Florida is the most needed regular season game for the Caps in almost four years, just as this road trip is as pivotal as any since 2008. This is the time for desperation. This is the time for Ovechkin to find a gear missing on a consistent basis since, let’s be brutally honest, Russia folded in the Winter Games two years ago. Ever since then, hockey has seemed more of a chore than a joy to him.
This is the time for Hunter, at times almost passive over his team’s poor play, to act like he wants to coach the Capitals beyond this season.
However the arrangement went down — owner Ted Leonsis telling General Manager George McPhee that he and his new coach were on a prove-it-or-lose-it contract or Hunter taking a wait-and-see approach before returning to his uber-profitable minor league fiefdom in London, Ontario — the message sent to the locker room is clear:
Either ownership is not all-in on the coach, the coach isn’t all-in with the Caps or, worse, they’re both feeling each other out to see if it’s the right fit. That’s not genuine commitment, the kind a coach and an organization demands from its players; that’s hedging your bets in case the whole season blows up in your face. That’s a cavalier attitude, and it permeates every facet of a franchise.
Winning can always be the great deodorant — covering up all the stench of a deflating season.
But as Laich said: “We have to understand that the time is now, we can’t wait. I don’t think there’s a lot of magic coming at the trade deadline. The guys that are going to get us into the playoffs are in the locker room right now. We have to win. We have to win right now.”
The reclamation project begins Friday night, everyone knows. If it doesn’t happen then, there is a feeling it never will with this group, this coach and perhaps this general manager, who is now on his fifth coach.
“We can’t be waiting two weeks or three weeks, and try and make a push, the push that we made four or five years ago whatever to get in,” Laich said. “Win 11 of your last 12? That doesn’t happen very often and we don’t want to have to just snake in like that. We have to win right now.”
For previous Mike Wise columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.