"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana
Following Sunday night's loss to the Arizona Coyotes, the Washington Capitals' frustrations hit what we all hope is a high point. "Behaviors" have emerged during the recent losing streak that have made Barry Trotz a little unhappy and left his players looking for answers. Perhaps no behavior bothers the still-new Caps bench boss more than the team's propensity to be victimized by mental lapses in their own zone. When asked how he will end that behavior Trotz had the following to say:
"I have ice time, and I know Mac is not happy with where we are in terms of some of our actions. We gotta rebuild again a little bit. We have good people in that room, we have good talent. You are going to go through some rough patches, you don't learn a whole heck of a lot when things are rolling really smooth but you find out a lot and you learn a lot when things are not going really smooth... We have to understand how we are going to win in this league consistently."
To put an even finer point on it, Trotz offered this up:
"That behavior has to change or we have to change people. Plain and simple. To me it’s absolutely unacceptable. They have to fix it. It’s my job to fix the behavior. If they’re not going to fix it internally, then I’ll make sure I fix it."
While it is possible that this is just posturing, there is still the chance that Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan are seriously considering making some roster moves. While roster moves have the potential to shock a team into better performances (or, of course, make the team better via a return), they can also have adverse effects. Over the last five years the Capitals' most costly moves didn't involve player transactions, but rather the abandonment of what had worked and was working... even if the results weren't there. If the Capital's make a drastic move now, they may very well be repeating the mistakes of the past.
When thinking about recent organizational over-corrections, two instances come to mind; the abandonment of an offensively dynamic system for which the team's roster was built and the eventual firing of its architect, Bruce Boudreau. And there are a lot of similarities between what led up to those two instances and the current slide in which the team finds itself mired today. Take a look:
Notes on the chart:
1. The "Current Streak" starts in the game against Edmonton (10/22) and runs through the Arizona game (11/2).
2. The "End of Run-and-Gun" starts on December 2nd, 2010 and runs through the loss to the Rangers on the 12th.
3. "End of Boudreau" started on November 5th, 2011 and ended on November 26th.
4. All numbers are from five-on-five play when the score was close (per war-on-ice).
All three stretches have involved the Capitals putting up strong possession numbers, and all three have involved a lackluster PDO (save percentage plus shooting percentage, with the latter serving as the driver here). As we know, possession is much more important than shooting and save percentages in determining a team's likelihood of future success. The Caps could have ridden out those bad stretches in the past; they can ride out this bad stretch now.
With that being said, the Capitals aren't currently losing solely because of goaltending and bad luck. The team has been guilty of quite a few horrific turnovers that have led to goals-against, and the goaltending hasn't been good enough. But the team is doing an exceptional job limiting both shots and chances against, so when - not if - the goaltending turns around and these turnovers become fewer and further between, they'll likely be in good shape. Both Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan have talked about using numbers to check what their eyes are seeing, and despite the recent run of losses the underlying numbers continue to be good. If the team stays the course, they will come out of this rut.
Now, Trotz isn't on the hot seat, and MacLellan isn't even a month into his first season as a general manager. The likelihood of them doing something particularly drastic is remote. To wit, here's some of what MacLellan told ESPN's Craig Custance on Monday:
"I don’t know if you can ever put a time frame on [an initial evaluation period]. You’re wary of doing that. The first five games looked really good, now we’re getting tested a little bit. I think we’ll get stronger once we get through this. I don’t know how many games it takes, I think we’ll get there. When you get a new coaching staff, new system, you’ve got to give it a little time. You have to see how players adjust."
And that's clearly a comforting approach. Because as J.P. wrote of the end of the Boudreau Era, the more dramatic examples above "serve as cautionary tales - believe in systems, believe in what works, believe that streaks end... and everything else is just noise." Knowing that goes a long way towards establishing the mental toughness that this team has been accused of lacking for years.