February 21, 2012

National TV Audience Witnesses Decline of Washington Capitals

The disappointing decline of Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals was on full display in front of a national TV audience on NBC Sports Network last night as the Caps were demolished by the last-place Carolina Hurricanes 5-0 at RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

In a must-win game, the Caps played arguably their worst game of the season and were shut out by a backup goaltender. The moment from last night that really sums up the season and perhaps the end of the Ovechkin era in Washington, was in the third period when the camera showed Ovechkin hunched over with his head down on the bench. After a commercial break the camera showed Ovechkin again, still hunched over with his head down. He appeared to be sobbing but it was hard to tell. It is sad in so many ways to see what has become of the same player who only a few years ago was wowing the hockey world with dazzling, magical moves. And it is disheartening to see a team struggle so mightily that is only a few years removed from being the most exciting club in the NHL—with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green scoring amazing goals on a nightly basis and generating such an electric atmosphere in arenas across the league.

And I don't say this just as a lifelong Caps fan, I say it as a fan of hockey. The league is already missing the excitement of Sidney Crosby, but to see Ovechkin and the Caps, who provided so much hope and excitement for the fans in Washington, turn into this confused bunch of individuals struggling to do basic things like clear the puck out of their own zone, is depressing.  The Capitals have gone from a team with Stanley Cup aspirations to fighting and scraping for their playoff lives. 

I have lost all hope in this season and firmly believe the Caps must be sellers at the trade deadline and trade Semin, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, for draft picks. And owner Ted Leonsis must consider firing General Manager George McPhee, because he is the architect of this mess. With talented prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov coming up next year the Caps can dump the dead weight players and begin another four to five year rebuild with tough, gritty, character players in the mold of the Boston Bruins. Even if the Caps as currently constructed sneak into the playoffs this year, this is no reason to believe this postseason will be any different than their epic collapses and early exits of the past four years.

Maybe it is better to see this team for what it really is at this point in the season, then for fans to have false hopes that the Caps are actual playoff contenders as have been the expectations in past years. 

I will always be a Caps fan. I will always root for this team win or lose. I will be hoping for the best. One day this team will bring a Stanley Cup to the Nation's Capital. But it will not be this year.

- Josh Marks

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