems are long standing and I see no reason to believe head coach BB can successfully do anything about it. If he could, wouldn't he have done so by now?

Posted by: capscapscaps2 | January 20, 2011 9:26 AM | Report abuse

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