19 April, 2014


Referendum Hockey Is Here

We are going to learn a great deal about the DNA of the Washington Capitals over the next 36 hours. Immediately before them is an enormous if suddenly unexpected task: attempting to gain, on the road, viability in a series everyone predicted them to win but in which tonight they face what is almost certainly a do-or-die scenario. And they must prevail without a functional power play, with general uncertainty about their leadership (on the ice and behind the bench), without a productive no. 1 center, and of course with the ghosts of Capitals’ postseasons past lodged on their bench and in their room.

Ghosts? How else would you explain consecutive playoff games against a weary foe in which pucks deflect off of Capitals’ rearguards and behind their netminder and into the cage, playing pivotal roles in consecutive upsets? And as our friend JP notes, those are only the two most recent such self-inflicted wounds this postseason. That sh*t just doesn’t seem to happen to the Wings, does it?

We love our hockey players, they are wonderful talents, they are to man exemplary civic figures in our community, and in just about every respect they make us proud to be fans. But they’ve an ultimate obligation in their profession — to get it done when it counts. To date, they’ve failed in that obligation. Given their accumulated postseason experience wearing our sweater, it is fair, beginning this spring, to hold them to a heightened accountability.

Ted Leonsis is right in suggesting that postseason prosperity involves, to a degree, having Lady Luck smiling on your side. And the Tampa Bay Lightning are a worthy adversary. But in year six of the Era of Ovechkin, with so many key roster ingredients in place, and with the sting of last spring still fresh, with Sidney and Geno and the Pens already golfing, this hockey club simply can’t author again yet another underwhelming showing in the NHL postseason.

The ramifications are enormous. Washington aches for a sports winner, yes, but Washington hockey specifically has a competitive mandate. Alexander Ovechkin was a lottery winning, and he knows what his role here is: to change our hockey culture. He’s done that just fine October through March. He’s had help along the way the last six years, and the reddening-out of our town — the conspicuous affection thousands of Washingtonians shower upon Ovi and his sport today is extraordinary — but it’s not enough. Nowhere near enough.

The durability of Mr. Leonsis’ business model requires a postseason breakthrough as well. Just take a look at all the upper deck empties at FedEx Field the past couple of seasons. There’s a social contract between a sports organization and its fans. Great dates ultimately have to lead to a kiss. Or we go find another girl.

This hockey club has the requisite skill and experience to rise to the challenge. What we don’t yet know is if it has adequate leadership. It’s a point that’s been debated with some robustness for more than a year now: Did the Caps get it right in stitching the ‘C’ to Ovi’s sweater? Failure this week in Tampa will bring fresh and heated scrutiny to that question. 2010-11 has not been a year to remember for our captain; its premature conclusion would intensify the evidence against his leadership. And the late-season arrival of Jason Arnott only adds fuel to that fire.

This is a postseason tailor-made for Ovi to ascend, but to date, we don’t have that breakthrough performance suggestive that he’s ready to seize that moment and lead his club. Tonight is one such opportunity.

Behind the bench, there is the obvious subplot related to Bruce Boudreau. All seemed reasonably well for Gabby a week ago, but when his club was gifted a lengthy break with which to rest and repair, they came out of it unable to meet the underdog’s challenge. That story is growing old here. Boudreau’s beaten an under-manned John Tortorella set of Ranger clubs twice in the postseason over the course of four springs . . . and no one else. Losing to the rookie, Guy Boucher? At some point (potentially soon) Capitals’ fans are going to ask: where is our Bylsma, our Tortorella, our Babcock, our . . . Boucher?

The team’s power play futility is a flashpoint in this discussion of tactical leadership. Its cumulative results last postseason and this are beyond nightmarish and nauseating: four for sixty. That’s four goals . . . in 60 opportunities. Tampa would bank in 9 or 10 off our dmen with 60 extra man opportunities. The power play personnel is a mish-mash of a mess, their attack ethos uncertain. Confusion and hesitancy reign supreme. The team had all of last week to work on it and get it fixed. Instead, it’s regressed. The head coach has to get it fixed, pronto. The Capitals will either achieve a competent power play this series or they will lose it. Tampa took out the Pens by achieving a glaring special teams discrepancy.

We also don’t know if in Nicklas Backstrom the Capitals have an elite talent centering the no. 1 line who can get it done when it counts. Great in games one through four versus Montreal last April then AWOL thereafter. Through seven games this postseason Backstrom has tallied merely two assists and is skating a -1. He looks anything but elite and dynamic. His scoring drought adversely impacts the team in both 5-on-5 play and power play production. His linemate Ovechkin seemingly senses the slump his center is experiencing, because he’s carrying the puck an awful lot in transition and attempting to make plays by himself. The result is a highly individualized attack by the first unit, which plays perfectly into Tampa’s trap. It’s gotten so bad with Nick that Boudreau bumped up the rookie Johansson to no.1 pivot duties. That’s no recipe for durable contention this spring. No contending team can have its no. 1 pivot merely along for the ride.

Along with my blogger buddies Ed Frankovic and Ted Starkey I was seated in Giant Center late last spring when the Hershey Bears dropped the first two games of the Calder Cup finals to the Texas Stars. The next three games were in Austin, and all looked bleak for the Bears against the Texas trap. Even in game 3 the Bears fell behind 3-1 after 20 minutes. But that Bears team had a warrior leader in Bryan Helmer, among others, and they banded together behind their coach who preached patience with the puck. Michal Neuvirth was in net for the entirety of that series, incidentally, and a fair number of those Calder winning Bears of course are wearing red this spring.

Late Sunday night, addressing the media, Alexander Ovechkin said that his team was traveling to Florida on Monday on a mission to win two hockey games. They really need to. The Capitals this spring need to find their Bryan Helmer. Here’s hoping he’s Russian.



25 Comments

  1. Sean wrote:

    Man, if you still don’t know the DNA of the Caps Franchise, there isn’t much hope. These guys are choke artists. All they wanted was the first round against the NYR to ‘make up for last year’, they don’t know how to win when they must, they can’t win when they must. Green has a problem with stupid penalities, the Caps have completely regressed into their play of 2010′s playoffs, the PP sucks. This franchise seemingly is doomed to be forever cursed, unable to come close to a Cup.

    Washington Caps: Continuing the Nation’s Hockey Laughing Stock.

    3 May, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  2. Mike wrote:

    I guess you haven’t noticed that the home teams are a combined 1-7 in the second round of the playoffs thus far…including the Red Wings.

    3 May, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  3. Ben wrote:

    Every word. On point.

    3 May, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  4. Mike Rucki wrote:

    @ SEAN: One team wins the Cup each year. One. And upsets happen all the time. I imagine you’d have jumped off a bridge by now if you lived in San Jose, or Toronto, or St. Louis… etc.

    Look, I’m as frustrated as you are by this series. But to say the team’s back to its 2010 playoff ways is outright wrong, with the notable exception of the egregious PP performance. I mean, the Caps stuck with their system in Game 2; they outplayed the Bolts for most of the game and easily could have won.

    Granted, “most” won’t cut it, I know. But this is my team. It seems to be yours, too. There’s no curse, no doom, just the uncertainties of sport. And I’m sorry, but reposting variations your laughingstock line doesn’t make it any better or more accurate… if you consider DC a laugh-worthy hockey town, you’re not paying attention.

    Leonsis and the Caps have created something of note here… the only question remaining is whether they’ve maxed their potential or whether they’re able to keep building. I for one believe it’s the latter.

    3 May, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  5. Mike Rucki wrote:

    @ MIKE: Yes, I noticed, but what’s happening in other series doesn’t impact this one. It is, however, amazing to see Detroit so thoroughly knocked off their game. And it’s pleasing to see Philly down 0-2, eh? :)

    3 May, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  6. sonja wrote:

    @Mike … my thoughts exactly. Playing at home isn’t doing anyone any favors in the 2nd round this year. Kinda funny, that.

    That said, here are a few of my observations from Sunday night in particular because my amazing husband treated me to the game in honor of my upcoming 50th birthday.

    First of all, you can ding MJ90 for not winning faceoffs all you want. BUT the times that he did win them there was no one there to receive his pass. Correction, the times anyone won a faceoff there was no one there to receive the pass. It was embarrassing how many times the Caps just dropped the puck in the middle of the ice and left it there for the Bolts to pick up for a variety of reasons. I lost count.

    Second, for criminies sake, get Schultz off the PK. What the hell is he doing out there against anyone, much less TB on a PK??? Hannan is doing a mighty job propping Schultz up, but he’s running out of miracles.

    Someone please tell BB to stop fiddling with the lines. Dance with them what brung ya, dude. He needs to use the chemistry he’s created and let that work. The time for fiddling is over … unless you are Nero and Rome is burning.

    I swear to all that is holy if I see those much beloved players skating big circles out on the ice again tonight, I will have Scottie beam me down to Tampa and do something dangerous. ;) Skating circles is for figure skaters, not hockey players in the midst of playoffs. But I saw plenty of it on Sunday night (especially during OT) and I hope to heaven I don’t see it again.

    3 May, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  7. sonja wrote:

    P.S. Roloson is not a great goalie. He’s not even invincible. Here’s how to penetrate him. He leaves great big juicy rebounds very consistently. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most of the Caps goals on TB have been scored on rebounds. Crashing the net and jabbing away at him is not going to work. One-timers mostly won’t work. Here’s what will work: Send in a shooter, plus a trailer who goes to the net to pick up the rebound and shoot it high once Rollie has gone down to stop the original shot. It works every time, because their D doesn’t pick up the rebounds either.

    3 May, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  8. Jeff from Baltimore wrote:

    Its the curse of Abe Pollin for moving the Bullets to Landover.

    3 May, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  9. MadCap wrote:

    @ Mike — I’m pretty sure that the Red Wings lost 2 games to San Jose at the Shark Tank, not in Detroit, but your point about the home teams not faring well is still valid.

    3 May, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  10. Sean wrote:

    @Mike: This franchise can’t seem to play in the playoffs, no matter what the generation of composition of teams, from the days Beaupre/(chokpre)/Hatcher/Ridley/Iafrate/Langway, to Kolzig/Hunter/Juneau/Jagirl, with the sole exception being 1998, which most of us knew by the time we were starting the Eastern Conference finals with Buffalo that year, that it would end in a massive (and embarrassing 4-0 series) defeat at the hands of the Red Wings. Frankly, this series doesn’t surprise me at all, when you look at the Caps’ history. If you look at their playoff history, of the times they have actually made the second round, maybe 1 in five second round trips, have the caps made it to the third round.

    No, I’m not going to jump off a bridge, I’m just not going to hold my breath as Steve Yzerman’s shows the Caps how you build a team for the playoffs, and how to play ice hockey in the playoffs. The team is being reduced to a varitable laughing stock with these recent years of regular season performances and post season defeats, remember the Senators of the 1990s? Eastern conference teams in the future will smile when they draw the Caps in the first round series and think, ‘We’ve got a good chance of winning this series, it’s only the Caps.’

    I really hope I am wrong, but I just don’t think winning this series is even in the deck of cards. I also seriously don’t think they will ever break this curse. The NHL has multiple expansion teams that have a Stanley Cup banner in their rafters, and what do we have? After almost 40 years of ice hockey in DC, we have a Champions banner from the 1978 Bullets. What a joke.

    3 May, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  11. Ted wrote:

    Well if you actually put the puck ON GOAL, you will improve your chances of getting lucky and fortunate bounces. Just see period 3 of the Game 4 against the Rangers for that. However, if you just put the puck 10 feet over the goal and are nothing more than Shots On Glass (SOG) then we won’t get the bounces.

    3 May, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  12. DONNAB wrote:

    @SONJA..EXACTLY right about Roloson!!! I also heard some analyst describe him as a “Billy Smith” “Ron Hextal” goalie type when you get to him, so the Caps need to start getting right in his face. @ Mike Rucki, I am so glad you said that. This is our team!! Rock the Red!!Just listened to BB and he said the team is in an ‘angry” mood…good to hear and he seems to be almost too calm. Hopefully it is the calm before the Caps storm to a win tonight!!

    3 May, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  13. cooley wrote:

    Too many Baltimorons jumping on the bandwagon of a Washington team. Go away. DC teams can choke away gams all by themselves. We don’t need your help.

    3 May, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  14. cooley wrote:

    Sean I couldn’t agree with you more. But we are racking up those Southeast division champ banners. I mean after all isn’t that what is realy important??? It is so awesome seeing them waving behind Joe and Craig when they do the post game. They are so much more prettier than those Stanley cup champ banners waving behind other teams announcers.

    3 May, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  15. Avtopilot wrote:

    I have to disagree. The problem is not in leadership or work ethics – caps are not outworked, not outshot and not outchanced. They crash the net – most of the goals come from the crease.
    They are outplayed tactically.
    bad line changes, odd man rushes, problems of Backs and Shultz are used by TBL to their advantage. Some changes could make the difference.
    1) PP with 2D (Hannan+Green), so that Ovi is not at the point
    2) Ovi+MoJo+Laich, Semin+Anott+Sturm, Backs+Knuble+Fehr, Hendricks+Gordon+Bradley
    3)discipline

    3 May, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  16. wmsheppa wrote:

    Ovechkin played his heart out, as did Neuvirth. Pity the other 17 guys on the ice forgot to show up.

    3 May, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  17. Colin wrote:

    Referendum over. Result is a vote of no confidence in the team and its coach. Too many men on a PP and blowing a third period lead when the season is on the line says it all. Time for some big changes.

    3 May, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
  18. Dougeb wrote:

    Very sad indeed. I hate to be negative here — but it’s time for change from the Coaching staff AND GMGM needs to go.
    It’s embarrassing — Yzerman, first year GM, and they will get to the Conference Finals.

    The Caps will get a Stanley Cup, no doubt, but I’ll be long retired and none of the current guys on this roster will be here.

    It’s just a pity. Is Backstrom injured —- or is he about 3 times overpaid? If he’s not hurt — the Caps are in worse shape that I thought.

    Time for Coaching Changes, GM changes, and some fairly big peesonnel changes.

    3 May, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink
  19. John wrote:

    With stars like Backstrom, Green and Semin, the Caps have the talent, but not the leadership. Ovechkin’s track record isn’t looking so good recently either. The addition of Knuble was good, but your best players have to lead. This team doesn’t have a Toews, Crosby, Lidstrom, Neidermayer, Brind’Amour, Shanahan, Nieuwendyk, Brodeur, etc. To win the cup, you have to have the talent and luck, but it also requires leadership that the Caps just aren’t showing.

    3 May, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
  20. Outcoached.
    Outplayed.
    Out of the playoffs.
    @DOUG I don’t believe it’s GMGM. He’s made excellent acquisitions. Imagine Wideman out there instead of Sarge, for example. And the goalie situation is so, so good. But as much as BB is a great guy, if he can’t make it work with this lineup then I don’t know that he ever will at the NHL level.

    3 May, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  21. sonja wrote:

    That was just embarrassing … to see a coach who couldn’t get his players organized through 3 periods begging for seconds at the bitter end. Look, BB, if you’d managed your bench properly and inspired your team those seconds wouldn’t matter. They shouldn’t matter. Horrible.

    4 May, 2011 at 12:00 am | Permalink
  22. Ted wrote:

    Well, there’s short time to get this taste of dog poo out of our mouths. Forget about being down 3 games to 0 and facing elimination. Forget about the painful moments to watch at time during this series. Just focus on winning Game 4. That’s it. It’s the only thing the team has any control over. Win Game 4 and come home and get this series to Game 6. Win tomorrow, 2 days in between games 4 and 5 to make this a whole new series. Stop moaning and win Game 4.

    4 May, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink
  23. Trekronor wrote:

    This team is a joke and we now know we were so right back in December when we called for BB to go. He never adapted to the wrinkles other teams throw at the Caps and the only real change he made (the much hyped but now irrelevant) defensive style was borne of desperation after 3 years of failure (now 4) in the playoffs. He has not shown any adaptive coaching in this series when facing a young and extremely innovative coach in Boucher. All BB does is the same thing again and again – and what about his coaching staff’s miserable line changes? These horrible line changes have been going on all year. And watching him complain in the press conference tonight that the line change rule is ambiguous and that Malone should have been called for a penalty was absolutely petty and pathetic. He has to go. I can’t wait to hear Leonsis sell this excuse of a team to season ticket holders next year.

    4 May, 2011 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  24. Greg wrote:

    It was unreasonable to expect much from the caps this year. Name another team in the playoffs whose best Dmen are rookies (carlzner). I think it is pretty clear from this series that the Caps defense is too slow, and TB has exploited that weakness. This causes the D to play in panic mode, making weak passes out of the Dzone, or just dumping the puck to neutral ice where TB creates turnovers. Green has a tendency to get overwhelmed if he is asked to do too much. A healthy Wideman would have made a huge difference. By winning the conference and making the second round, the caps actually overperformed this year. But don’t let GMGM off the hook. He has known of this deficiency for a long time and failed to correct it.

    4 May, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink
  25. Steve wrote:

    Anybody remember that old poem, Casey at the Bat? The slugger comes up in the bottom of the 9th but whiffs. Then:

    Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
    But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

    The Caps have struck out. I’ve been trying to tell myself it’s all about insanely bad bounces, but that doesn’t work. It’s the power play, the bad line changes, the lack of discipline (esp in the 3d period), the uneven play of this wonderfully talented team. These are coaching issues. I like BB but I’ll be happy when he goes.

    4 May, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. It’s Not You, It’s Me | Puck Buddys on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 10:11 am

    [...] currency.  They’ve even smoothed out their leadership roles – whatever you want to say about the Ovie Era, the Caps appear to have created formal and informal layers of leadership, with Arnott and Knuble [...]

  2. [...] With Boudreau’s tactical abilities being put under the microscope with the team being in such a hole, John Keeley of On Frozen Blog points out the area of the Capitals’ game that’s their undoing so far in these playoffs. [...]

  3. [...] With Boudreau’s tactical abilities being put under the microscope with the team being in such a hole, John Keeley of On Frozen Blog points out the area of the Capitals’ game that’s their undoing so far in these playoffs. [...]