By: Casey Shea

Monday was already going to be an interesting day for information that was indirectly related to the Penguins. However, it got a whole lot more interesting for entirely different reasons.

The NHL is expected to have a disciplinary hearing with Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty after his high hit on Kris Letang Saturday night.

Letang suffered a broken nose, but came back for the start of overtime and scored the game-winning goal.

That hearing will be held later today, but the biggest news of the day involves the Washington Capitals, who fired head coach Bruce Boudreau.

The Capitals got out of the gate on fire this season, but have struggled mightily recently with a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games.

They have fallen to second place in the Southeast Division and are three points behind the Florida Panthers.

To me, Boudreau is the scapegoat in all of this.

For the last couple of seasons, Boudreau has tried to add a team defense mentality to the Capitals’ game in order to sustain playoff success.

It hasn’t worked and part of that falls on the leaders of the team. Namely, captain Alex Ovechkin.

If the captain won’t buy into the system that the coach is selling, why should the rest of the locker room?

There’s a natural obligation to follow both, but when the captain appears disinterested, where are the rest of the players going to turn?

Essentially, they become faced with a decision of which guy to follow. If some follow the captain and others follow the coach, the team has no cohesiveness.

As Abraham Lincoln famously stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Whether that’s what really went down in Washington is debatable. However, given the information surrounding this situation, it may not be far off.

Ovechkin’s production has completely dropped off over the last couple of seasons. This season, he has eight goals and nine assists to go along with a minus-7 rating in 22 games.

For those keeping track, according to the Penguins’ website, Sidney Crosby has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in just four games since returning to the lineup.

Also, here’s a list of Penguins players who are ahead of Ovechkin in the scoring race right now:

  • James Neal – 13 goals, 10 assists = 23 points
  • Evgeni Malkin – 8 goals, 14 assists = 22 points
  • Pascal Dupuis – 6 goals, 13 assists = 19 points
  • Kris Letang – 3 goals, 16 assists = 19 points
  • Jordan Staal 12 goals, 6 assists – 18 points

Who had Dupuis leading Ovechkin in late November? Anyone?

Anyway, Ovechkin finished the 2010-11 campaign with 85 points (32 goals, 53 assists), which isn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination. However, it’s a big dip from the 109 points he put up in 2009-10, where he also scored 50 goals for the third straight year.

I’ve never been one to think that Ovechkin and defense belonged in the same sentence, but it was always my understanding that if the coach asks you to play a system, you play the system.

As the captain, it’s your responsibility to lead the club on the ice. If you have a problem with how you are being used in the system, go to the coach about it.

I feel certain that something could have been worked out between the face of the franchise and Boudreau.

Ovechkin is one of the most dangerous players on the planet and clearly defense isn’t his thing. However, you can’t be flying the zone and always looking for the home run. Sometimes you have to play small ball for sake of the team.

We’ve all watched the Caps not so gracefully bow out early in the playoffs for years. You can see how much it pains Ovechkin to have to be on the wrong end of the handshake line.

So, why wouldn’t you want to try anything in your power to help your team win? I’m not saying the Caps are a lock to win the Stanley Cup this season, but they have the pieces to be dangerous and make a long run.

Now, this isn’t all on Ovechkin. Guys like Alexander Semin are also to blame for disappearing at times as well. He was even benched during a game last week.

Boudreau tried sending messages to his club, but it appears as if few were listening. He even left Ovechkin on the bench for the final moments of a game against the Ducks earlier this month.

It proved to be the right call as the Caps tied the game without him on the ice. Ovechkin responded in overtime by setting up the game-winning goal.

Despite what may have been his best efforts, Boudreau is gone. Again, I’m not saying there’s no blame on him in this because there certainly is.

He lost the locker room and if few are listening, there’s little reason to keep him around.

All I’m saying is that the team’s leaders should also be held accountable in this.

Their new head coach will most likely bring the same fire to the bench that he played with on the ice.

Now, the Caps will turn to former captain Dale Hunter.

Yeah, that Dale Hunter.

Hunter comes to the Capitals from the London Knights of the OHL. He helped the club win their first Memorial Cup in 2004-05 and has a 451-189-23-24 record there.

He tended to employ a more offensive-minded strategy with the Knights. If he tries to bring that back to the Caps, would it not be a major regression in their development as a team?

We’ve watched the Capitals flame out in the playoffs because teams were able to play solid defense and shut them down. The Canadiens’ first round shocker in 2010 serves as the perfect example of defense winning in the playoffs.

Until some of the bigger names on the Capitals wake up and start being more responsible defensively, they’ll have plenty of time to work on their golf games in the spring.

I suppose time will tell, but the Penguins will get their first crack at the new-look Caps Thursday night.

It should be interesting to say the least.

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