As much as we are one big, happy Rink family, the shocking fact is that we don't always agree on everything about the Caps - so throughout the season we'll present mini-roundtables, with each of us weighing in on a pressing question or issue facing the team, a player or the League as a whole. Next up, gauging our collective panic level.
Q: On a scale of 1 (totally zen) to 10 (climbing onto the ledge), how worried are you about the current direction of this team and its chances in this shortened season, and why?
J.P.: Well, "worried" implies a level of emotional investment that I’m pretty sure the lockout sapped me of, at least in the short term. But if we’re talking about my confidence that they’ll be alright this year (i.e. make the playoffs or whatever), I’d peg my level of concern at around 6, which is probably up one from a week ago.
As we’ve discussed before, implementing new systems on the fly was always going to be a challenge. I’d like to have seen some more progress from Game One to Game Three than we have, but it’s not surprising that they’ve struggled early.
What is surprising, however, is the effort level these guys have displayed. Adam Oates nailed it – "some of [the] mistakes are pure effort. It's very upsetting." So, like Oates, "I'm not pushing the panic button, but obviously it's upsetting." The system stuff is forgivable and hopefully correctable. The other stuff? That’s much more concerning.
Becca: I'm not on the ledge... yet. I think what concerns me most right now is that a lot of the issues seem to go hand in hand with learning a new system – even the apparent work ethic, because I think a lot of times what is happening is guys are thinking too much rather than reacting and it makes them look hesitant, slow, and unaware. And while I think this team has the capacity to pick it up eventually (as they’ve done with mid-season coaching replacements in recent history) I worry that there isn’t enough practice time to implement it as quickly as it needs to be. Before the season started I was more comfortable with the fact that they could have a slow start and bounce back, but looking at the schedule now – with a game tonight and a game on Sunday, which likely means a day off tomorrow – I’m not sure when that practice time they so badly need will come into play.
That said, I still find it hard to get too worked up over three games. The Caps have, for the most part, looked terrible to start the season - even I can admit that. There has been very little good that’s come out of the start of the season. But it’s still only three games, even in a shortened season; the equivalent of six, maybe seven games in a full one. And it’s still only January. I honestly don’t know what I expect out of this team but it’s definitely more than what we’ve seen and I think what we’ve seen so far isn’t anywhere close to what they’re capable of being, or what they’ll look like at the end of the season (let alone in a few weeks). I’ll panic if/when they’re still doing this in a few weeks.
Kareem: Am I panicked about a middle-of-the-road NHL team starting out slowly with a new coach? Not really. Am I panicked that the team won’t make the playoffs? A bit, although my expectations going into the season were dulled as I believe the Caps are no longer a top tier team. They’re more of a 6 through 10 seed, so playoffs were never a guarantee. Am I panicked that there are serious structural problems with the team and that this mediocrity is what we’ll have to endure for the next several seasons? Very much so.
Rob: I'll go with 8...since that's the biggest problem right now.
I’d echo everything J.P. said, and most of what Kareem said. I’m not any more worried now about this season than I was a week ago. The one thing I will add that is worrisome is that the two advantages the Caps looked like they might have, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom playing together (and producing) during the lockout, and the play of both goaltenders during the lockout, hasn’t been much of an advantage at all. Ovechkin and Backstrom haven’t done anything that looks like a top line in the NHL, much less one of the best lines in the NHL, and the goaltending, while not really to blame, hasn’t been doing much to bail the team out. Right now this team is bringing Bruce Boudreau’s defense and Dale Hunter’s offense. And it’s not pretty.