Washington Capitals: Eight Reasons Why They May Not Make the Playoffs

Robert TheodorsonSenior Analyst IFebruary 29, 2012

Washington Capitals: Eight Reasons Why They May Not Make the Playoffs

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    Alexander Ovechkin is in the worst slump of his career. Nicklas Backstrom's concussion is much worse than previously thought. Rookie coach Dale Hunter has alienated his veterans.

    Granted, things could be much worse for the Washington Capitals. The game plan this summer was straightforward: Add the right pieces to form a contender, cast aside the demons of seasons past, get past the second round of the playoffs and go all the way to the finals. 

    They only forgot one thing.

    You have to qualify for the playoffs before you can win the Cup.

    Now on the outside looking in, every game the Caps play will need to have the intensity of a playoff game. The last 20 games aren't going to be home and away games, they are going to be fights for survival. 

Nicklas Backstrom Placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve

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    Nicklas Backstrom, who amazingly is still ranked second in team scoring despite not playing since January 3, was recently placed on long-term injured reserve.

    While he was healthy, Backstrom was the Caps' best player and looked like he was going to shoot for the 100-point mark for the second time in his short career. 

    Washington's No. 1 center has been a rotation of up-and-comer Matthieu Perreault and sophomore center Marcus Johansson. Johansson has shown flashes of brilliance and perhaps one day can be a very solid second-line center. But neither player comes close to playing at Backstrom's level.

    The Caps can bring Backstrom back during the playoffs, but risking further injury can damage the team in the long term. 

McPhee Did Nothing to Improve the Team

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    General manager George McPhee uncharacteristically stood pat at the trade deadline. Washington was neither a buyer or seller. It was thought that McPhee would sell off a piece or two that didn't fit in exchange for a piece or two that did.

    The Capitals are left with the same roster that got them to their ninth-place standing minus, of course, Nicklas Backstrom. 

    Tomas Vokoun, Dennis Wideman and Alexander Semin will all be unrestricted free agents in the summer and none, most likely, will take a pay cut to return to the Caps. 

The Schedule Ahead Is Not Impossible, but There Will Be Bumps Along the Way

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    Coming up immediately on the schedule are New Jersey and Philadelphia, two tough Atlantic Division teams that seem to have a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference.

    Not only do the Caps have to face teams in the Atlantic, including ending the season against the No. 1 seed New York Rangers, but they must battle within their own division against the Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. All three are either currently holding a playoff spot or are in the hunt for one.

    The most foolish thing the Caps could do is dismiss the Lightning as out of the race. GM Steve Yzerman made several deadline moves to shore up the defense. These included the additions of Toronto's Keith Aulie and Detroit's Mike Commodore. 

    To make things worse, the Caps will have to play the rough-and-tumble Bruins twice more and go to Chicago and Detroit. 

Ovechkin Is Playing Like He Has Already Mailed It in

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    Alexander Ovechkin is paid $9.5 million a year and has recorded a mere 48 points. 

    The Great 8 is currently tied for 44th in league scoring.

    Simply put, Ovechkin is not getting it done. The player with the league's highest cap hit has two more points than Montreal's David Desharnais. Haven't heard of him? Neither have I.

    His 50-goal scoring days are a memory at this point, memories we most likely will never see again. Ovechkin has looked bored with the regular season ever since the first-round knockout the Montreal Canadiens delivered to the President's Cup winners two years ago.

There Is No AHL Call-Up to Inject Life into a Team That Needs It

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    John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Michal Neuvirth all contributed in huge ways to the American Hockey League Hershey Bears' back-to-back Calder Cup championships. While they were busy winning important games, they were called up from time to time and made big impacts on the Capitals.

    Each showed a little of what was to come, and everyone in Washington couldn't be more excited to see them on the eventual opening rosters.

    But this year the pipeline is dry. Evgeni Kuznetsov is playing in the KHL. Top goalie prospect Brayden Holtby was called up once and did his best imitation of Swiss cheese, getting shelled by the San Jose Sharks.

    Rookie defenseman Dmitri Orlov has found favor with Coach Dale Hunter. The young Russian has been chosen over veterans John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and Roman Hamrlik as a player who must be on the roster every day. Orlov was the last trick in the bag for the Caps. Hershey is devoid of talent. The top players on that team are not capable of playing steadily in the NHL.  

    Don't expect a rookie to rush in and save the day anytime soon. 

The Florida Panthers Are Hungrier for the Playoffs Than Any Other Team

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    The Florida Panthers are in the midst of the league's longest playoff drought, having not appeared in the postseason since 2000. 

    When GM Dave Tallon signed any free agent he could get his hands on this past summer, everyone thought the mix that would ensue would be a complete mess. 

    But the Panthers have somehow found instant chemistry with a group of guys that have come from all over to play in Sunrise, Fla.

    Realistically, Florida is not favored to go far in the playoffs should they win the Southeast or get the No. 7 or No. 8 seed at the end of the season. However, when one looks at their roster, you can see that they have a treasure chest full of playoff vets who have won for a number of years. 

    Here's a list of the players who have appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals for the Panthers: John Madden, Mikael Samuelsson, Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski and Tomas Kopecky.

Disgruntled Vets Will Affect the Locker Room

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    The relationships between Dale Hunter and Roman Hamrlik has disintegrated into ashes. 

    The veteran has lost his spot as an everyday roster player due to his negligible defensive play and nonexistent offense. 

    Hamrlik was brought in to be a fixture on defense.  Before he was benched, Hamrlik was building a reputation for letting skaters get past him. It looked like he had completely lost his physical edge.

    Hamrlik also couldn't contribute on the power play, putting up subpar numbers despite getting every chance to play on the man advantage. 

The Top Seven Seeds Show No Signs of Fading

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    Barring monumental collapses reminiscent of the Atlanta Braves or Boston Red Sox this past season in baseball, the top seven seeds look pretty well entrenched in their playoff positions. 

    The New York Rangers are seven wins away from 100 points

    Boston has the East's best goal differential and made some good minor moves to improve the team down the stretch. The only real threat to its division lead is the Ottawa Senators

    Florida has the Southeast Division lead. Expect this to rotate between the Caps, Jets and Panthers for the next few games. But for reasons listed previously, the Caps will hold on to win. 

    Pittsburgh won't win the Atlantic, but the Penguins are playing as good as anyone else. Evgeni Malkin is this year's MVP and Sidney Crosby is skating again. 

    Philadelphia and New Jersey will likely swap positions a number of times before the season is over, one of them might even go on a hot streak to take over Pittsburgh's first-round home-ice advantage as the No. 4 seed.

    The Ottawa Senators are having an incredibly surprising season in which they hosted the All-Star Game. Even though they have a better chance of collapsing than any of the other teams, they still have a healthy lead on the final seed.