Another reason I haven't been too enthusiastic about posting is that the Caps pretty much are what I'd been suspecting. I have actually managed to watch all of the games (well, for DVR-related reasons, I missed the first period of the Islanders game, and also turned off the Carolina game when it got to 4-0. But I saw pretty much everything else), and they've convinced me that something is fundamentally wrong with this team.
I'm not sure what it is. I felt really good about Oates as a coach, last year. But this year, he continues to baffle me. Most notably with the way Erat is being jerked around; it blew my mind when Marty was scratched, a few games back. It certainly wasn't a surprise when, a few days later, Erat asked for a trade; I can't blame him.
But that's hardly the only puzzlement. Fehr plays pretty well (to be fair, sometimes he's excellent) when he's in, but has been scratched an awful lot. Volpatti is still getting a sweater just about every game (which is said not to denigrate him or his play, but by no stretch of the imagination is he better than Erat or Fehr).
Laich and Brouwer were finally separated, but it took an awfully long time. I think part of it was that they do do an excellent job together on the penalty kill, and Oates wanted to use players from the same line together on the PK, but that seems to be putting the cart before the horse.
And separating Laich and Brouwer resulted in splitting the phenomenally successful Chimmer-Grabo-Ward line. I'll give a little bit of a pass on that, since it was replaced by the previously-successful Chimmer-Laich-Ward line, but I don't think that was the only possibility.
And the end result of all the machinations is that the team has a top-quality first line and a top-quality third line (25-84-42) but still can only win by getting phenomenally good goaltending. That's great when it works, but it's hardly a recipe for predictable success. Yes, if you've got Hasek-level goaltending (relative to average), you can do it, but goaltenders are kinda hard to predict.
Despite the talent on the team (the only glaring hole is 4D, and I think Schmidt's been at least adequate in that role), their possession numbers are pretty bad, and they're playing catch-up all too often.
In fact, they were making a big deal in the broadcast (in the Carolina game, I think) about the Caps leading the lead in late-last-period tying goals (and let's face it, that game-tying shortie by Nick was pretty incredible). While it's great that they've been able to do that, what isn't great is that they've needed to, so often.
How many times have they gone down to start? How many of those times have they seemed to be on autopilot for most, if not all, of the first period? How many times have they allowed a matching goal within two and a half minutes of scoring? Too many, a bunch, and way too many, respectively, I think.
I'm beginning to think there's something fundamentally wrong that has little or nothing to do with talent. Maybe it's a lack of pushing by team leaders. Maybe it's a coaching problem (the problems on the breakout certainly seem to point to this) with a bad system, or with a system that demands that all the players have Oates' personal ability to see the ice. Maybe it's assistant coaches? I loved Calle as a player, but he's in charge of the PK, and the PK doesn't do a good enough job keeping the other team out at the blue line (no, I'm not claiming to know what's off, there, but I'm pretty sure something is).
What I do know is that the team has gotten a lot of luck (especially in the shootout, but also in goaltending on the PK), and, while they are in second place, they're closer to last than to first. They also have the fourth-worst ROW in the conference, so they're not going to get any tie-breakers. The one bright spot is that they do have the second best goal differential in the division.
As far as individual games over the last couple of weeks, I thought they played well against the Islanders and against the Leafs. And they were doing pretty well against the Canes, until things fell apart impressively quickly. Other than that, I've been pretty underwhelmed. Update: I forgot to mention that they looked pretty good in the first Montreal game, but Budaj had a hella good game.
I guess we'll see if the current trend (towards better possession numbers) holds for a while. If it does, then maybe I'll revise my opinion.