|The Washington Capitals may have hit rock bottom on Thursday night. (Getty Images)|
PITTSBURGH -- If they haven't already pushed it, the Washington Capitals should probably have their finger firmly on the panic button.
We're starting to get to the point where you can no longer brush it off as still being "early" in the season, and right now this team looks like it doesn't have an answer for anything.
After their 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday night, the Capitals fell to 2-8-1 and remain stuck at the bottom of the NHL standings. Chalk it up to the new coach, a new system, the lack of a training camp or whatever you want, but this team is an absolute mess right now.
If Thursday night wasn't rock bottom, it has to be as close to it as a team can get.
Things started off well enough for the Capitals, scoring the first goal and limiting the Penguins to just 10 shots on goal through the first 30 minutes. Then the bottom completely fell out from under them in the second period.
They were outscored 5-0 and outshot 18-6 during that 20-minute stretch. It was a complete meltdown that featured a parade to the penalty box, coach Adam Oates having a quick hook on starting goaltender Michal Neuvirth and pulling him after he gave up a weak goal through the five-hole to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead (it was a move that badly backfired in hindsight), and a stretch where they allowed two goals in just 10 seconds.
"We weren't ready to play," said Capitals forward Troy Brouwer. "Right from the start. We got hemmed in our zone for the first two shifts. We just weren't ready to play. That's been our biggest problem. We have mental lapses and this one happened right before the game even started."
Brouwer's assessment of the Capitals level of preparation was a topic of some disagreement after the game.
"I agree," said captain Alex Ovechkin when asked about Brouwer's comment, before adding "no emotions, nothing" when responding to a follow-up question on whether the team was playing with enough emotion.
Oates, however, refused to chalk it up to a lack of preparation and actually felt that his team came out strong and played well in the first period, doing exactly what a road team should do -- scoring first and limiting the Penguins' chances.
He even called it a "great" period to open the game.
"I would have to know how he meant it," said Oates when asked if he agreed with Brouwer's assessment of the game. "I'd probably talk to him and ask him exactly what he means. I don't think you play great for the first 30 minutes if you're not prepared, but I'd have to see how he means it."
If the Capitals were going to break out of this early season funk Thursday seemed like it might be the perfect night for it to happen. There at least seemed to be the possibility for it to happen. Oates went into the game optimistic about some of the things his team had been doing in recent games, and even though they were on the road against a Stanley Cup favorite, they were playing a Pittsburgh team that was without its best defenseman -- and power play quarterback -- in Kris Letang.
Without Letang in the lineup, the Penguins were putting a defense on the ice that was made up mostly of rookies, minor-league callups, and depth players (Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Dylan Reese and Deryk Engelland made up the majority of the unit). It should have been an inviting target for a Capitals team that was in desperate need of getting its offense going.
Not only did they end up getting run out of the building and smacked around behind the woodshed, they weren't even a serious threat offensively until the Penguins took their foot off the gas midway through the third period when the outcome was already well in hand.
After two periods, the Capitals had just 14 shots on goal and very few quality scoring chances. Some of that was due to the penalty situation (Washington didn't get its first power play until the third period), but they weren't exactly lighting it up in 5-on-5 situations, either.
Now the problem for the Capitals is not only how do they start to dig themselves out of this hole, but if it's even possible. In a full 82-game season, it usually takes 95 points to qualify for the playoffs. If you do the math on it, that comes out to be about 55 points in a 48-game season.
With 37 games remaining, that means Washington is going to have to put together something in the area of a 25-12 run the rest of the way. Good luck with that.
Right now there is nothing about this team or its play that would lead one to believe that is even remotely possible or on the verge of happening.
Capitals general manager George McPhee is a patient man, so a coaching change shouldn't be expected (and it would not only be a drastic overreaction, it would be pretty unfair at this point as well), but this season is already starting to circle the drain in Washington.
If it isn't already completely gone.