After Darcy Kuemper was forced to leave the game for the Washington Capitals over the weekend, the team recalled Hunter Shepard from the AHL to serve as an extra goaltender. Kuemper is listed as day-to-day.
Shepard, 27, has never appeared in an NHL game and is only in his third season of professional hockey, but has been outstanding for the Capitals organization to this point. Starting in the ECHL, he dominated in 2020-21 for the South Carolina Stingrays, and went 3-0 during a short AHL stint. He was back in the ECHL for most of last season as well, but once again was outstanding whenever called up to the Hershey Bears, this time posting a .922 save percentage in nine appearances.
This year, as a full-time member of Hershey, he has a .932 in eight games, failing to lose a single one in regulation. Overall, since turning pro, Shepard has a .919 in the ECHL and a .934 in the AHL – not bad for an undrafted free agent goaltender who didn’t sign an NHL deal until he was 25.
Still, losing Kuemper for any length of time would leave the Capitals in a tough situation. Backup Charlie Lindgren has not been good this season, and the team is already struggling to stay relevant in the Metropolitan Division playoff race. Washington is 10-12-4 on the year and sit sixth in the division, having allowed 83 goals in 26 games.
I mean, look.. the Capitals aren’t a playoff team. Yes, the injuries are a factor in this season so far, but really it’s not a major one. These guys (sans Kuemper) have been healthy during the last four years and it didn’t help them do anything except gradually slip down the regular season standings every year and lead the team to four first round exits in a row. As we’ve seen so far, Kuemper isn’t enough either.
The writing has been on the wall for at least two years now; it’s over. The window is closed, it’s time to rebuild. Not retool, rebuild. Trade off all assets (sans Ovechkin, Wilson, perhaps Orlov and anyone who will contribute to the next evolution of this team) while they still have enough value to bring back draft picks and young players. That means Carlson, Eller, Oshie, Kuznetsov, Mantha and so on.
This team has shown for four years now that they are incapable of playing a full 60 minutes of consistent hockey anymore. This bunch is old and too comfortable and we’ve prioritized these older players over the younger ones. Where’s the leadership on this team that at least should know that the play needs to be better and leading by example? Where’s the hunger?
The Capitals FO needs to understand that it’s over. If Ovechkin wants another shot at a Stanley Cup before his career is over, this needs to happen preferably at the trade deadline or the offseason. This upcoming draft class looks like a good one and a good time to do this. The organization can’t put Ovie’s record so high up the priorities list that the team itself gets neglected and fans have to wait 5+ years to be a competitive team again. This ain’t it. I doubt MacLellan has the guts to do the hard (but right) thing here.