The ambitious Washington Capitals are threatening to miss the playoffs and another coaching change appears inevitable.
Dale Hunter has not had the desired impact since replacing Bruce Boudreau. He has come down hard on certain veterans (Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik in particular) without getting the desired results.
Hamrlik appears doomed to spend the rest of the season as a healthy scratch. “Every coach is different,” Hamrlik told CSNWashington.com. “I don’t know. I don’t want to say too much.”
Hunter's hiring was regarded as something of an experiment, since Hunter left the door open to return to the junior hockey team he owns and operates. That appears to be the likely outcome, give his team’s recent plays.
Fans attending Capitals tried to needle Hunter with sign messages – “Free Knuble” and “Scratch Hunter” -- but ushers intervened.
Here are some other notes on Washington’s failure.
Hunter yanked goaltender Tomas Vokoun from two games and then benched him in favor of Michal Neuvirth. Then Vokoun suffered a mild groin muscle strain as Neuvirth went on a three-game losing streak.
Defenseman Mike Green is struggling to regain his timing since returning from his sports hernia surgery. “Right now I feel like I’m kind of like a robot,” Green told the Washington Post. “I’m in position – but you want to be at a point when really the mental part of the game just flows. You create and you see things before they even happen and that’s the part of the game that I think has taken a step back. Hopefully, it peaks soon.”
The Washington Post notes that defenseman John Carlson has been on the ice for 63 percent of the goals opponents have scored off Capitals turnovers on Hunter’s watch. Turnovers are up overall since the coaching change.
The absence of No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom to post-concussion syndrome has proven devastating. It appears highly unlikely that he will return before the end of this season.
Meanwhile George McPhee told the Washington Post that he isn’t ready to give up on the season.
“We’ve made remarkable runs the last 20 games almost every year,” McPhee said on Wednesday. “We’ve become too reliant on that great push at the end. But we need to make it again. We need our best players to carry the team — a hot goalie, Green, (Alexander) Semin or (Alexander) Ovechkin. We have players who can do it.”
At various points this season, Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter has buried veteran players.
He made winger Mike Knuble a regular habitant of the press box. Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine sat out as the NHL trade deadline neared, but GM George McPhee didn’t move them.
So still they sit, wearing street clothes while watching their team play.
Hunter benched goaltender Tomas Vokoun in favor of younger Michael Neuvirth, a player he earlier slammed.
Neuvirth won three consecutive starts, then took a 5-0 strafing from the Devils. Hunter did not yank him, after giving Vokoun the hook in his previous two starts.
“I wanted Neuvy to battle through it,” Hunter said. “He didn’t have a great start so I wanted him to battle through it.”
After that loss, center Jeff Halpern admitted that his team quit. “After the third goal, we just seemed like a deflated team,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s a complete knock on the guys in the room. All of us, myself included, for having absolutely no response.”
Troy Brouwer piled on to the Post: “I don’t think we worked very hard in the third period. I thought we packed it in. We looked like a real timid, beaten-down hockey team. We have to make sure there’s no quit in us ever ’cause nobody is ever out of a game.”
Such comments are a clear indictment of where the Capitals stand with their coach.
Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com summed it up:
Every time they take a step forward they take another step back. And no one seems to know why.
Is there a lack of accountability coming from the coach? From each other? Do they have the right players to execute Hunter's man-to-man system? Is it the right system for the wrong team?
And with 18 games remaining, is it too late in the season to put it all together?
There is something for everybody as the NHL trade deadline nears.
Shopping for an offensive center? Then perhaps underachieving Derek Roy could be pried from Buffalo. He still has point-per-game ability and a scenery change might do him good.
Shopping for a match-up forward with playoff grit? Then perhaps Steve Ott could be your guy, since Dallas seems willing to part with him.
Here are other storylines to watch during the hours ahead:
The vibe out of Columbus suggested a Rick Nash trade would not happen, for a host of reasons. While Nash wants out, he wants out on his terms – and the teams he is willing to go to haven’t mustered offers that excite Blue Jackets management. “We're hopeful a deal can get done prior to the trade deadline that is fair and equitable for the Blue Jackets,” agent Joe Resnick told TSN. “However, if a deal is not reached, then the list of acceptable teams will not change at a later date.”
The New York media has relentlessly promoted Nash-to-the-Rangers talk, but that team hasn’t been willing to spend top young defeneseman (Michael Del Zotto or Ryan McDonagh) on the deal. While Big Apple pundits seem to believe forward Brandon Dubinsky is a hugely coveted commodity, there is no evidence that this view is shared by many NHL GMs.
The Blackhawks need reinforcements on the blue line and up front. Coach Joel Quenneville is hopeful that GM Stan Bowman will make a deal or two. At times Chicago looks like a contender and at times it looks like a mess. Losses in Los Angeles and Anaheim on back-to-back nights underscored the urgency for change.
The Leafs are trending the wrong way. The Toronto media is serving up 24/7 criticism of that disappointing team. GM Brian Burke is a self-styled man of action. So the hockey world is eager to see how he reacts today. Toronto could use a veteran goaltender, but the Islanders seemed inclined to hang onto Evgeni Nabokov and Edmonton’s Nikolai Khabibulin carries some heavy contract freight for next season.
The Kings gladly added Jeff Carter from Columbus to boost their offense. But must Dean Lombardi now upgrade his defense to offset the loss of Jack Johnson in that trade? Other teams are interested in forward Dustin Brown, but would Lombardi go there? Lombardi would much rather move Dustin Penner to a team starved for overpriced size.
The Islanders must decided whether to lock in breakout forward P.A. Parenteau, a pending UFA, or deal him for multiple future assets. This franchise finally appears to building a worthy nucleus, so it would be a shame to see this team shift into “sell” mode.
The Red Wings have scuffled with Pavel Datsyuk sidelined by minor knee surgery, so most experts see Detroit adding offensive depth of some description today. Regaining Mikael Samuelsson, currently a non-factor in Florida, would make sense.
The Predators appear ready to go “all in” and add significant offensive help. Nashville GM has been down this road before, with unhappy results. But when he looks up and sees the Blues winning some road games for a change, he realizes the chase is on.
The Capitals won back-to-back games to revive their playoff vibe, but Washington has been holding forward Mike Knuble and defensemen Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine out of action while the trade deadline nears. All three could move as part of a minor roster overhaul.
Flames general manager Jay Feaster threatened to blow up his roster after another painful defeat . . . then backed off those comments. But unless he is willing to deal goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff or Jarome Iginla – his two cornerstone players – he doesn’t have much to offer.
How Russians sell hockey tickets
The Hot List
Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Getzlaf, Alexander Semin.
The Cold List
Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers,John Tavares, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Vancouver Canucks,