With the Colorado Avalanche winning last night and usurping the top spot in the division, the Hawks are now sealed into the #3 seed in the Central Division and will start the playoffs on the road. However, there are still two games left in the regular season, the penultimate of which will take place tonight in D.C. against the already eliminated Capitals. Exhibition hockey in April. Wonderful.
The Capitals missing out on the playoffs this year is perhaps the nadir of a now four-year decline that saw them learn all of the wrong lessons from getting out-goalied by the Habs and Jaro Halak, who in a bitter twist of irony, is now on the Capitals and was brought in at the deadline to help get them into the playoffs. Obviously that didn’t work out. Since that loss, GM George McPhee has been trying to tack on defensive parts to a team that was built for fun and gun, as well as coaches in Dale Hunter and Adam Oates that are clearly out of touch with how the game is played now, as well as the roster they’ve been given. Oates in particular has shown his ass this entire season, first with berating Tomas Hertl’s career-ending goal against Marty Biron, then defending Tom Wilson on an indefensible hit, and now by bus-tossing Halak for reportedly not wanting to face the Blues earlier in the week, which is still up for debate. Say what you will about Dale Hunter and his goofy ass antics with putting Alex Ovechkin with Jay Beagle, but at least he won a playoff round and came within a game seven of winning two.
With Oates obviously needing to be fired, that then brings the question back to McPhee himself, who is on coach number 5 of his tenure (Ron Wilson, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Hunter, and now Oates). Many GMs get one, maybe two coaching hires before ending up out on their respective asses. How McPhee has lasted this long can likely be chalked up to regular season success, and having a close relationship with pudwhack owner , AOL magnate Ted Leonsis. And still to this day how McPhee even kept his job after punching then Hawks coach Lorne Molleken in the face after a preseason game remains one of the more under reported mysteries of the NHL. Even Teflon Don Waddell eventually got his in Atlanta, and it’s not a moment too soon should McPhee finally get acquainted with the guillotine by the end of the weekend.
On the ice the Capitals were kind of a mess, obviously. Their power play was absolutely lethal, which led Oveckin to pile up goals and topping 50 once again, but their defensive structure was wretched, leading to possession numbers that were basically horrendous all year long, which is puzzling considering that they do have some solid pieces on the blue line in John Carlson and Karl Alzner. This led to Braden Holtby’s not-terrible .913 save percentage being blamed for the issues, hence the acquisition of Halak. And though he has been better at a .923 since his arrival, it’s not enough to bail out the onslaught of attempts they face. So it’s easy to see why Oates should be fired, and it’s also easy to see why McPhee shouldn’t be the one making the next hire.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, their charge is simple. Don’t get hurt. Q needs to sit whomever he can and manage minutes accordingly. There’s no point in diving in front of an Ovechkin one timer from the left ring at this point. Yes, it might be nice to see Hossa pierce 30 for the first time as a Hawk, but it’s obviously not necessary.
Some funny numbers to consider before these last two games, as well. The Hawks can max out at 111 points, which would be only one point fewer than the 2009-2010 “juggernaut”. The Hawks are also guaranteed to have fewer regulation losses than that squad (22 vs 19 now), and the goal differentials are basically the same with 209 allowed in 2010 and 209 after 80 games this year, 271 scored in 2010 and sitting on 262 now. All while getting not nearly the degree of health they did in 2010 among the forward corps or goaltending. And they did it all this year while dragging the anchors of Bollig, Handzus, and arguably Versteeg. So there’s some encouragement to digest while heading into a weekend of garbage hockey while suffering the indignity of being locked into third place in the division. Let’s go Hawks?