Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Don't Blow It Up. Just Go Back To The 2010 Style of Play

Following two of the worst performances I can remember(Whoops- check that, since November 26th at Buffalo, when the Caps got pollaxed 5-1 in a game where the Sabres weren't playing with 9 regular players), the questions remain the same. What is wrong with the Capitals, and are the Caps capable of making the playoffs?

Before the start of the season, the answer to the second question would have been a resounding YES. After Monday and Wednesday night's debacles, you would think this team was the Eastern Conference's cellar dweller, and it's hard to see this team making the playoffs at all.

However, any hockey fan knows that you just need to make the playoffs to have a chance to win a cup. Whether it's a hot goaltender, streaky goal scorer, the right call at the right time- NHL hockey is the sport where you don't have to be the best team in it to win it. You just need to be in it.

This debate, in it of itself, is interesting and will surely shake it's self out over the next days before the deadline. The questions I'd like to ask though, is how the hell did the Caps get in this spot and who is responsible?

For me, the blame has to start at the very top with Ted Leonsis. How many times did we hear him say, after an earlier than expected playoff exit, that this team was built to contend for a Stanley Cup for a decade and it was just a matter of time?

Now I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the jest of comments made by him as recently as July 13, 2011 to the National Press and Wharton Club.

The arrogance of that statement is only overshadowed by the stupidity of it. Nothing in life is guaranteed or assumed,especially in sports and even more so in the NHL. To talk as if a Stanley Cup is some sort of birth right, based off the fact that you lucked out with Ovechkin and a few other draft picks, is foolish at best.

Comments like this lead to a complacent and lazy attitude. The problem with the owner talking about how many Stanley Cups you are going to win, before you even manage to make it to the conference final round in the first place, is that this entitlement attitude trickles down to everyone in the organization- players and coaches. And the General Manager.

GM George McPhee is to blame as well. After all, this is the team he put together with the coach he fired to get. By my account, that would mean he's next in line to have his head chopped if the shizzle continues to hit the fan.

I have long been a supporter of McPhee and the job that he has done here. Some moves that he's made over the years have simply been brilliant, but the decisions made since the 1st round playoff loss to Montreal two years ago, are really starting to look questionable.

For starters, the talking point every year of how the Caps have found "the young goalie", who is going to be the staple for 7,8, 10 years, is just that- a talking point. And one that carries no merit. Since the Caps fired Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving Day 2007, the Caps have trotted out 8 different goalies. So much for that thought.

And its becoming evident that there wasn't much of a back up plan in case their star center got injured. Nothing can be more telling about this statement, than the fact that Nicklas Backstrom has now missed 22 games, yet he still leads the team in assists.


Also, I think its safe to say that Bruce Boudreau wasn't the problem with the Caps. Dale Hunter certainly hasn't been the shot in the arm everyone seemed to be counting on. The Caps were 12-10 under BB, and coming off the before mentioned lackluster performance at Buffalo, when he was let go. But since Hunter took over, the Caps are 4 games under .500, 17-21.

And I'd scan over your NHL standing/stats, and take a look at what Boudreau has done out in Anaheim, since he took over coaching duties with that club.

Lastly, following the 1st round exit to Montreal in '10, why did the Caps change up their style of play? Did GMGM and Boudreau listen to arm chairs who were questioning the style of play? Was it the first in a line of what can only be classified as panic moves, like Boudreau's eventually firing? The team was built and geared towards an up and down, offensive style of play, so why would you change something that was so overwhelmingly successful over an 82 game season, simply because of a 1st round loss?

Is Ovechkin really the problem? Or is he just a product of a new system that has been a complete failure?

Like we've said, the NHL is easily the most unpredictable playoff format in professional sports. Couldn't they have just chalked up the Montreal series loss as an anomaly?

To put that (former) style of play in perspective, compare that 2010 season thru 60 games, to what this year's Caps have done thru 60 games.

In 2010, the Caps had scored 5 or more goals, 21 times. This year, they've done that just 7 times. Whats even more staggering, on both a level relative to league numbers and what the Caps have done thus far, is the total amount of goals scored.

This year thru 60 games, the Caps have scored 160 goals. In 2010, the Caps had scored 239 goals. How explosive was 239 goals thru 60 games? Consider that the NHL leader in goals thru 60 games this year, is the Philadelphia Flyers (who have actually only played 59 thus far), and they've only scored 197.

That is a 42 goal differential, folks. That's lapping the field, and that's the PC way of putting it.

In light of these comparisons, hindsight being 20/20 of course, why would any team totally abandon what they do naturally, for something that they are not comfortable doing, especially when you're scoring the way the Caps used to? Offensively geared teams have won the Stanley Cup before.

Offensively, the Caps are a shell of themselves. Seriously, how the hell do you only score 1 goal against Tampa Bay- the worst team defensively, in the entire NHL? How has Alexander Semin only scored 16 goals? He scored 28 last year, and 40 two years ago. He's on pace to score 22 this year.

So Semin scores 40 goals during their offensive hey day in 2010, and then scores 28 last year and is on pace to score 22 this year, and you don't think the change affected that?

Take a look at Ovechkin's numbers. He scored 50 two years ago, 32 in the first year of the new way, and he's on a pace to score 33 this year. Again, I think its fair to connect the dots on the change of play, rather than rail on Ovi for "being out of shape". If anything, props to Ovi for being consistent in the style he's been asked to play in.

Its real simple, Ted and George. Go back to what worked. Open it up, take your chances in those good old 6-5 and 7-4 games, and quit walking around with your head down, like we're the Bad News Bears. That change in style of play, has snowballed into one bad move after another, and even has guys like Dan Daly of The Washington Times, encouraging the unloading of Alex Ovechkin, and a complete team overhaul.

Really, Dan? Lets just blow it up, trade our star player, whose value you won't even come close to replacing, just so he can go to another team who will utilize his abilities, put him in the right "situation", so we can then watch him score 50 goals again? Awesome...

The injuries to Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom have certainly not helped matters. And as much blame that can be put on GMGM for not having viable replacements in place, the injuries are just something you have to suck up and deal with, and continue to plow on. See Pittsburgh Penguins.

There are 22 games left in their schedule. They are 2 points out of the 8 spot in the Conference, and 2 points out of 1st place in the Southeast Division. I'd expect some trade deadline moves- Carlson, Johansson, Semin, Knuble, Wideman, Vokoun, Mike Green- pick one or all from a hat. I'd expect a few of these guys to be residing in other North American cities by this time next week. But that's just half of it.

They're still very much alive for a playoff birth, and in the unpredictable NHL playoff format, you just need to get in. Go back to what made you successful two years ago, and start scoring some goals. Then we might just see, that the situation here in DC is not quite as bad as it appears to be.

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