Photo: Bill Smith/NHLI Via Getty Images
After losing their fifth straight game to the NHL-worst Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon, and holding a players-only meeting following the 8-5 drubbing, the Capitals are in a rut in every sense of the word. Despite moving players around in the lineup, Head Coach Todd Reirden hasn’t been able to jolt his team back into form. With the team in their first five-game losing streak since 2014, it’s time for Reirden to make some tough decisions in the lineup.
With a team that features names like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov in their top-six forward group, the fact the Caps have scored just nine goals over their five-game losing streak (to 13 Goals Against), with five of those nine goals coming from defensemen and many of the team’s top names struggling to find the back of the net and scoresheet. The team’s mediocre performance (and in particular that of their top-six), it’s time for Reirden to make some difficult, but temporary changes to the team’s lineup.
During the nationally-televised broadcast, NBC Sports analyst Mike Milbury stated that Reirden should sit some of his top players for a game or two to motivate the team to perform better. And while not every fan will agree with the statement, it may ultimately be one that needs to be made in order for the first-year bench boss to wake his team up. Kuznetsov in particular has been quiet and has not performed well during the five-game stretch (and even before). He has just one goal and one assist during the skid, and is a combined minus-7 in those five contests. In his previous 10 games, he has a combined four points (one goal, three assists), and is combined minus-5. While an extended stay in the press box is not needed, sitting one of the team’s most offensively-gifted players for even a single game could send the right message to the team. And one could make the argument that rookie blueliner Jonas Siegenthaler has performed better than second-year defenseman Madison Bowey in the last several games (Bowey played in place of Siegenthaler today, and was a minus-1)
Reirden has already shown he isn’t afraid to sit players who are not producing as expected, as forward Andre Burakovsky has been on the end of those decisions multiple times this season. The above isn’t to say Kuznetsov is the only player performing under expectations, simply the most obvious example of a player who is underperforming at this point in time. Whatever the reason for the team’s mediocre play over the better part of the month, it may ultimately take something as difficult as sitting an underperforming star for a game to motivate the defending Stanley Cup champions into playing the hockey they have shown they can play in the past.
By Michael Fleetwood