Bad Habits Capitals Stars Need to Drop in 2013-14
For the past six seasons, the Washington Capitals have had a number of phenomenally talented players, but for whatever reason, the team's success hasn't matched that of the individuals.
And a big part of that has been the Caps' general attention to detail, as mental lapses have cost this team dearly, especially during postseason play.
But with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Martin Erat, Mikhail Grabovski, John Carlson and a solid supporting cast, this is a group that's got enough skill and sandpaper to figure things out, especially with an analytic mastermind behind the bench in Adam Oates.
With that in mind, here's a look at the bad habits the Caps' stars need to be mindful of in 2013-14.
Pinching in from the Points
Over the last two seasons, Capitals fans have witnessed this scene far too many times: Mike Green, John Carlson or even Dmitri Orlov pinch in from just inside the blue line and indirectly create a golden scoring opportunity for the opposition.
In particular, Green—though less so than during his 20-goal, 60-point days—has tended to be guilty of this, and that's arguably one of the biggest reasons why the two-time First Team All-Star was left off the Canadian Olympic squad in 2010.
And in Carlson, the Capitals have a promising rearguard with everything a coach could dream of with his shot, size and mobility, but the learning curve has been steep at times for the former London Knight.
He has matured a great deal as a player over the last 18 months, but as an offensive-minded player, Carlson has to consistently calculate how much risk is at stake when making decisions at the point.
Over-Passing the Puck on the Power Play
With so much firepower on the team's roster, the Capitals can be frustrating to watch with the man advantage, because unless Ovechkin's wide open for a one-timer, Washington has a tendency to wait for the picture-perfect pass, which, in the NHL, sometimes never comes.
No, I'm not one of the blowhards screaming for the team to shoot halfway through a power play, but I think there's something to be said for getting traffic to the net, impeding the opposing goalie's vision and allowing Ovechkin or Green to let a bomb go from the point.
Adam Oates is a renowned power-play architect, and he's been the pivotal factor behind why Washington's unit rebounded from an awful 2011-12 season to become the league's best last season.
And one of the biggest things he seemed to recognize was the importance of having a bruising presence like Troy Brouwer (or, when healthy, Brooks Laich) stationed in front of the crease to either provide deflections or provide Backstrom or former Cap Mike Ribeiro with an additional one-timer option.
Turnovers Around the Blue Line
One of the downsides of having so many highly skilled players is the overwhelming tendency to overhandle the puck, especially when exiting or entering both the offensive and defensive zones of the rink.
Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green and Marcus Johansson are the four most frequent culprits in this regard, as all three possess top-flight speed and great hands, so it's not surprising that at times each one of them gets carried away when lugging the puck up ice.
However, these players all have a history of committing turnovers in the danger zones (within five feet of either blue line), and more often than not, these giveaways either put a teammate offside or lead to odd-man rushes for the opposing team.
Nobody's saying that it's a bad thing to be able to go end-to-end, but pausing to make a nifty move at the blue line is usually a bad idea, because it's just asking for an opposing defender to step up and deliver a crushing check.
Forcing Plays Offensively
For anyone who watched the Capitals last season, one of the biggest transformations the team underwent during the second half of the year was the way the team approached attacking in the offensive zone.
And Alex Ovechkin was the best example of all in this regard, as the Russian superstar finally realized that there are times when it's OK to take a guy one-on-one and others where it's smarter to simply dump the puck and get fresh legs on the ice.
In addition, Ovechkin rediscovered the innate ability he has to lay low in the offensive zone only to reappear when the ideal opportunity for a one-timer presents itself.
Mike Ribeiro, who recently departed for Phoenix as a free agent, was the engine that drove the Caps power play last season, and though Ovechkin's partnership with Backstrom is well-documented, Ribeiro had a penchant for finding the captain when the opposition least expected it.