“There is no silver lining in losing a hockey game at this time of year.”
Such was the attitude of Matt Hendricks in the locker room following another demoralizing loss for the Washington Capitals, this time at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday inside Verizon Center.
The Capitals were shut out for the second consecutive home game on Sunday evening as they slipped farther back of the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead. In addition, they have not scored in 178 of the last 183 minutes overall played at Verizon Center. I repeat: the Caps are one five minute burst away from not scoring a goal in three consecutive home games.
How does this happen? It defies common sense. How do you have a group of players that should have the potential to do so much do so little?
Tonight, at least, the answer was Alex Ovechkin.
Washington’s captain cost his team the game on Sunday, losing his man off a poor backcheck and turning what could have been a harmless shot or a broken play into the game-winning goal.
As a result, Ovechkin was benched, even though Dale Hunter won’t admit it.
“You know, I was definitely matching lines,” said the coach when asked why Ovechkin took one shift following the goal against. “It was one of those things where I didn’t want him against Jagr’s line, so I wanted Brooksie’s line out there.”
When pressed by the media, Hunter was visibly frustrated, rolling his eyes.
“Guys. It’s not a benching, he just missed a shift. I was just matching lines.”
Curious, then, that Ovechkin took one shift in twelve minutes. Curious, then, that Jay Beagle took ice with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer, Ovechkin’s usual linemates. Curious, then, that Ovechkin did not play, line matching or not, for a large portion of a one goal game. This is supposed to be one of the game’s premier offensive players.
I’ll also say this: why can’t Alex Ovechkin play against Jaromir Jagr? That’s a pretty big problem too.
You just can’t have that from your captain: the benching or, if Hunter was telling the truth, such a deteriorating game that your coach doesn’t think you can handle playing man on man a 40 year-old winger. You can’t have that from a franchise cornerstone. You can’t have that from the man who gets paid more than any other player in the NHL. You just can’t.
The Capitals are not good enough to win games with Alex Ovechkin at anything less than top form or elite level. The Caps needed him to be great tonight, and he made the error that cost them the game.
Yes, after his benching, Ovechkin rebounded nicely. He was an offensive engine in the final 30 minutes and finished with a nice amount of shots on goal and hits. He was better in the final frame. But it’s just not enough.
Over the past year, excuses have been more and more abundant about Ovechkin’s lack of offense. Those should be thrown out the window from now. No more “the goalie was hot.” No more “they just beat us.” No more “it’s the system.”
The time has come for Alex Ovechkin to step up and actually earn the captaincy that was handed to him two years ago. The time has come for Ovechkin to be dominant again. The time has come for Ovechkin to once again be Ovechkin. His team needs him to be. Because what we are seeing now has been and will continue to be a recipe for disaster. To me, your captain has to be your best leader, and at the very least your best player, if he is not your best leader.
Ovechkin is neither right now. That’s a problem.
So it does not matter how the Capitals controlled the first period of play, and most of the second, and most of the third. It does not matter that they outshot their opponents. It does not matter that they out-chanced them or may have had a higher Corsi or Fenwick score.
What does matter is a loss. Those losses are piling up, and the leadership group is out of excuses.
Enough is enough. Just win, baby.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.