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What Went Wrong: Washington Capitals

May 5, 2011, 12:21 PM EDT

Alex Ovechkin AP

After such a promising win in the first round over the New York Rangers, the Capitals decided to make like it was old timer’s day and play their second round matchup against Tampa Bay as if they were facing Montreal last year. That didn’t work then and it didn’t work against the Lightning this year. What went wrong for the Caps in this hasty exit from the playoffs? We’ve got a list.

1. Alex and the Ovechtricks
A lot of criticism today is being heaped upon Alex Ovechkin. It makes sense because he’s the captain but when people want to say the Caps couldn’t overcome the Lightning because Ovechkin “wasn’t clutch” or “didn’t try hard enough” they’re trolling for a reaction. Fact of the matter is, against the Lightning, Ovechkin was still the team’s leading scorer (two goals, two assists) and he was clearly the only guy on the ice giving a damn about how the team did.

The Caps struggled to score enough goals as it was, but Ovechkin’s effort level was consistently high and he was the one constant for Washington in a series that had none. Other “top” scorers for Washington? Brooks Laich (one goal, two assists)and Jason Arnott (three assists) each with three points. John Carlson did his part to help from the blue line with two goals but that was it. Mike Knuble played hurt and had a goal to try and show the example, but others who they count on to produce failed.

Nicklas Backstrom (one assist) and Alex Semin (one goal, one assist) alike were terrible in this series and after Marcus Johansson‘s great series against New York he withered and disappeared against Tampa Bay winding up with two assists and a -5 plus/minus. Ovechkin is but one guy and when going against a team focused and hell-bent on preventing your best player from scoring others need to step up. None of Ovechkin’s teammates did that.

2. Power play abomination
It wasn’t as if the Lightning didn’t give the Capitals opportunity to stay in the games and seize the day to get a win. They did so to the tune of 19 power play chances over the four games. Only twice did the Capitals cash in on the man advantage and one of those two goals came on a 5-on-3 power play.

Tampa Bay wasn’t the most disciplined team by any stretch in this series and they gave the Capitals plenty of chances to burn them for their brutal mistakes. Guys like Brett Clark and Adam Hall were more than happy to take bad penalties but the Caps lack of power play cohesion all season came home to roost in this series.

3. Getting outcoached
The Lightning came in with a game plan, stuck to it, and stifled the Capitals attack four straight games. When a coach employs a game plan against you, one that’s making it so your team is struggling to do anything against them, it’s up to the opposing coach to find a hole or a strategy that will make them pay for it.

Bruce Boudreau seemed to have no answers for Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 defense. Boudreau also had no means of fixing up a power play that’s struggled all year long. At some point you knew it was going to come back and bite them and with a series that had essentially three one-goal games (Game 1 had an empty net goal) having your power play fail so spectacularly hurt them.

Whether or not Boudreau had the answers or if he just fiddled about hoping that the team’s talent would take over is up to GM George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis to decide. Getting outcoached two years in a row by guys implementing a defensive-minded system though doesn’t look good. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…”

4. Hockey intelligence
Something a team can’t afford to do when they’re fighting for goals and caught in close games is to give their opponent chances on the power play to either get back in a game or to take one over. The Capitals failed miserably at controlling their own fate as they perpetually left the door open for the Lightning via the power play. The Lightning connected on 22.2% of their chances in this series (4-18) and those goals always came at the wrong time.

Steven Stamkos’ power play goal in Game 1 was the one that broke a 2-2 tie late in the second period. Vincent Lecavalier‘s in Game 2 was the first goal of the game putting Washington in a hole immediately. In Game 4, Ryan Malone kicked off the game with a power play goal again putting the Caps down right away. Later on it would be Marc-Andre Bergeron putting the Caps down for good in the third period with a goal that made it 4-2 early in the period.

It’s one thing to take penalties, it’s another thing to have your penalty killers give up those deflating or back-breaking goals that turn the tide of a game right away. The Caps being done in by their own mistakes with bad penalties makes all the more sense.

***

The Capitals are obviously highly talented but there’s something seriously wrong going on with this team that they can’t get past teams that maniacally work hard. Montreal did it last year, Tampa Bay did this time. Whether that’s indicative of something being wrong with the personnel on or off the ice is up for debate. Likely, it’s a good mix of both.

There are some players that aren’t working out the right way and there’s now some brand of disconnect with Boudreau because the team continues to come up short in the postseason. Change is coming in D.C. it’s just a matter of how much and who suffers for it. At least the Caps off-season will be more entertaining than their playoff games turned out to be.

  1. kusheadpotman - May 5, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    “What Went Right: Tampa Bay Lightning”

    Seems a much better title to this story to me. Thanks for being so biased in all of your stories though guys. Top-notch journalism.

    • kovyisback - May 5, 2011 at 2:25 PM

      They do a “What Went Wrong” for every single team that bows out of the playoffs… Your whining will only fall on deaf ears and make you look like a whiny little turd. TB is doing great, and every article about how the Caps lost should remind you of that.

      Find something else to complain about. Go Pens. That is all.

      • kusheadpotman - May 5, 2011 at 4:18 PM

        Right. So if the Capitols had swept the Lighting and the story that popped up said “The Lighting: What Went Wrong?” you wouldn’t think: That’s odd, my team just swept these guys, why would they glorify the losers?

        An antiquated anecdote might be the Romans. Do you think the people in the coliseum said “Man, that guy sure missed on the open shot with his axe!” or do you think they talked about how the winner decapitated the loser and what a badass he is?

        I thought so. That is all

      • reuben4boston - May 5, 2011 at 5:36 PM

        Except they have never done it the other way. For anyone. Quit Whining.

        That is all.

      • kusheadpotman - May 5, 2011 at 6:06 PM

        Hmm, I guess hockey being a Canadian sport is ass-backwards from the get go. No other sport seems to report losers as the keynote team.

        Then again I just started reading the hockey blog 2 days ago. I’ll just stop now, no use in being here since my team is winning and winners don’t get the spotlight.

    • snoboarder92201 - May 10, 2011 at 4:09 PM

      You are either an idiot or this is the first time you have come to this site. They do a “What Went Wrong: Team X.” Go away if you are going to be so stupid. Your Caps suck and will never go anywhere in the playoffs. Get used to it, i have being a Flyers fan. At least we made it to the Cup Finals last year and have not finished top in the conference the last few seasons like the Caps have.

  2. schiver - May 5, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    Actually, I think this is spot on. Sure, the Lightning are playing out of their minds right now, but as a coach, you have to find a weak spot to get by teams like that. Joe mentioned Montreal last year, another hard-working team that ended up ousting the Caps in the first round. But the Flyers were able to find a hole and eventually beat them. You can say the same thing about the Flyers-Bruins series this year. The Bruins are playing great hockey right now, but the Flyers’ coaching and gameplan is the real problem (other than goaltending). Great teams find a way to beat streaking teams like the Lightning and Bruins.

    • bucspasm - May 5, 2011 at 9:01 PM

      I consider the Bolts one of the great teams that have raised their level of play in the playoffs. Their point total this season, in spite of a new system, new coach, etc. speaks for itself. They wained a little down the stretch, but that only gave them more to fight for and I am glad they weren’t seeded higher.

  3. bucspasm - May 5, 2011 at 8:56 PM

    It is unfortunate that I have not seen the 24/7 series yet, so if I deserved to be called out, so be it. No matter how talented Ovechkin is, and no matter how long he wears the C, he is NOT a leader. He is competitive & uber-talented and who could deny that. But in no way can this team advance with him being looked to for leadership covering those important dominant intangibles. His maturity is suspect and this team lacks someone to be that kind of on ice presence. I watched game 4 live and that team gave up with 8 minutes to go. Boudreau can only do so much from the bench, but leadership to overcome that kind of adversity has to take place ON the ice. No, it does not always produce the winning goal, but you lead a charge, not skate aimlessly knowing you just added a month to your off season. BTW, Tampa does have some educated fans…please excuse the goober at the top. I’ll pick up some cheese to go with that rant. GO Lightning!!!!

  4. stixzidinia - May 5, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    This is a story because the Caps are picked as the favorites to make a run at the Cup every year. And every year they choke in stunning fashion. Kinda like how the “experts” pick the Patriots to win the SB every year……and yet they never have since 04. A post-season Caps collapse is as dependable and predictable as the lunar cycle. And it’s damn funny.

  5. wheresdapuck - May 6, 2011 at 6:07 AM

    As the article states, the Boucher’s game plan worked with the 1-3-1 defense. Broudreau did not assess and alter his game plan after losing two at home. Wouldn’t you think from Sunday night’s loss (with the two d trailing badly on that OT breakaway) to Tuesday’s game in Tampa Bay that you would have made some serious adjustments other than fiddling with a couple of line changes? Just saying…may be Broudreau needs glasses when watching the game film.

  6. jpelle82 - May 6, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    backstrom and semin were just shut down. semin couldnt hit the net and backstrom couldnt carry the puck. caps are used to carrying the puck into the zone…the 1-3-1 was forcing turnovers left and right, you would think boudreau would notice that and start having them dump and chase from the red line instead of trying to muddle through the neutral zone. the big d men ohlund and hedman had it easy back there all series, the back checking by the tb forwards in the neutral and high defensive zone was superb.

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