It's over

I was going to write about the last Caps games against Boston and Nashville, but after that tire fire of a game tonight against Dallas, I give up.

They actually started out pretty well, getting a number of good chances through the first eight minutes or so of the game.  Then the Caps got a power play.  On the power play, they quickly gave up TWO (!) breakaways, and lost the power play when Carlson hooked Garbutt to keep him from getting the shot off.  All that only took about thirty seconds.

Things didn't seriously go south, though, until Dallas scored on a nice tip-in by Tyler Seguin, and the rout began.  It took a while for Dallas to score a second goal, but that was all on Halak.  The Caps just lost any ability to pressure Dallas, and generally looked lost.

I was going to say they looked lost in the defensive zone, but they looked lost in the neutral zone, too.  And they didn't keep the puck in the offensive zone long enough to come to any sort of judgement there.  More importantly, Dallas did a very nice job transitioning from D to O whenever the Caps gave up the puck, and got several breakaways.

There was the two-man clean breakaway on which Whitney scored.  There was another breakaway almost right away.  It was stopped, but did lead to a goal when, after a shot from the point, Erskine and Brouillette both took the same man, leaving Jeffrey alone at the side of the net, where he beat Halak (a nice overhead shot of the CF).  Those two goals were on the same shift.  By the fourth line.  I almost turned it off right then, and wish I had.

In any event, Oates had had enough, and pulled Halak.  I hope it was to send a message to the rest of the team, because it certainly wasn't Halak's fault they were down three.  Hasek in his prime would have been hard-pressed to do better with that (so-called) defense in front of him.

Anyway, how much did it inspire the team?  They gave up two more odd-man rushes in the next minute (yeah, Holtby looked good, too).

But it took until the last five or six minutes of the second for the Caps to even start catching up possessionally.  To their credit, though, they did continue to catch up (helped by several penalties), and even managed to finish the game tied in Fenwick.  Close, 5v5 Fenwick, however, was not tied.  It was not even close.

And, midway through the third, Jeffrey scored again on a nice tic-tac-toe passing play.  Again, fourth line.  And Jeffrey, it should be noted, had just scored his first two goals of the season.

Anyway, that was enough for me.  I turned it off, and missed the Caps taking their first five goal deficit of the season.  Good times.

So, in the biggest games of the season, the Caps came out flat against the Bruins and got stomped.  Then they played so-so against a Nashville team with no particular motivation, and were lucky to get into overtime.  Then they played a hungry (and fast, it should be noted) Dallas team and just got curb-stomped.  Too bad it's too late to try for lottery position.

I don't know where this team goes from here.  Oates has to go.  He did a very nice job getting OV back on track (and a decent job helping a few other players), but his system sucks raw eggs.  It looked like the Caps were starting to get it at the end of last season, but that now appears to have been an illusion.  They are not improving, and might even be getting worse.

His line combos are baffling, and he shows no sign of recognizing that some of the combos he's apparently liked are just horrible.  That was Laich and Brouwer early in the season, and Beagle and OV recently.  JP from Japer's Rink tweeted a couple of charts yesterday that showed that Beagle is the absolute worst player to pair with OV, both in shots generated and in shots allowed.  And not by a small amount, in either case.

Oates seems to have no recognition of which defensemen are getting the job done, and which aren't.  Hint: Erskine isn't, and has been an almost unmitigated disaster this season.  And, McPhee, nice $2M extension there.  Schmidt and Oleksy were both doing pretty well, but have been buried in Hershey for much of the season.  Carrick has talent, but isn't ready for the NHL, but was allowed to stay for thirty games.

The penalty kill has basically been a disaster all season.  They show almost no ability to stop the other team from getting set up in the offensive zone, and, as a result, allow roughly two shot attempts per minute.  The only reason it looks somewhat respectable is because the goalies have saved 90% of the shots, which is not a sustainable formula.

And Oates' management of the goalie situations have been execrable.  Holtby is far too good a goalie to be allowed to sit as much as he has since Halak arrived.  And how about that three-goalie carousel in the middle of the season, with Holtby, Neuvy, and Gru?  That was genius, right?

McPhee needs to go as well.  He's had one good coaching hire over his career, the talent pipeline is nearly bare.  His desperation trade for Erat, late last season, was a complete disaster (not helped by the fact that Oates seemed to have no idea how to use Erat's considerable talents).  His agreeing to dump Perreault for a bag of pucks at the beginning of the season was mystifying.  Yes, we've gotten to see Wilson more, and he definitely shows talent, but Perreault would have helped the team a ton more, this season.  Especially when Grabo was injured, but even before that the difference would have been large.

Perreault: 691 minutes, 52.3% fenwick for, forty points, and I would bet many more penalties drawn than the fifteen for which he's been called
Wilson: 572 minutes, 46.1% fenwick for, ten points, and we really don't want to talk about the PIMs

And I've ignored, of course, that center is a much more valuable position than wing.

Moving on... I don't know about the players.  Erskine should be waived, for sure.  Even if they only reclaim half of his cap hit and have to play him in Hershey, that's better than playing him in Washington.

Grabo needs to be re-signed, stat!  Penner should be re-signed almost as fast.  I don't think either should be given more than three year deals, though.

I'm slightly ambivalent, because I don't think Laich's been healthy all season (so I'm not sure how much of his poor play is age, and how much injury), but I'm leaning toward saying he should be let go (maybe via compliance buy-out).

Halak should be allowed to walk.  He's pretty good, but unless his contract demands are far less than I expect, he won't be worth it.  In fact, I wouldn't want him to stick around for more than one year under any circumstances (well, unless he'd take about a third of what I expect he'll get, I suppose), and I can't see him agreeing to a one year deal.  Call up Gru next year, and save the money.  The drop in performance will be negligible, at best.

Beyond that, I'm low on ideas.  Volpatti certainly isn't helping the team, but as a league-minimum player on the fourth line, he's not hurting it either.

Beagle hasn't helped the team much this season, although much of the onus on that goes on Oates, for playing him way over his head.  Beagle's a decent checker, penalty killer, and face-off guy.  Use him like that, and he won't be hurting the team at his salary.  As top line center, he's the punchline of a really terrible joke.

Brouwer?  There've certainly been times, this season, when I would've been glad to see him jettisoned (especially when he was constantly paired with Laich), but he's not a bad player.  Can't decide if he's really worth that salary, but maybe he is.  Certainly wouldn't mind seeing him replaced with someone who drives play, though that would almost certainly require trading Troy.

MarJo has improved a lot this season, I think.  He hasn't taken advantage of his speed quite as much, but he's much stronger on the puck, to the point that he's moderately useful in a grinding, cycling game.

Schmidt can certainly be called up; he'll help the team.

All of which really leaves me wondering where the room is to improve the team.  There really is a lot of talent there, and they've terribly underperformed that talent level.  Maybe big changes at the top, combined with one or two small tweaks in the lineup, will result in significantly improved results.  We can hope, anyway.

FWIW, next game is Friday in New Jersey.  I can't decide if I'll bother to watch.

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