There are no must-win games in February. There are no must-win games in February. Say it with me now: There. Are. No. Must. Win. Games. In. February.
But there are games you surely the fuck need to show up for, and almost to a man, this wasn’t one of them for the Washington Capitals, who now sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They fell to a thoroughly unimpressive Florida team who came into the evening having won just 7 of their last 21. Unfortunately, the Capitals are even less impressive at the moment, something that has become inescapably true of late.
This was an anonymous effort, one punctuated by only flickers of the vigor, enthusiasm and talent that buffeted the Capitals through Bruce Boudreau’s four-plus seasons.
Who is Joel Rechlicz? He skated 2:37 tonight, giving him a grand total of 4:26 in the past 120 minutes of professional hockey. Where oh where is Joel Ward? He continues to reside in Dale Hunter’s dog park, skating 6:18 tonight, pushing his total up to 13:55 tonight and last. Cody Eakin: 6:03 tonight and 12:16 combined.
(Parenthetically, Alex Semin, meanwhile, seems content to ride out his Washington tenure by collecting a paycheck and occasionally telegraphing wrist shots. At least he stayed out of the box.)
This isn’t meant to be a slam on the fourth line; rather, what in Dale Hunter’s coaching background tells him it’s wise to tax your top three lines so extensively during a back-to-back stretch? Those being taxed at exorbitant levels tonight: Matt Hendricks skated 17:05 to go along with Jason Chimera’s 15:48. Marcus Johansson skated more than 20 minutes. This was a team that surrendered two crushing goals Mikael Samuelsson — courtesy of Michal Neuvirth — and couldn’t muster a response. They looked tired, and as much as that’s the nature of the road back-to-backs, Dale Hunter simply isn’t doing enough to rotate his players. Shots were 38-28 in favor of Florida, including 14-10 in a third period that started even at 1-1. In the case of Rechlicz, it’s no stretch to say he would have done just as well by dressing 17 skaters and a broomstick.
So, where do we go from here? Alex Ovechkin returns Saturday in Montreal. But unless he feels like showing his 2005-10 form, it won’t be near enough to rescue a team that looks, well, unrecognizable.
On a pleasant note, John Carlson played almost 25 minutes, scored a goal and finished even, despite taking a really poorly-timed penalty that nullified a Washington power play. Hang in there, 74.
The Caps are in one-game-at-a-time territory, as they have been for weeks now, perhaps since before Hunter replaced Boudreau. Win in Montreal and you finish the road trip with 3 of a possible 6 points, which would be fantastic, as Japers’ noted. Even more so considering the circumstances. But isolated victories here and there aren’t enough: Unless this team discovers its identity, and fast, the wins won’t come with enough frequency to matter much in the grand scheme of things.