capitals fail to turn back the clock

(photo by Mitchell Layout)

Okay, it’s time to vent.

While it was a great idea to dedicate a night in honor of Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli, the pregame festivities were fairly pointless.

Talking with fans beforehand, the overwhelming opinion was folks hoping for a heartfelt pregame ceremony with video tributes for the former Capital, but everything before the puck was dropped seemed rushed and clunky.

Why even have him out on the ice if he’s only going to be a part of a 10-second dog-and-pony show? The video tributes throughout the game were much better, but by that point Ciccarelli was tucked away in the owner’s suit or some other luxury box and the fans were robbed of seeing his reaction to the kind words shared by his friends and former teammates.

The way it was handled this time around, fans were robbed of the opportunity to share a heartfelt moment with a former great. Here’s hoping next time the Caps start the festivities a little earlier to give Caps fans more than a few seconds with one of their favorite former players.

Speaking of brief moments of joy followed by disappointment – how you liking that Capitals offense these days?

They get off to their best start in more than a month, only to fall asleep at the wheel for the final two periods. By the time regulation ended, there couldn’t have been a single Caps fan, player or coach in the Verizon Center who had a good feeling about how the story would end on this night.

Of course, true to form this season, the Capitals fell apart in a game that required overtime and lost to the Canadiens 3-2 via shootout.

The Caps might have referred to last night as “Turn Back the Clock Night,” but the results were very much more of the same uninspired hockey that’s been the calling card of Bruce Boudreau’s guys far too frequently this season.

Earlier this week, I made my argument that the Capitals are a team suffering from an identity crisis. And my stance on the new-look Caps paved the way to a healthy debate (and a disturbing visual of farm animals wearing lipstick).

Since this topic continues to engulf the Capitals these days and the opposing team last night happened to be the same squad that started all of this drama in the first place, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the subject.

Revisionist history now suggests that Washington was bounced by the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last year because their run-and-gun style of play can’t work in the postseason.

In the days after the Caps season came to an unexpected screeching halt, armchair quarterbacks using the benefit of hindsight happily piled on by claiming the Caps were doomed until they conform to conventional thinking and tighten up on the defensive side of the rink.

Hockey purists are convinced an all-out aggressive mentality cannot bring home the Stanley Cup, so the Capitals might as well pretend to be something they’re not, right?

But here’s the thing – at least in this case, those critics are using flawed logic. The Capitals didn’t get eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs last year because of the defense. They lost because of the following:

  • They ran into a goalie that caught fire at the right time (Jaroslav Halak, you might remember, stopped 134 of 137 shots in the last three playoff games versus Washington).
  • They were matched up against a team content to clutter the defensive zone with as many bodies as humanly possible (Montreal blocked 117 shots in the seven-game series).
  • The Capitals played right into Montreal’s strengths as their shooters settled on firing long-range, low-percentage shots rather than crashing the net and using all the traffic near the crease to their advantage.

How any of that translates to the team needing a defensive makeover make-over is beyond me. People forget this, but the Capitals actually outscored Montreal 22 to 20 in that first-round series.

The Caps got off to a better start than Montreal, but the Canadiens did a better job of making adjustments as the series went on. But once again, that shouldn’t be an indictment on the defense.

Last year, the Caps averaged 3.8 goals for per game and 2.8 goals against during the regular season.

Once they got to the postseason though, the Caps averaged 3.1 goals for per game and 2.8 goals against versus Montreal.

The defense remained the same. But the offense stalled and the NHL’s best regular season team was eliminated in humbling fashion.

So, to recap, the offense went cold and the answer suddenly became “we need to become more defensive minded.”

There’s just one problem – that’s doesn’t actually confront the issue at hand. It just changes the conversation while ignoring the elephant in the room.

Let me put it another way – it’s roughly akin to if my wife and I were having marital problems, I tried to solve the problems by finding a new best friend. Sure, Mama McFanboy and I are still on the rocks (in this hypothetical scenario), but at least I’ve got a new drinking buddy in my life.

You’re not fixing the actual problem. You’re simply turning your attention to something else.

This season – thanks to injuries, slumping forwards and a new defensive mindset – the Caps are now averaging 2.7 goals for per game and 2.4 goals against.

Maybe now narrow-minded hockey purists can now convince themselves that Washington has a better chance at postseason success because “they’re playing hockey the right way,” but I’m not buying it.

The Capitals’ offense still has no flow or consistency. There are still too many players coasting out there, either unwilling or unable to do the dirty work necessary to score goals in tightly-contested games. And there are still too many players who settle for long-range shots rather than crashing the net, so the opposing goalie only has to make one save and the puck is going in the other direction.

And that’s before I mention players taking mind-numbing penalties (see: Laich, Brooks) or being overly cute with the puck (see: Carlson, John). So yeah, there’s plenty to be concerned about these days. Which means, unless the defense improves to historical levels, all of these little issues are going to kill any realistic hopes of meeting this team’s goals and expectations.

So if I seem a little crankier than usual these days, please forgive me. I’ve just come to grips with the fact that the only team in town worth the price of admission no longer plays to its strengths and is now on pace to die a mediocre death come playoff time. And that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Author Description

b murf

I'm a D.C. sports blogger, professional photographer and an eternal pessimist. All I want in life is for Al Iafrate to finally call and admit he's my father.

Comments

  1. February 2, 2011

    Agree with you that there was misdiagnosis, and almost agree with your assessement of real cause of 1st round loss last spring. Setting aside whether the coach is capable of game plan adjustments (like Gibbs), I would define cause a bit more simply – the Caps were not prepared for Game 5 at home when they should have wrapped it up. I was at that game. They came out flat, squandered momentum, and gave new life to Habs, who took advantage in game 6, etc. Why did Caps come out flat? Coach and/or on-ice leaders let up. Team has been dysfunctional since.

  2. February 2, 2011

    Really thought I was watching something special last night especially with Dino in attendance. We swapped our 3rd period production for the first period and then I realized I knew how this story would end. ‘I’m tired of grasping to the ‘at least we got a point’ song and dance.

    Good post(see: McFanboy, Homer)

  3. February 2, 2011

    ….and Ovechkin’s Hip check on PK Suban was *Falsetto On* NASTY!*Falsetto Off*

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fp_Hg9z2rc

  4. February 2, 2011

    Agree with everything here. Been saying the same thing for a month now. There’s been something wrong with the team from the beginning of the season, and the “defensive makeover” just made it worse. I’m starting to worry whether they even make the playoffs–the last time the Caps actually beat a playoff-quality team was the Penguins on Jan. 1. Before that, it was the Habs on Dec. 28, and before that it was….I think TB the day after Thanksgiving. That’s three good wins in two months. That’s pretty poor.

  5. February 2, 2011

    You guys might all be mad, but there is a flickr feed of cheerleader pictures to the right…….

  6. February 3, 2011

    Thanks for the link love. Just an FYI. Dino did a Chalk Talk with Season Ticket holders before the game. Here is some video I shot.
    http://www.chirpsfromtheledge.com/2011/02/02/dino-ciccarelli-at-the-caps-chalk-talk/

  7. February 3, 2011

    My personal theory is that Bruce lost the room when he could not adjust to Montreal. The players, who didn’t go through that, are by and large responding–Hendy, etc. However, I believe the rest of the crew has lost faith, has tuned BB out or whatever. I think they don’t believe he can take them the rest of the way and have just tuned him out. I also believe this is just a sloppy run team–24/7 showed that and it has to be having an effect

  8. February 3, 2011

    Great analysis.
    Like you, I am still confused as to why they changed the team’s entire approach after three bad playoff games they lost 2-1, 4-1 and 2-1 (and the 4th goal in the 4-1 game was an empty netter). Clearly defense wasn’t the issue there, the Caps ran into a red hot goalie. In those three losses, the Caps fired 38, 54 and 42 shots on goal, while only allowing 28, 22 and 16 shots on goal. Those are solid numbers that indicate the D was actually pretty good.

    I think another big issue right now is Boudreau, he simply can’t coach. He had a lot of success when he first came up because he didn’t coach much, he just let the skill players do their thing and the Caps won. A lot. But now that he’s “tinkering” and trying to strategize and implement a system, it’s being made very obvious that he’s not good at that. The guy changes the lines mid-game, almost every game. That’s a sign of panic and not knowing what to do. The organization needs to make a decision as to whether they’re going to let the players be themselves and be creative or find a new coach who can develop and implement a system that works.

  9. February 3, 2011

    Have to say that was well said and nicely written murph

  10. February 4, 2011

    To the idiots that think Bruce should be fired, see the Chargers under Norv after Marty was fired.to those with short memories the Caps were IN LAST PLACE prior to Bruce’s coaching debut.

  11. February 4, 2011

    Where are the cheerleader pic’s?

  12. February 4, 2011

    Scott, I have more faith in McPhee – he will surely avoid a Norv-like replacement. As to rising fm last place, I think its simply that Bruce > Hanlon. However, that doesn’t address the lack of playoff performance, or the lack of development of this team since last year.

  13. February 4, 2011

    you have a new drinking buddy?!

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