Trending Topics: The poor Capitals are having motivation problems; Pierre McGuire for Habs GM

By Ryan Lambert

Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you’re only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

Anyone that watched the Washington Capitals game in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers on Wednesday probably saw something strange.

It was a game between two teams, first and second in their division; one in which the visitors had every incentive to win. If they did so, they would put a bit more breathing room between themselves and their hosts, tripling the point difference. It was important because Florida has a game in hand.

But the strange thing viewers saw in that game was that the Capitals barely put in an effort. It was 1-1 through 40 minutes, and then the Panthers exploded for two goals in the first 10 minutes of the third. The game was over, for all intents and purposes, even as Washington pulled back within one with a little more than two minutes to go.

So why on earth would a team battling tooth and nail for the top spot in their division, trying to stave off the ignominity of dropping from “third” in the conference to ninth with a single loss, mail it in that badly?

“Some teams,” defenseman Karl Alzner, who had an assist on Washington’s first goal, told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times, “it’s just really easy to get up for because the team that they are — the Canadiens, the Rangers. Those games are really easy. Sometimes here in Florida it’s difficult to get up.”

Now, I have no doubt that this is a thing teams have to deal with at all competitive levels of any sport. Great teams, let’s say, the Canucks, look at their schedule and see they’re playing, I don’t know, the Oilers. They say, “Oh, this one will be easy.” Then they go out and maybe the game is closer than it should be: a 4-2 win instead of 5-1. Or maybe, especially if the better team is on the road, they even lose, like on Oct. 25, when Edmonton beat the reigning Western Conference champs 3-2.

It would be totally understandable that you can’t gin up the same compete level for, the 15th-place team that you do for the second- or third-place team. Certainly, you can’t do it every time, and in the course of an 82-game schedule, you lose games you should win.

But with that in mind, let’s just remind ourselves that the Capitals, for all their regular-season success last year and the one before that and the one before that and even the one before that, are no longer a great team. They’re not even a good team. They are a decidedly mediocre team.

They weren’t playing a bad team. They were playing another decidedly mediocre team. One that, again, was hot on their heels for the division lead.

And keep in mind: whoever doesn’t win that division, if they make the playoffs at all, is going to get demolished by whoever wins the East, whether it’s the Rangers or Bruins (or maybe Flyers I guess).

So how on earth does anyone on the Capitals use “we just couldn’t get motivated” as an excuse at this point in the season? That’s the kind of attitude that got Bruce Boudreau fired. It’s the kind of attitude that have them ninth in the conference despite being one of the more talented teams in the League.

It’s very rare that I consider nebulous, unquantifiable things like “compete level” to be the difference in games, but when you have a member of the team telling the media that the reason it coughed up two points to the division rivals who just leapfrogged them in the standings that the team couldn’t “get up” for the game? It’s a problem.

Washington plays at BankAtlantic Center three times a season. This was their second game in Sunrise this year, and now they’re 0-2. The circumstances were different — Florida’s apparently-trademarked three-goal outburst came in the first 16:31 of the first period, rather than the third — but the end result was certainly the same.

READ ALSO:  Rangers blew golden opportunity, and now are bound for NHL purgatory

Watching both these teams, one gets the feeling that the winner will be decided by just a handful of points at the very most, and let’s not forget that Tampa has now won five of its last six games and looks to be in a pretty good position to play spoiler if nothing else. For Washington especially, which has lost four of its last five, the footsteps have to be growing louder.

These teams meet in Florida one more time this season (on Feb. 17) and three more overall, but if they don’t find whatever made them win the last four Southeast Division titles, they’re going to have to start finding ways to motivate themselves for the back nine starting in mid-April.

Pierre McGuire GMing the Habs? Monster move

Rumors started circulating Wednesday that Pierre McGuire of all people was considered a strong candidate for the general managers’ position of the Montreal Canadiens.

Quelle surprise.

Lots of people laughed because Pierre McGuire is that short bald guy on TV who stands to close to interview subjects, and screams phrases like “active stick” and “big body” to the point of self-parody. He’s the guy who knows every junior-B team any guy in the entire league ever bought a ticket to see. He’s the guy who won’t shut up.

He’s also got to be doing something right.

These days, almost any time a GM position opens up, you hear that McGuire is at least being considered, if not favored, if not actually interviewed for the job. Why do you think that is? It’s because as much as hockey fans hate to admit it, there are probably very few people in the league who watch anywhere near as much hockey as McGuire does every season, and at most competitive levels. In terms of his familiarity with players, coaches and front office personnel, there are likely few candidates that can match him.

But the most curious thing to come out of all of this is the perception that McGuire would be all well and good for a job in Minnesota or Columbus or something, but not Montreal. And by curious, I mean laughable. Guess what, Habs fans: The 24 Cups and all that stuff is, much as you are loath to admit it, very much a thing of the past.

The Habs are, for everything they once were, now just a regular old NHL franchise, and not even a very good one. They’ve been mismanaged right into the ground by a slew of bad general managers and coaches, and as I write this on Thursday evening, they’re two points ahead of Carolina for 15th in the East.

Let’s face facts. The Habs have been to one Conference Final since they won the Stanley Cup in 1993. There have been two lockouts since then. They’ve missed the playoffs six times since and seem destined to Make It Seven. That one Conference Final, by the way? A fluke. An illusion. They’re not an elite team and haven’t been since Patrick Roy sulked his way out of town. There’s a reason they have a proud history, and not a proud present-day.

So next time you want to say that Montreal is an unsuitable place for anyone, for any reason, you might want to consider what it means to be the Canadiens in 2012. It sure as hell doesn’t mean what it did 20 years ago, no matter what the fans or media or team itself would lead you to believe.

And besides, McGuire couldn’t possibly do worse at the gig than Pierre Gauthier.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn’t a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on high-level performance: “The most fascinating thing about the NHL Skills competition is that most of it is probably being done hungover.”

If you’ve got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He’ll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you’ll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you’re so inclined.