Friday, November 30, 2007

Are the Capitals Cursed?

Per Tarik at Caps Insider, the Capitals are again facing injuries problems. Alexander Semin's ankle is hurt again (or is it 'still'?), Chris Clark is day-to-day with a groin injury and it looks like Boyd Gordon is likely going to miss a significant portion of time. To fill the roster spot the Capitals have recalled Quintin Laing from Hershey. The lines for tonight's game in Carolina will reportedly look like:


Which is actually not too bad, all things considered.

But back to the issue at hand - are the Capitals cursed? To anyone who has watched the team this year it seems like a legitimate question, possibly even a rhetorical one. Ever since those first three games the Capitals have been victim to bad calls (especially at inopportune times), bad bounces and, most of all, injury woes, seeing Clark, Semin and Tom Poti all miss time concurrently.

Clark missed games from October 27th to November 10th; Poti missed games from October 26th to November 5th; hence to two of them were both out five games, which included two one-goal losses and one two-goal loss. In the game only Poti missed, the Capitals also lost by one goal; the the game only Clark missed the Capitals lost another one goal game. In addition Alexander Semin was either hurt or ineffective due to his injury for each game in that stretch.

From October 26th to November 10th, the Capitals lost four one goal games, and one two goal game. You have to believe that having at least two of the three of Clark, Poti and Semin available and helthy for those games would have let the Capitals pull out at least four, if not more, points (they did manage one, losing in overtime in Atlanta). If the Capitals had managed a decent showing in those five games, picking up five points, they'd be sitting at 22 right now, tired for 12th in the Conference and only four out of the last playoff spot. Not overwhelming, but a much more feasible take than what they do currently have in front of them.

There there is of course the issue of the Capitals simply not being able to catch a break which, obviously, there is much less analytical evidence for.

Partially as a result of the late-October through early-November stretch the Capitals have lost their confidence. For the most part I don't think that they've lost confidence in their own ability or of the abilities of their teammates but they do seem to be convinced that the odds are stacked against them every night; that one bad turnover, one bad bounce, one referee's mistakes is going to bury the team and that as a result they have to play near perfectly to overcome the fact that fortune is not smiling on them. You can see it in the team's body language after the first goal of every game. If the Caps get it they look enthused, encouraged, like they're thinking "This could be our night, but even if it's not we've got a head start". If the opposition scores first the Caps body language is "Damn it, now we're in a hole and it's going to take a miracle for us to get out of it the way things are going".

So, how does the team get out of this mindset and out of the string of bad luck? Well the most common answer would probably be: win. There is of course a certain validity to that. Winning will give the team confidence and hopefully build momentum. But in my opinion that is not enough. The Capitals needs to win a couple games that they don't deserve to win, or at least win some close games handily because they got some good luck, in order to boost the team confidence that what is beyond their control isn't going to bury them on a regular basis. If the Caps start believing that, they will be able to weather adversity better and should start pulling off wins in game they fall behind or are outplayed early.

Eventually the bounces and the 50/50 calls are going to start going the Capitals way and if this team is playing reasonably well when they do they will be able to go on a run and make up significant ground in the standings. What the team needs to be able to do is hold its head above water in the standings (so they aren't in an impossible hole to get themselves out of) and keep playing well on the ice (so they can take advantage of the good luck and wins games when it finally comes around).


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