I know, I’ve been painted as a Caps homer, because I never think it’s time to press the panic button. Well, full disclosure, I am a Caps homer, and proud of it. Brooks Laich joined us on the show earlier today, and he echoed my current mindset on the Capitals: we’re 23 games into a tumultuous season, and there’s still lots of hockey to be played. Just because the perennially awful Florida Panthers lead the Southeast Division in late November doesn’t mean they’ll be in that same spot even a month from now. At some point, former Washington Capitals Tomas Fleischmann and Jose Three or More will come back to Earth.
Are there reasons for concern? Of course…Alex Ovechkin has one goal in his last 9 games, Mike Green can’t seem to shake the injury bug, and Tomas Vokoun’s recent penchant for allowing soft goals are just a few reasons why the Capitals are floundering right now. The Capitals lackluster play cost Bruce Boudreau his job, and now it’s up to Caps legend Dale Hunter to right the ship. Though he had no prior NHL head coaching experience, his experience as owner/GM/coach of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League should have him amply prepared for the task at hand.
I’ve already rationalized and compartmentalized the 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues last night at Verizon Center…Blues coach Ken Hitchcock grabbed a one-goal lead, and then proceeded to suck all the fun and oxygen out of the arena with his stifling, yet very effective, defensive style. The Blues are the hottest team in the Western Conference right now, so no shame in a loss, especially with a new coach who presided over exactly one practice before making his NHL head coaching debut.
But now the Pittsburgh Penguins are looming on the schedule, as they come to Verizon for a Thursday night tilt. It’s the perfect stage for Coach Hunter to get a signature win over the franchise that haunted him in the playoffs during his playing career, losing 4 of 5 series to the Penguins. And it’s clearly an amazing opportunity for Alex Ovechkin to break out of his slump, in the presence of a rejuvenated Sidney Crosby. Sid the Kid has already tallied 11 points since his return from a 10-month layoff, due to concussion symptoms. I’m guessing the matchup against the world’s top player and the desire to perform at a superstar level for the new head coach that he actually respects could be just the jumpstart that Ovi needs.
Get back to me a month or six weeks into 2012, and I’ll let you know whether my finger is hovering over the panic button or not. Right now, it’s too early to panic.