November 17, 2019

Opinion: Stop blaming sins of the past on the current Washington Capitals

I’m sorry, I’ve had enough.

The reaction in some circles to the Washington Capitals loss in the final 6.6 seconds of Monday’s night’s Game 5 has pushed me over the edge. Look, I get it. Curses sell copy. It’s far, far easier to blame losing on something intangible, something imagined, something conceived rather than taking a hard, analytical look at the real reasons for the loss.

But frankly, I’m tired of any current team, but this Capitals team in particular, suffering the fates of previous incarnations. What has happened in the past has nothing to do with the current team. Nothing.

There’s no correlation between Pat LaFontaine and Petr Nedved and Esa Tikkanen and Joel Ward, other than pure circumstance. This organization IS NOT CURSED!

There’s no such thing.

This organization hasn’t won because it has never — yet — had the right combination of skill, game plan, effort and dumb luck. If the Caps don’t come back in this series and win the next two, it’s not because of any curse. It’s because, just like all of their predecessors, they simply weren’t good enough.

Monday night, the Caps lost for many reasons, Joel Ward’s high-sticking penalty with 22 seconds left in the game causing a four-minute power play for the Rangers being high on the list. But Joel Ward is not the sole reason the Caps lost last night, despite what some might have you believe.

Sure, Ward’s penalty was untimely and ultimately destructive, but this wasn’t an act of stupidity, aggression or laziness. It was simply an unfortunate accident by an honest, hard-working guy. Two players got tangled up, the sticks elevated. It could have easily gone the other way had Ward had the leverage.

But it’s an easy narrative to blame Ward. Blame is always easier. It’s an irrational, emotional response, just like the fandom that leads us to follow in the first place. Psychologically, it helps settle our emotions if there’s somewhere to channel our disappointment, anger and grief. No one wants to be analytical after a soul-crushing defeat. Unless you’re a soul-less number-crunching automaton.

But the truth is the Capitals were outplayed last night for large stretches of time. They were out-shot by the Rangers 78-38 (38-18 on goal), which means the Caps played most of the game in their own end. They lost 57% of the draws, including the last seven face-offs of the game. They missed multiple opportunities in the third period to score a critical third goal. The seeds of destruction were planted long before Joel Ward got tangled up with Carl Hagelin.

This team — by design of the coaching staff — is playing for one goal games, dumbing down the most exciting sport created into little more than a shot-blocking contest. The offensive game-plan is to chip to center and hope for an odd-man rush. It’s ugly, boring hockey, usually played by the talentless and unimaginative in order to keep games close and give the appearance of competition.

ANYONE can play defense because it’s about nothing but will. But it has the Caps within two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, a lofty perch unattained since 1998.

But none other than 22-year old Braden Holtby said it better last night that I ever could: “That’s what happens when we play a style where we block a lot shots. Sometimes those go in.”

When you play a style of hockey by design to win by one goal, one mistake is often the difference between win and a loss.

This team will win or lose Wednesday on their own merit, their own talent, their own dedication. Please leave the ghosts where the belong… in the past.

__________________________

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. Scott Gater says:

    Thank you for finally stating the truth. The people writing of the failures of the past and how somehow this group of young men was connected to that by something other then wearing the same sweater has always struck me as odd. At this level of hockey the difference between winning and losing is slight, often a bounce that goes your way or the other. The fact that people call it a “lucky” one further instills the idea that luck is everything and the fact that one team threw over 30 shots at the net ( but since some where blocked, only 17 counted) in one 20 minute time frame, does not come into play. I found myself screaming at the tv for them to shoot the puck! Passing the puck does not score goals. As Wayne Gretzky said- you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

  2. Over_head (Rob) says:

    You are right, but I have to admit I maybe suffering from some type of PTSD when it comes to the Caps and the playoffs. And, the way they are playing (the style) is like a flashback to many teams I watched lose in the playoffs growing up.

    The style of play is not my favorite either. I don’t mind the defense first mind set, but at some point the team needs to think a little more about scoring a goal or two to give themselves a little bit of a cushion. Go into the lay back and block shots stuff with a multiple goal lead, not when the game is tied or they only have a one goal lead. Watching this team try to cleanly clear the zone and transition to offense is extremely painful and frustrating.

    That being said I certainly hope and believe they have the chance to make it to the next round. It just does not seem likely that as the competition gets tougher that they will continue to be able to win while only focusing on blocking shots and laying back hoping that their goaltender can continue to make the big save and that luck stays on their side.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Rob, thanks for the comment. I share your distain for the ultra-conservative style the Caps are employing. I think it mostly wastes the assembled talent and is bad for hockey in general, dumbing the game down to a shot blocking contest.

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