Why It's Time for Washington Capitals Fans to Panic

Jonathan MunshawCorrespondent IFebruary 5, 2013

Why It's Time for Washington Capitals Fans to Panic

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    The Washington Capitals have started off the season 2-6-1, giving Caps fans plenty of reason to panic.

    Washington's captain, Alex Ovechkin, and the rest of the offense haven't been playing well under head coach Adam Oates's system.

    In almost every game this season, it seems that Washington has been slow and has just been outplayed by other teams, which is reflected by their record, one of the worst in the NHL.

    Through the first few games of the season, Caps fans have kept the "stay calm" attitude, wanting to see how the team developed under Oates's system. 

    However, the time for waiting is over, as the Capitals have played nine games out of the 48-game season and remain last in their division.

    There's still time for Washington to rebound in an effort to make the playoffs, but it's no longer time for fans to take it easy on the team and wait and see what happens. Rather, fans should be pushing for change and pressuring Oates to get his players back into games and at least be competitive for a spot in the playoffs.

    There isn't one area to pinpoint when it comes to the struggles of the Caps, but there are several reasons why the panic switch should be flipped now. 

The Play of Nicklas Backstrom

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    Part of the reason why both the Capitals' first line and power-play unit has been struggling this season is due to the slow play of center Nicklas Backstrom.

    Yes, Backstrom has seven points, the second most on the team, but he only has one goal and has looked relatively slow when he's been on the ice.

    During Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Backstrom had several opportunities to put the puck on the net, but instead either whiffed on the puck or duffed it and hit it straight into a defenseman.

    Due to his slow start, Backstrom has been demoted to the second line and was replaced by Mike Ribiero, according to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times

    Backstrom is also a part of the struggling power-play unit, which has only converted on 16.2 percent of its chances.

    Lately, the Capitals' alternate captain has just looked behind everyone else on the ice, sporting a plus/minus of zero.

    Until Backstrom is able to produce on the first line along with Alex Ovechkin, Washington fans should be concerned about the overall offensive production on the team.

Washington's Upcoming Schedule

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    In the next eight games for the Caps, the team must play four teams that they have already played and lost to this year.

    These teams include the Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils. Washington lost to the Lightning 6-3 in the season opener and just lost 6-3 to Pittsburgh this weekend. 

    The Capitals also lost 3-2 to both the Maple Leafs and Devils this season.

    Outside of those four teams, Washington also must face the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers, both teams who have a better record than the Caps.

    If Washington wants to gain ground in the Southeast division, it's crucial that they beat the Panthers, whom they play twice, and the Lightning, whom they play immediately after back-to-back games against the Panthers.

    The game against Tampa Bay could be one of the most important of the season, as the Lightning are arguably one of the best teams in the NHL, with a 6-2 record.

    The importance of each game is magnified in this short season, and the next few games are sure to leave a bad taste in Caps fans' mouths if the team continues to play like they have. 

The Lack of Power-Play Goals

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    Through the first nine games, Washington only has six power-play goals, which ranks 18th in the NHL.

    The Caps have been on the power play 37 times, which puts their power-play percentage at 16.2.

    Their power-play percentage at home is even worse than their overall average, only converting on 15 percent of their chances in the Verizon Center.

    Three of the four players who have scored on the power play for the Caps are on the first power-play line, and the team could certainly benefit from players like Marcus Johansson and John Carlson stepping up on the second power-play line and improving the conversion percentage.

    Some of the best teams in the league—Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Anaheim—rank at the top of the league in power-play percentage, and until Washington can figure out a way to convert on opponents' mistakes, fans will be left with concern for overall production of the offense.

Alex Ovechkin's Slow Start

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    Alex Ovechkin has been underperforming for the Caps this season, prompting some serious concern from Caps fans.

    Ovechkin has four points and two goals this season, and both goals have come on the power play.

    While Ovie had some solid hits against Pittsburgh on Sunday, the winger seemed to be out of the loop on offense and was just content to dump the puck off to someone else rather than following the puck to the net, ready for a rebound.

    When he's on the ice, Ovechkin hasn't been nearly the force he can be, sporting a plus/minus of minus-two and converting on only 5.9 percent of his shots.

    It seems that as Ovechkin goes, the team goes, and fans have every reason to panic over the team's play until the captain can step up and show that he is worthy of that "C" on his jersey.

    Ovechkin has been relatively quiet during the slow start, and other players have had to step up and call out the team for their poor play.

    The quickest way for disgruntled fans to be quieted would be for Ovechkin to start producing, especially during 5-on-5 play.

Overall Poor Defensive Play

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    Whether it's the fault of the goaltenders or the rest of the defense, fans have every right to be critical of the team's play on the backcheck. 

    Washington has the NHL's third-worst goals-against average, allowing 3.67 goals per game.

    This doesn't completely fall on the goaltenders, although neither Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth has been dominant on the ice.

    In five games, Neuvirth has a 1-3-1 record with a 2.97 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage.

    Holtby, who had a breakout postseason last year, has even worse numbers, with a 1-3 record, a 4.52 goals-against average and .862 save percentage.

    The lack of defense has nothing to do with the power play, as Washington has given up 20 goals during 5-on-5 play and one during 4-on-4 play.

    It's bad enough that the offense is having a hard time putting pucks into the net, but if the defense can't stop the other team, Washington has little to no chance of pulling closer to the division lead.

The Lack of Depth on Offense

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    Three of the top four point producers for Washington have been on the first two lines, as is expected for any NHL team.

    However, after that, there is a severe drop-off in the point production for players on the third and fourth lines.

    While Joel Ward has been putting up some good numbers this year—six points and four goals—no one else seems to be providing depth to the Caps' roster as some of the stars continue to struggle.

    A good example of this is Marcus Johansson, who has generally been playing center on the third line.

    Johansson doesn't have a single point yet and is last on the team with a plus/minus of minus-seven. Johansson's linemate Joey Crabb has played in eight games this year and only has one point, and fourth-liner Eric Fehr doesn't have a point yet and is carrying a plus/minus of minus-four.

    Compare that to last season, when Johansson had the fourth-most points on the team with 46, and the fourth-line center Mathieu Perreault had 30 points. This season, Perreault has zero points in five games.

    It seemed that last season when the top lines weren't producing, the grinders on the third and fourth lines would be able to come through a put a loose puck into the net, but that hasn't happened so far this season, leaving fans desperate for offense anywhere they can find it.

     

    All stats from NHL.com