Woe is Washington. The Capitals, winners last season of the Presidents' Trophy for the NHL's most successful regular-season team, have lost six consecutive games.
Allegedly the league's most explosive team, the Capitals have been shut out twice in the six-game spiral and have tallied just eight goals. And it is not as though the Capitals were going up against the cream of the NHL.
Dallas, Atlanta, Toronto, Florida, Colorado and the Rangers? A couple of them may make the play-offs, but not a formidable team in the bunch. Washington probably looked at that segment of the schedule and licked their chops in anticipation. Instead, the Capitals lost all six games in a very atypical manner.
What is the problem?
Where to begin?
Semyon Varlamov, the No 1 goalie, has just returned from injury and is still rusty, and fill-ins Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby were not adequate replacements. Neuvirth had some moments of success earlier in the season, but he has faltered of late. The Caps are hoping Varlamov can recapture his play-off form as a rookie in 2008; if he cannot, Washington will surely try to bring in a veteran stopper via trade.
However, not of all of the fault lies in the goaltending. Washington traded Tomas Fleishmann to Colorado in late November in exchange for Scott Hannan, the stay-at-home defenceman. The move made sense for both teams but especially the Capitals, who needed to improve their overall defensive play.
Unfortunately that is still the case. It is probably a reflection of a bigger issue, a problem that has plagued the Capitals in recent years: that they do not have an adequate defensive system in place, nor do they have the players capable of turning in strong defensive efforts, night after night.
It is a problem that the Caps have been able to mask, thanks to their high-scoring ways. But now they are not scoring.
Alex Ovechkin, a sniper without equal, has managed only two goals in his past 14 games. That is not even a 15-goal pace over a full season - an unacceptable figure for a player who has averaged 55 goals a year since entering the league in 2005.
Finally, the coaching. Bruce Boudreau, lauded a couple seasons back when he arrived 20 games into the schedule and turned the team around, is enduring another experience altogether this season.
After all, if the team's defensive system is inadequate, is that not the coach's fault? If the players are not motivated enough to put forth their best effort, who else to blame but the coach? If Boudreau is not the technician or taskmaster the Caps need at this point, and that appears to be the case, it is time to make a move. The Capitals are simply too good to be this bad.
Players of the week
• Ryane Clowe, San Jose: The big Sharks winger, pictured below, was a force, collecting two points in each of the four games he played last week.
• Anders Lindback, Nashville: The Predators’ No 2 goalie went 2-1-0 with a 1.66 goals-against average last week.
• Rick Nash, Columbus: The Blue Jackets forward piled up six points in three games, including two goals and an assist in a win over the Rangers.
Teams of the week
• Pittsburgh Penguins: The Sidney Crosby-powered Penguins continue to cruise, racking up three more victories to run their winning streak to 12.
• Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks won three of their four games last week.
• Colorado Avalanche: After a 4-3 overtime loss at Florida, the Avs concluded a five-game road trip with wins over Atlanta and Washington.
Duds of the week
• Patrick Marleau, San Jose: The Sharks’ top line has struggled of late, especially Marleau, who went pointless in three games and posted a -5 rating.
• New Jersey Devils: They have lost five in a row, including three straight last week, and they simply can’t score.
Games to watch
• Boston at Montreal, tomorrow: No teams have met more often in the play-offs than these two. The current storyline? Battling for the Northeast Division title is a good start.
• Detroit at Chicago, Friday: The Stanley Cup champions host the Red Wings, the team who have been the NHL’s gold standard for two decades.
• Toronto at Vancouver, Saturday: The Maple Leafs usually welcome visitors to Air Canada Centre on Saturday nights, but this week they’ll be guests of the Canucks.