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Capitals upset might validate new strategy

Apr 26, 2012, 9:30 AM EDT

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 19: Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals makes a save against the Boston Bruins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 19, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) Getty Images

The days of the Washington Capitals scoring over 300 goals in a single season seem to be firmly in the past. After winning their division for three straight seasons from 2008-10, but still falling short in the playoffs, Washington attempted to play a more defensive game, first under Bruce Boudreau and now under new coach Dale Hunter.

The Capitals struggled in the regular season, but ultimately, with the help of a hot goaltender, they made it past the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in seven games.

“We got through the first round,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. “We did that last year. So there’s relief and joy but there’s a lot of work left to do. I’ll think we improved over last year if we can get through the second round. That’s the goal, to do better year after year and this system seems to be the right system to play in the playoffs.

“To have seven one-goal games and four overtime games, this certainly was the best, most competitive series since I’ve owned the team.”

This does seem like a different breed of Capitals team. For all their offensive talent, it’s been their goaltending and defense that’s pushed them this far. The question now is if it will be enough in the second round or if all this drama will ultimately lead to another early exit.

  1. polegojim - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Absolute truth…. nice job in goal and D… forwards have been average at best, including O.

    If they keep this up, they could prove me wrong… hope they do.

  2. bozosforall - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Boston CHOKES yet again! First the Red Sox last fall, then the Pats this winter, now the Bruins this spring…next the Celtics this summer…or sooner.

    City of CHOKERS

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    • davidpcoelho - Apr 26, 2012 at 12:19 PM

      Wow…how ignorant. Boston has more trophies than most, if not all cities in North America.

      I am a Caps fan and DC native. I am jealous of their championships. I dislike Boston area teams and all but would not call them chokers.

      Seriously…stop giving fans a bad name.

      • bozosforall - Apr 26, 2012 at 2:06 PM

        New York City has more trophies than Boston and is a better city overall.

        Seriously…Boston fans give their own city the bad name that it deserves.

    • kitshky - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      I hate Boston sports as much as the next guy but seriously kid … do have anything else to say or are you going to repeat the exact same thing verbatim any time the Bruins are brought up?

      • bozosforall - Apr 26, 2012 at 2:08 PM

        Why say anything different when the simple truth suffices, little boy.

      • kitshky - Apr 26, 2012 at 2:21 PM

        ….

        @bozo.. sorry but in this context that’s all you’re getting haha. I was clearly talking to the kid above us who has posted the exact same cap filled crap on like 4-5 articles here.

        (27 for 40 in World Series appearances, need we say more)

      • kitshky - Apr 26, 2012 at 2:26 PM

        Oh wait nevermind I got the names mixed up … it is you, you are the bozo. The unoriginal bozo.

    • rg3isvictory - Apr 26, 2012 at 5:03 PM

      Wrong, Boston play an amazing series and nearly won it a minute before the Caps scored. And I’ve spent considerable time in both New York and Boston and Boston is a much nicer city!!! I love NY fans false bravado b/c it usually ends in failures! Mets are terrible and got knocked out of the wild card spot the last time they where worth discussing! Linsanity is the only relevant thing about the Knicks, the Islanders aren’t worth discussing and the Rangers will get crushed by the Caps if they win game 7! One or two good teams out of the 7 or 8 NY has isn’t the much to talk about! Consider that Boston has won a championship in every sport in the last few years!!!

      • bozosforall - Apr 26, 2012 at 6:06 PM

        Looks like a CHOKE to me…as well as to many others here. Then again, the Caps have been chokers as well in the last several years, so I guess you would be sensitive to that label as well.

      • rg3isvictory - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:34 PM

        you are right to call out the Caps b/c they’ve def choke several times but to call the Bruins a choke after playing 7 one goal games seems biased and a little childish! Good luck with the whole trolling thing. I’m sorry your life is better.

      • bozosforall - Apr 27, 2012 at 12:56 AM

        Not any more than the idiot Boston fan base constantly dwells on the 2004 Yankees. 27 titles more offset one series, yet they cling desperately to that one blip on the radar.

  3. fullbagg - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    I posted this earlier but relevant
    Caps were 3-1 against the Bruins in the regular season. Why was anyone shocked? Holtby has played great, but the defense won this. The Caps blocked a ridiculous amount of shots. 41 more than the Bruins. Cheap shots talk is a joke. There was plenty to go around on both sides. The vision of Holtsby never flitching when Peverley fake to slash him. There was no way they were going to rattle him. In the AHL, there’s alot more abuse in the crease. Problem was many thought the rook had no chance.

  4. bleed4philly - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Scoring 300 goals in against the worst division in hockey won’t cut it in the playoffs. This team should’ve embraced a balance a long time ago.

  5. govtminion - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    I have to disagree here to an extent… the Caps pro-defense methods here worked well, I admit. Their shot blocking in particular was fantastic. But the goaltending… I fail to see how this was part of a larger strategy. Holtby was in because the two guys above him in the depth chart were hurt- neither of whom played particularly well all season. That’s not a plan- that’s being surprised by the play of your third-string guy.

    If this was Hunter’s strategy, wouldn’t Holtby have been playing for a couple of months or so prior to the playoffs starting? Wouldn’t Neuvirth or Vokoun have been dangled at the trade deadline in favor of the new wunderkind?

    Holtby was awesome in this series, but calling his play part of Hunter’s strategy is giving Hunter far too much credit.

    • dropthepuckeh - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM

      Yes, @govtminion, I agree. A little revisionist history if anyone wants to claim they “knew” Holtby was the answer. I will commend Hunter (it hurts though) on having the confidence to sit Ovechkin for large portions of the series. I think the key to the Caps win was blocking shots and the forwards getting back and clogging up the neutral/defensive zone. As a Bruins fan it was increasingly maddening to see so many white shirts back whenever the Bruins had any offense.

      Props and congrats to the Caps. I hope they go far.

      @bozosforall – the only bozo is you thinking the Bruins choked. Boston has had so many championship parades in the last ten years that they now leave the crowd barriers set up along the route as its easier than putting them back in storage. When was the last time you celebrated a championship? Skins?

      • govtminion - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:15 AM

        The Ovechkin thing, that’s bizarre. No idea what’s going on there- but it makes one wonder, if the Bruins had scored in OT and the Caps were the ones out today… would Hunter be getting drawn and quartered over benching his best player for long stretches? It’s easy to justify it when you win a series, but had they lost… makes me wonder.

        If I learned anything about the Bruins, meanwhile, it’s a resounding lesson in just how important Nathan Horton is to that offense- because without him, they never looked like they were really playing to their potential in this series.

      • BurkieInBoston - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:59 AM

        Congrats to the Capitals and their fans. I knew the Bruins were up against it after watching the first 10 minutes of Game 1, and the series pretty much played out the way it started. Seven one goal games, four overtime games, and five games won by the road team = statistically the closest series in NHL history. I hated Dale Hunter as a player, but one has to respect how well he had his guys playing at the end of the regular season and the gameplan he had for the Bruins in the 1st Round.

      • rg3isvictory - Apr 26, 2012 at 6:45 PM

        OVI has become a huge Diva that spends his off season doing things unrelated to refining his skills and it shown the last few years. His helped pushed Gabby out the door but didn’t get that offense first coach he’d hoped would arrive. Hunter understands that an early exit from the playoffs means an end to his time as Caps coach. So he is empowered to do what’s right instead of what OVI wants! I believe Hunter is better suited to replace McPhee its doubtful McPhee would feel the same. I do believe that OVI will be better against the Rangers and that people shouldn’t forget how good the pair of defenders OVI played against all series long. Dale will be out if the Caps don’t get into the 3 round and play well. Even then there a rumors that he isn’t interested in returning. I’d suspect more of Dale playing who he wants instead of allowing the salaries dictating the playing time.

  6. bmscalise - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    I really don’t mean to diss the Capitals – but let’s be clear that the success of this strategy and the array of mediocre teams left in the post season (I’m looking at you Phx, NJ, and Fl) is not a good thing.

    With the return of obstruction, it is not surprising that teams built for skill, speed, and puck management – Van, Pitt, Det, esp – are out of the playoffs. I know Bylsma has already said that the Pens systems will change to acknowledge that obstruction is back in full force. While it is certainly justified to say these teams could have adjusted, their systems were built for the “new NHL” and simply didn’t work like they were supposed to. Philly and Nash (sort of) might be the only exceptions to this trend. And all we’ll see next year is more teams instituting passive systems to deal with this new reality. Caps are simply ahead of the curve because they fell apart a bit earlier than the rest.

    So- welcome to the Dead Puck Era 2.0 – where mediocrity (not parity) rules the day. The NHL is the only league in the planet that would minimize its skill in the name of some stupid vision of “old time hockey.”

    • comeonnowguys - Apr 26, 2012 at 3:08 PM

      The NHL is the only league in the planet that would minimize its skill in the name of some stupid vision of “old time hockey.”

      That’s a spot-on summary. Well done.

    • rg3isvictory - Apr 26, 2012 at 6:04 PM

      I’m sorry but I would disagree with the suggestion that the Bruins and Caps 7 game series was boring. Maybe to the fair weather fan. I enjoyed that series more than watching the caps win by 4 goals and ten lose by 5. Every scoring chance could have been the winning goal.

  7. sjsharks66 - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    ^^ I agree 100%. If this keeps up can you imagine how boring next season will be?

    • comeonnowguys - Apr 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM

      I keep going back to the last couple years. It took me at least a month to be able to sit though a full baseball game, after the non-stop action of good playoff hockey.

      Took me less than a week this time.

      I don’t care if the score is 1-0 or 9-8, as long as it’s good players making good plays. Watching 4 or five guys squat in their own end for 60 minutes isn’t it.

  8. jpelle82 - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    if benching ovechkin is the “new strategy” then it seems to work and i will buy in. i have said for years the caps will never win a cup with ovechkin, but apparently if you bench him then you have a chance

  9. stakex - Apr 26, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    You know, everyone wants to talk about how great Washingtons defense was…. but Boston actually still had a lot of chances that they either didn’t bury or that Holtby made good saves on. I like Washington a lot more then Boston, but the Caps were lucky to win this series the way they played. If they come across another team (Flyers perhaps) whos offense is on fire they are going to get swept trying to play like this…. especially if Holtby cracks even a little.

    The other thing worth pointing out is that the reason the Caps have had trouble in the playoffs over the last 3-4 years had a LOT more to do with their goaltending then anything else. Sure their defense wasn’t steller, but they gave up so many soft goals. If they had a top notch goalie who played as well as Holtby did in the first round, they probably would have gone a lot deeper. So I’m not sure I would read much into a more defenseive Caps team advancing past the first round quite yet.

    • jpelle82 - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:04 PM

      and lets be honest, boston looked more like the october boston going into this series rather than the november-december barnstorming bruins. they were very streaky all year and their pp and pk numbers were middle of the road. they cruised into the playoffs playing average hockey and got beat by a hot goalie

  10. winewomenandhockey - Apr 26, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    My two cents: Ovi may have seen less ice time as these games went on because the games became increasingly more defensive. As great as No. 8 is we all know he doesn’t play defense well. The Caps were also doing what they could to match lines and they seemed to be trying to get Ovi on the ice when Chara wasn’t. The Bruins (Chara and Seidenberg especially) were shutting Ovi down in a big way.

    Even though Holtby wasn’t part of the original “plan,” once it became clear what kind of goalie he was you could see Hunter making defensive adjustments. And you could see the Caps defense adjusting to him. By Game 7 he was definitely part of the plan!

    I can’t believe anyone thought that game was boring! I guess it’s just me but I love the chess game when two good teams come together and it’s a battle for every score. I don’t need the high scoring mayhem of the Pens/Flyers for excitement. I thought it was awesome to watch these two team battle for two weeks and every goal was huge!

  11. drewsylvania - Apr 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    The Caps strategy change seems similar to how the Broncos handled Tebow. Tebow had his obvious deficiencies, so the team game-planned around hiding his weaknesses, and it worked. Holtby seems to have his obvious weaknesses as well (glove hand), and so the Caps game-planned to have every shot come from the point and to not care how many point-shots the Bruins took.

    I don’t meant to diminish the Caps with this, just Holtby–my guess is that eventually he’ll be exposed as not that good, unless he fixes his flaws.

    • jpelle82 - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:20 PM

      he is good, but he wasnt looking down guys like, gaborik, giroux, kovalchuk, spezza. he also wasnt very pestered either, i was waiting for boston to move chara down the the front of the net on the pp like they did last year, just to create some kind of influence on him. they didnt and it seemed like holtby saw everything the whole way the whole series. the caps were just collapsing and clearing rebounds. they will have a lot more trouble trying to keep guys like simmonds, hartnell, callahan away from the front of the net.

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