Are the Caps in Trouble?

Three games into the lockout-shortened 48 game season and three deflating losses for the Washington Capitals. Is it time to hit the panic button this early? Yes. And here’s why. Two Stanley Cup veterans publicly called out the team’s lack of effort and work ethic tonight. That is a sign of a franchise in trouble. A sign of a team floating out at sea and in danger of not returning to shore before it’s too late to make the postseason.

Both head coach Adam Oates, who as a player participated in two Stanley Cup Finals with Washington and Anaheim and last year as an assistant coach helped take the New Jersey Devils to the Cup Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Kings, said this at the post-game news conference after losing at home 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens for the franchise’s first 0-3 start since 1993:

“The team is fragile.”

“Some of our mistakes are pure effort.” (In response to a question about the team’s work ethic.)

“It’s very upsetting. I’m not pushing the panic button. But obviously it’s upsetting.”

“I’m not a believer in the Knute Rockne speech. We’re pros. You have to do your job. It’s not always going to go your way and you gotta show up for work.”

“At times it’s effort. You’ve gotta want it.”

These are not the sound bytes you want from your new head coach the third game into the season. And then there is this post-game locker room quote from Troy Brouwer, who won a Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks so who knows what it takes to reach the top of the mountain:

“One guy is showing up to play. We have 26 (Matt Hendricks’ number) playing hard every night. There’s a few guys: Matty P. (Mathieu Perreault), Joey Crabb, Matt Hendricks showed up tonight and that’s about it. From there I don’t have a whole lot for you.”

“Embarrassing is almost the right term right now. Pathetic is probably a better one.”

“I feel bad for the fans. I’d like to finish a game with at least 50 percent of the fans still in the stands. Their reaction is completely warranted in booing us. We haven’t earned any of their respect. We haven’t earned any of their passion, their ambition. We’ve got to turn this around and we’ve got to do it fast.”

“If I had to say one thing I’d say work ethic. We’re not out of shape, that’s an excuse right now. Guys are professional here. They came into camp in shape, ready to go. It’s not fitness. It’s work ethic. We’re getting outworked. We’ve been outworked three times and lost three games.”

Ouch. That is a heavy dose of reality from Oates and Brouwer this early in the season.

Some Caps fans blame general manager George McPhee for constructing the current roster of players with talent but who seem unwilling to crash the net and pay the price and even play a full 60 minutes, except for fourth liner Matt Hendricks and a few other players. Some Caps fans believe Alex Ovechkin should have never been made captain, that he would flourish more in a secondary role without the pressure of the C on his sweater. Ovechkin’s production has declined every year since he was made captain. The league figured out Ovechkin years ago and he has failed to adjust his game and thus the joy and creativity has been replaced by frustration and a lack of confidence.

Some Caps fans blame the revolving door of coaches and their systems. There was Bruce Boudreau’s high-flying offensive system, then Dale Hunter’s defense-first system, now the Caps players must learn Oates’ hybrid offense-defense scheme, but that takes time, something they don’t have with no training camp and being thrown into a regular season where every game is amplified and a losing streak could mean missing the playoffs.

There are a lot of good questions as to why the Caps are so out of sync, but few good answers. One thing is for certain. They need to turn this ship around quick, starting with tomorrow in Newark against the Devils. Otherwise the once-mighty Washington Capitals will be looking up at every team in the league, wondering what hit them.

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