The NHL-worst Washington Capitals were handing out votes of confidence Friday, less than three weeks into a season that has so far been nothing short of a fall-flat-on-the-face embarrassment.
General manager George McPhee met with reporters for some 20 minutes at the team’s facility and cited penalties and goaltending as the major culprits that have caused the Capitals to lose nine of their first 11 games.
McPhee had positive words for new coach Adam Oates and franchise player Alex Ovechkin, even though the former two-time league MVP has yet to score a 5-on-5 goal this season.
“We’re disappointed with the way things have started. It’s not over. Nothing that a couple of wins won’t really help,” McPhee said. “But we’re going to make good decisions. We’re not going to do anything short term. We’re not going to blow anything up. We like the people here.”
The Capitals lost 5-2 to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and have yet to score four goals in a game this season. They have allowed an NHL-high 15 power play goals.
“We’re playing a good game and then we start taking penalties, and we take them in bunches,” McPhee said. “And no system, no coach, no team can survive that.”
McPhee called the rash of penalties “undisciplined” and “selfish” and said they resulted from a “lack of focus.” But he didn’t link those deficiencies to the leadership of Oates, a first-time NHL coach who had an abbreviated training camp because of the lockout-shortened season.
“I really like the coaches. I love what they’re doing,” McPhee said. “I like the way that we’re playing in terms of our system.”
The Capitals appeared to be set at goalie with rising stars Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth vying for playing time this season, but both have been disappointing so far.
“There is upside there with these goaltenders,” McPhee said. “But they can both play better and they know it. And it’s time for them to play.”
As for Ovechkin, McPhee is pleased with the high-priced forward who has switched this season from left wing to right. Ovechkin has only three goals — all on the power play — and was visibly seething after the loss to the Penguins.
“I really like the way Alex has played the last four games,” McPhee said. “Adam is convinced that he can get him playing the way that Ovi can play, and a couple of these games are the best that we’ve seen him in a long time. … He’s getting a lot more chances on the right side than the left. He’s a much more effective player. I like it a lot. You might disagree, but it looks a lot better to us.”
Owner Ted Leonsis also noted the struggles of the goaltending and the offense on his blog Friday and added: “We have many challenges as an organization, and as a team.”
“I’ve had some real good discussions with ownership over the last couple of days,” McPhee said. “They’re obviously not very happy. But they’ve been supportive. At times like this, ownership can pile on and make things worse or ownership can say, ‘How can we help? And what can we do to make it better?’ And it’s been the latter. … And I provided some options, and they provided some real clear direction, which was great.
“So that being said, if there’s something I can do to help the club out, I will. But I’m not going to do anything stupid.”