Tonight in South Beach the Capitals will take on the Panthers for the 5th time this season. A season which has been a very disappointing one so far for the Caps and their fans. One need only look at an excruciatingly painful loss to the Winnipeg Jets a week ago, in a game the Capitals lead 2-0 with 3 minutes left in regulation to see what Caps fans have been through this year. The Caps started this season 7-0 for the first time in franchise history and since then have played below average and lets face it down right boring hockey. I never thought I would call a Caps team during the Ovechkin era boring. They were arguably the most exciting team to watch just 2 years ago, with their high paced offensive juggernaut style of play. However like every other team in the franchise's history they came up short in the playoffs. So starting last year the team began to play a more defensive style, and under interim coach Dale Hunter the team has become painstakingly stagnant offensively, and can't seem to get the system down defensively, and the win/loss column reflects their struggles. Key injuries have also plagued the Capitals in the cases of Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom. And with the altercation between Alex Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman in practice Thursday the players frustrations are now beginning to boil over.
With tonight's game the Caps have a chance to crawl within 2 points of the Panthers for the Southeast division lead. In the previous 4 meetings this season The Caps and Panthers are even at 2-2. In both Capital losses goaltender Michael Neuvirth got the start, while in the Capitals 2 wins Tomas Vokoun has 2 shutouts against his former team. You would have to think head coach Dale Hunter will lean on Vokoun tonight to give his team the best chance to win. The Capitals also need high-priced wingers like Ovechkin and Alexander Semin to pick up the pace and put the puck in the net. It would also be helpful if the $12 million dollar man Joel Ward would show up at some point this season! Ward seems to be one of the biggest misses in George McPhee's history as Capitals GM. Ward had a nice run in the playoffs last year for Nashville tallying 7 goals and 6 assists in 12 games. It seems instead of looking at the rest of Ward's career (about a 13 goal a year average) McPhee only looked at those playoff stats and paid Ward as if he were a top 6 forward on the team. Ward has put up a very disappointing 5 goals and 10 assists in 55 games this season. Roman Hamrlik also needs to start earning his money, it looks as if Hamrlik aged 40 years in one off-season and he looks slow and insecure in his decision making something the veteran hadn't showed in previous seasons.
If the Capitals fall tonight in Miami this season, already embarassing, will become down right depressing. Think back to the off-season.....The Caps trade for Troy Brouwer, sign Joel Ward and Roman Hamrlik, then seemingly pulled off the ultimate bargain getting all-world goaltender Tomas Vokoun for just $1.5 million! Most of the major media outlets had picked the Caps to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. My what a couple of months can do to the landscape! Tonight will be a night for the Capitals to do or die! Will they be back in the race? Or will they be yet another example of why the games aren't played on paper?
Players to watch tonight.....
G Tomas Vokoun (2 Shutouts against FLA this season)
LW Alex Ovechkin (With the swirling controversy around him and having coaches call him out, I think Ovie responds with a couple tonight)