Goalie Braden Holtby is among many on the Capitals roster who have yet to find their A-game under Coach Adam Oates. Despite his dismal 4.03 GAA and .874 Save %, he has 3 of the Caps 4 wins this season. - USA TODAY Sports
Don't look now, but the Capitals have won two in a row, both wins coming over the Florida Panthers. The latest was a come from behind 6-5 OT win Tuesday in Sunrise. I checked in with Becca H. at our affiliate SBNation blog Japers' Rink to get a feel for where the Caps are now, how the fans are dealing with it, and what is the best possible outcome for the season.
Many thanks to Becca for taking the time to give us her take as the Caps try to get the 2013 season back on track. Here's our three questions:
1) The tribulations of the Washington Capitals this season have been the subject of countless stories and opinionating. J.P. wrote a terrific and thorough story (with an equally great url) last week explaining that this downturn from the hay days of 2008-10 are rooted in Bruce Boudreau's response to losing to the 8th seeded Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs, which was finally pushed to the edge by that long losing streak, that (for better or worse) corresponded to the filming of HBO's 24/7 series the following winter.
Now, a week after the post was written, the Caps have put together a two-game win streak for the first time under Adam Oates. Would you say they have turned the corner and the worst is behind them or are there still deep personnel and systemic issues you expect to be addressed? How low might they go and why?
I don't know if I'd say they turned a corner just yet - it's more like a slight curve in the right direction, too soon to say they've put all of the bad stuff behind them but definitely a positive sign. The team could use some scoring depth in their top six forwards (although getting Brooks Laich healthy would go a long way towards that goal); having Matt Hendricks play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro as he did Tuesday night isn't a recipe for long-term success even if it did work temporarily. And they need to address some defensive deficiencies - Dmitry Orlov has been on the shelf since December and doesn't seem to be on any set timetable for return, leaving the Caps somewhat shorthanded on D (despite having about 12 blueliners up in DC). Marginal goaltending has been an issue, as well; good one night, suspect the next, but that (hopefully) is just rust with a bit of sophomore slump thrown in for Braden Holtby.
So they could regress back to the way they played early in the season; considering where they are now in the standings there's nothing to say they don't end up vying for one of the top draft picks this summer. But there have been enough positive steps, even in recent losses, to make us think they might not be as bad as their record makes them seem.
2) It's not uncommon for passionate and demanding fans of struggling franchises (with local media adding fuel to the flames) to identify a scapegoat and ride him hard until he is run out of Dodge. Sometimes you get some great humor as well, when things get so bad there's nothing left to do but laugh. Sometimes these sides don't like each other. As someone who understands the Caps fanbase as well as anyone, can you tell us how this is playing out at the grassroots level in Washington?
John Carlson's had a pretty awful start so he's gotten some heat, as well as Ovechkin (who is obviously always at the center of that kind of thing). The goalies have been a target at times. Can't say that anyone's really been singled out and ridden to the point that he'd have to leave, though, the understanding seems to be that this is a weird year and perhaps all the components aren't in place to make this team successful (yet) so people are either trying to hang on to that last shred of optimism or have resigned themselves to the (not unpleasant) prospect of reloading with a Nathan MacKinnon or a Seth Jones.
Plus Washington is the land of self-deprecation; sports fans in this city are so used to being down that we make fun of ourselves before others can. Laugh to keep from crying, that's us.
3) What is your highest and best hope for the Capitals to realistically accomplish this season that would lead to long term success for the franchise?
Realistically we just want the Caps to avoid finishing in that black hole of 9th or 10th place; the worst thing they could do (from both a fan's standpoint and from a franchise evolution standpoint) is suddenly find their legs but do so too late to make the playoffs while eliminating any hope of getting a high draft pick.
They either need to put together some sort of run and get back into the playoff race now - which isn't out of the realm of possibility, given how tight (i.e. not good) the Eastern Conference is right now - or write off the season as a hiccup and accept their status as bottom-of-the-barrel team.