It was a deserved win for the Rangers as they pretty much outplayed the Caps the whole way. They outshot the Caps 40-28 and outhit them 34-22.
If not for a remarkable effort in net by Braden Holtby, the Rangers could have had many more goals and the game would have been a blowout.
Just when the Caps seemed to be building momentum, this defeat leaves them six points behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the fewest points in the East.
And, once again, the questions have to be asked about this underachieving team. Can they still compete with the elite of the Eastern Conference, let alone even entertain the notion of being able to remotely challenge a Western Conference power like the Chicago Blackhawks?
Should the Caps actually go into a full rebuild mode from top to bottom?
If you listened to George McPhee earlier this month, after the Caps had been dumped by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second time in less than a week, he was not in favor of any such move. As reported by the Washington Times, McPhee had this to say on the subject:
If there’s something I can do to make the club better, I will. … If there’s something I can do to help the club out I will. But I’m not gonna do anything stupid. We’re not gonna do anything short term. We’re not gonna blow anything up.
Is he right to think this way though? And is McPhee himself part of the problem?
Should the Caps actually rebuild completely?
While it makes sense to see how this season plays out, if the Caps don't qualify for the playoffs, a full rebuild not only becomes a possibility—it almost becomes a necessity.
Here are three reasons why.
George McPhee has done some great things for the Caps...except deliver the Stanley Cup
If the Washington Capitals fail to make the playoffs this season, then the rebuilding of the franchise needs to start at the top—and that means replacing George McPhee.
I will be the first to admit that I have been a big supporter of GMGM for many years now. And for many years there was really no reason to not be a supporter of McPhee.
McPhee has been the GM of the Caps since 1997. In his first year on the job, he got the Caps to the promised land as he helped guide the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
The problem is that the Caps' trip to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings remains the team's only Stanley Cup Finals appearance. To put this into greater perspective, the Caps have not even made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1998.
The NHL is a lot about the "what have you done for me lately" mentality. As far as GMGM is concerned, Caps fans and faithful have a valid right to ask: What have you done for me lately?
Yes, George McPhee brought the Caps through the fire sale of 2003-2004 and the Caps emerged from that a much stronger franchise.
Yes, McPhee drafted star players like Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green who all helped transform the Caps into one of the true powers of the Eastern Conference.
But for all these great moves, GMGM has not been able to get the Caps back to the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone the Stanley Cup Finals. In fact, they have endured a string of playoff collapses that is eerily reminiscent of the playoff disasters that haunted this team throughout the late 1980's and early 1990's.
The team failed to show up for Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 playoffs.
The 2009-2010 team, which set a franchise record for points in a season with 121, blew a 3-1 series lead against the No. 8 seeded Montreal Canadiens and bowed out in the first round.
In the 2011 playoffs, the Caps were swept by their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, again denying the Caps a trip back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ditto for last season, as the Caps lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the New York Rangers.
Three of the past four seasons, the Caps have reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals and they have yet to break through. One has to wonder if George McPhee can get the job done?
Recent history suggests that he cannot. And if the Caps fall completely flat this season and fail to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008, how does one not look directly at George McPhee as a key reason for this failure?
Take all of this and combine it with some personnel issues McPhee has had—the firing of Bruce Boudreau, the failure to convince Dale Hunter to return to the Caps, letting Alexander Semin get signed to a divisional rival, not getting Evgeny Kuznetsov to the NHL yet, etc.—and even the most jaded GMGM supporter has to question his viability.
If the Caps fail to make the playoffs, the full rebuild should start at the top and a new general manager should be brought in.
If there is one player on the Washington Capitals who should shoulder much of the blame for the team's repeated playoff failures in recent years, that player is Alexander Ovechkin.
Ovechkin has been the face of the franchise since he exploded onto the scene in the 2005-2006 season. For many years, Ovi was a human highlight reel. The guy was scoring goals lying on his back, from his knees and from pretty much wherever and whenever he wanted.
Yet for all his heroics, all his amazing skill and all his individuals accolades, Ovechkin could not lead the Caps to a Stanley Cup any more than George McPhee could.
The Caps' fortunes have been so inextricably intertwined with Ovechkin's over the past few seasons that they are almost mirror images of each other.
Ovi had his best season in 2007-2008 when he scored 65 goals and dished 47 assists, totaling 112 points; the Caps returned to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
From a statistical standpoint, Ovechkin's point totals have decreased every year since. The Caps decline has not been so linear, at least not at first.
But the 2009-2010 season was the last really great season Ovi had when he notched 50 goals and had 59 assists. The Caps were stunned by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round that season. Neither Ovi nor the Caps have ever been the same.
If the Caps fail to make the playoffs this season, then Ovechkin should be held just as accountable as George McPhee. Whether there is a new GM brought in or not, the team needs to radically shift away from revolving everything around a former superstar who, the last few seasons anyway, has been just an above-average player.
That does not necessarily mean trading Ovechkin away or anything like that. He is still a very talented player who is a threat to score whenever he steps on the ice. And with that contract of his, a 13-year, $124 million monster (Sportsnet.ca), trading Ovechkin is almost an impossibility anyway.
But that also does not mean the Caps can't rebuild with the mindset that Ovechkin is just a piece of the puzzle, as opposed to being the puzzle itself.
Thus far this season, Ovechkin's numbers have been fairly average. He has five goals and five assists through 15 games. He would be on pace for 27 goals, 27 assists and 54 points if an 82-game schedule were being played.
That would be a career low in goals, would tie him for a career low in assists and would be a career low in points. Pretty average indeed.
If the Caps fail to make the playoffs this season, and if they want to get to the next level by way of a rebuild, then they must rebuild with the understanding that Alexander Ovechkin is no longer the elite player he was a few seasons ago.
Could Evgeny Kuznetsov be the face of the future for the Caps?
A big reason why Caps fans should not fear the idea of a complete rebuild is because the Caps have plenty of excellent prospects who should be arriving in D.C. in the next few years and who can all transform the franchise back into contenders.
Possibly the best of this new crop of prospects is Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov was selected No. 26 overall by the Caps in the 2010 NHL draft. The 20-year-old center can do it all. He can skate with the best of them. He can pass. He can score. He can make plays. He has fantastic vision. He has even improved his game as a penalty killer.
And at 6'3" and 187 pounds, Kuznetsov can be as physical as he wants to be.
Currently, Kuznetsov is playing for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL. Last season, Kuznetsov scored 19 goals and had 22 assists in 49 games.
This year, Kuznetsov has scored 19 goals with 25 assists in 51 games. He is just the sort of player the Caps can rebuild around.
The good news for Caps fans is that, as reported by Russian Machine Never Breaks, Kuznetsov has now committed to playing for the Caps after the Sochi Olympics. So help is on the way.
The Caps also have Filip Forsberg. The Caps selected Forsberg with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.
Forsberg was considered one of the best shooters in the entire draft and creates huge matchup problems for the defense. The opposition has to respect Forsberg's pure skill, speed and skating ability or he will make them pay.
He is relatively light with a 6'2", 181-pound frame. Despite that, he is not afraid to get physical and actually seems to look for someone to hit at times.
Currently, Forsberg is biding his time in Sweden playing for Leksands of the Allsvenskan league. Last season, Forsberg netted 10 goals and had 10 assists in 53 games played.
This season, Forsberg has 30 points in 31 games played. For some great video highlights of Forsberg in action, check out this article at Russian Machine Never Breaks.
Forsberg could arrive at about the same time Kuznetsov does—or at least that is what Caps fans are hoping for.
There is also Tom Wilson. Wilson was taken with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Caps.
At 6'4" and 203 pounds, Wilson is pretty big for an 18-year-old right winger. Wilson has such great potential that the Caps brought him to training camp when the lockout ended and gave him a shot at making the team (Washington Post). Wilson did not make the team but, still, what a great opportunity for an 18-year-old.
Wilson plays for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL and has scored 17 goals with 33 assists in 41 games played. He has an extremely impressive plus-27 rating.
The Caps have other good prospects such as Stanislav Galiev, Connor Carrick, Riley Barber and Chandler Stephenson. All of these prospects could arrive in D.C. at about the same time as Kuznetsov, Forsberg and Wilson.
In other words, there is plenty of good talent around which the Caps can rebuild and make noise in the Eastern Conference for many years to come.