"HEEEEE shoots and scores. Make me a milkshake!" Heard too often. (Video screenshot)
The Washington Capitals were humiliated by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night for the second time in less than a week, falling 5-2 at the CONSOL Energy Center. After Mike Ribeiro scored a goal in the first period to give Washington a rare first-intermission lead, the Penguins scored four goals in the second period, three on the power play and three in a little over three minutes to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Michal Neuvirth was pulled after allowing the first two goals on 11 shots, but Braden Holtby could fare no better despite a great save on Sidney Crosby. Alex Ovechkin added a sympathy tally on a power play in the third, but once again the Capitals were victimized by a bad stretch and fell to 2-8-1, the worst in the NHL.
Alex Ovechkin was better tonight, I’ll give him credit. Two points, six shots, three hits against a good Penguins team is something to build on, but as always with Ovechkin, the question at this point is whether or not he can build on it. Then, once he builds on it, he needs to come up with a way to be better defensively, not give up on plays easily, and be a better captain. Then, he might be worth what the Capitals are paying him for the next near-decade. It's just daunting to talk about now.
Michal Neuvirth’s second goal allowed was brutal, and he probably deserved to get pulled despite some of the saves that he made early. But Braden Holtby was no better, bringing to light that, despite Neuvirth’s great play earlier in the season, neither goaltender is at a level that they need to be right now. Holtby is crash-landing, hard, and needs to get a confidence boost quickly. Neuvirth has made some great saves and kept the Capitals in some games this season but needs to be able to stop the easy ones too. The whole team is just a mess.
The lone bright spot was once again Mike Ribeiro, the second-line center the Capitals had craved for three years before he arrived. The slick playmaker was all over the ice making good things happen, had another two points, and was Washington’s best player once again. With their season rapidly slipping through their fingers, if it has not already, George McPhee has a big decision to make: whether to try and keep Ribeiro to build around him and Nicklas Backstrom as centers or float him at the deadline to a contender for some elite pieces to aid a quicker rebuild. What to do?
When it all comes down to it, the Capitals are simply a decidedly average to bad hockey team at this time. Yes, they have a bad PDO, which implies that they are getting a little bit unlucky with the bounces. But is a swing in so called “puck luck” going to fix a team with the worst goal differential and record in hockey? A team that is dead last in the worst Division in hockey? This team takes bad penalties at bad times and they cannot kill penalties when they need to. They have no balance and their defense is underperforming horrifically. Things will get better, but only marginally. It is time to face the reality that the Capitals are almost assuredly not a playoff team, and certainly not one who can contend for a championship.
If the Capitals do intend on making the playoffs, they will have to do it in the Southeast Division. That starts with two big games against the Panthers, a home-and-home series, for their next two contests.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.