Washington Capitals Have Big Problems, Few Potential Solutions

ARLINGTON, VA - NOVEMBER 28: Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter watches members of the Washington Capitals practice at Kettler Iceplex on November 28, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia. Hunter became the head coach after Bruce Boudreau was recently fired. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals have problems, and they go far beyond the coaching shift to Dale Hunter and the struggles of Alex Ovechkin. For general manager George McPhee, there are no obvious solutions at this point.

On Nov. 28, Bruce Boudreau was fired as Washington Capitals coach. Just a few days later, he resurfaced in Anaheim, while former Capitals star and -- most recently -- junior coach Dale Hunter was trying to figure things out in Washington.

Close to three months later, Boudreau appears to be a miracle worker in Southern California, while Hunter has led the Capitals to, well, just as much success as Boudreau had been enjoying.

That's to say, "not much."

When Boudreau was sent packing by Capitals general manager George McPhee, the team was 12-9-1, including going 3-6-1 in its previous 10 games. Washington was eighth in the Eastern Conference.

After a nationally-televised pasting by the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night, Washington is 29-25-5 overall, meaning Hunter has led the team to a record of 17-16-4 in his time as coach. If you're not impressed by that, it's for good reason, as it's hardly the impact the Capitals hoped for when they made a coaching change.

The fact that Boudreau has gotten the Ducks turned around -- to the point where Anaheim is the hottest team in the NHL and one of those, "If they make the playoffs, boy they could go on a run" type of teams -- should only chafe Washington fans all the more.

Of course, this isn't all about Dale Hunter, just like Anaheim's success isn't all about Boudreau.

But McPhee made a big move in late November, and the design wasn't for his team to play .500 hockey for nearly 40 games. The design wasn't for his group -- with plenty of star power and a good amount of grit -- to go into Game 60 on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, while also trailing Florida and Winnipeg in the Southeast Division.

But, alas, the best-laid plans ...

Aside from a brief surge before his suspension, Alex Ovechkin simply hasn't been playing at anything close to the level we all know he's capable of. The Great 8 is under a point per game for the first time in his NHL career, and it's gone beyond a simple scoring drought.

Now, it's starting to look more like reality than a small aberration in a potential Hall of Fame career. He's not shooting as much, his speed seems to have been curtailed a bit, and the guys around him really aren't doing anything notable, either.

It seems tired and almost too easy to go back to the "Ovechkin shouldn't be the captain" card. Everyone likes it when a team's best player also has the qualities that make a good captain. Reality is that the Capitals really haven't done much of anything to make the decision to make Ovechkin the captain look like a good and timely one.

They made Boudreau look bad, and eventually ran him out of town with one too many playoff failures and an ill-timed slump this season. Since he left, the team has done nothing to justify that decision, especially given what the Ducks have done since they were finally able to convince management to eat Randy Carlyle's contract.

McPhee has some tough decisions ahead. This team isn't working, but his potential solutions are limited. The injury to Nicklas Backstrom obviously hurt, but it seemed the Capitals had enough depth to overcome that. The problem is that too many skaters are struggling, and then you look at the play in goal, and you can't think it's consistently good enough for Washington to be a factor.

Coaching hires are never easy. There is no set-in-stone path to success when you search for one. The fact that Washington hasn't succeeded with a coaching change doesn't mean anything, especially when you look at what teams like St. Louis and Anaheim have accomplished with their changes. That a fresh face hasn't necessarily gotten it done with the Capitals so far doesn't mean that he never will, and it doesn't mean teams shouldn't consider hiring a guy with little NHL head coaching experience.

After all, Monday's win gives Kirk Muller a better record with Carolina than Hunter has with Washington. The Hurricanes still aren't a playoff contender, but it's clear things are starting to look up on Tobacco Road.

The same cannot be said in our nation's capital, where the hockey team is in a funk, and it doesn't look like McPhee, Hunter, Ovechkin, or anybody else is going to pull them out anytime soon.

For more on the Capitals, check in with SB Nation DC and Japers' Rink.

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