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New system, same results? Caps new defense-first approach under scrutiny if they lose

May 3, 2011, 1:17 PM EDT

Alex Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau AP

From the moment Bruce Boudreau took over the Capitals they were a team that exemplified the excitement that NHL hockey could be all about. They were free wheeling, run-and-gun hockey and with Alex Ovechkin leading the way and scoring upwards of 50 goals per season, that brand of hockey reinvigorated Washington, D.C. The Caps were winning games, winning big, and winning in a way that drove the fans wild.

After seasons of coming up short in the playoffs and fans eager for the team to go deep but the Caps seeming unable to get over the hump in the postseason playing firewagon hockey, coach Bruce Boudreau made a change this season to switch things up to a more defensively responsible approach. Now with the Caps down 2-0 heading into Tampa Bay for Game 3, some are wondering what good it was for the team to make a change up like that only to end up with the same results.

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.

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.

The Caps’ inability to generate anything on the power play isn’t on the same level of failure as the Bruins, but they’re setting the bar lower and lower with each game. These Caps could use a boost and a change in strategy on the man advantage. They could also stand to see some other players standing out and playing to their potential.

One such guy is Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom was a sensation last year, but with the Caps transition to more defensive hockey he’s looked lost this season and he’s disappeared completely in the playoffs. Through seven playoff games, Backstrom has zero goals and just two assists. It’s not that he’s been bad, he’s been non-existent and a non-threat both against the Rangers and more so against the Lightning.

The focus on offense is always going to be on Ovechkin regardless of what happens. He’s the captain and that’s all part of the territory, but he’s got to get help elsewhere on the ice. Mike Knuble‘s rapid return to action was a boost but they need their top playmaking center to play to the best of his abilities and he’s not doing that. If the Caps don’t get it figured out tonight, they’re staring a summer of hard questions right in the face and there’s a lot of answers that won’t be readily available. After all, if they’re not winning it all when their offense is given free will to do as they please and they’re not winning when they’re buckling things down defensively as a playoff team is supposed to, then what’s next? Those answers could end up pretty grim.

  1. boudreaufan - May 3, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    Vs announcers bill patrick and keith jones for chastising boudreau for letting Ovie serve the bench minor..it’s something that he’s done all year…….but i guess as “experts” you would’ve known that…, i’m not a 100% sure what his reasons are either, maybe it’s a rest, maybe it’s punishment to the rest of the team..whatever the case may be i guess if he becomes a sportscaster he’ll know it all like you….i don’t think he’s getting outcoached .. i think the team is getting outhustled at times. So far, i hate NBC’s coverage and would love to hear Benninati and Laughlin broadcasting with some excitement and class !!

  2. jpelle82 - May 4, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    boudreau is to blame and yes he is getting outcoached by a rookie coach. boudreau had the opportunity to take the responsibility and be accountable as a coach by taking the blame for the “too many men” penalty and he decided to instead whine and blame the refs. typical boudreau…whine and run his mouth but not own up to anything. its his job behind the bench to manage his players…the responsibility rests solely on him. why is backstrom taking faceoffs in critical parts of the game (1 min left) when he had been proven a loser?…gordon was winning his and shows more grit. boudreau is not the same guy who came over from hershey, he has been beligerant, arrogant, and combative in the media. there is no accountability with his team. ovechkin is showing he has no confidence in his team mates…you can see the desperation every time he touches the puck. boudreau needs taken down a peg and the caps need a miracle

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