Washington Capitals: 5 Things the Caps Must Do for a Strong Stanley Cup Run
It's hard to believe that the Washington Capitals are being touted as one of the biggest disappointments in the NHL this season, but they are.
Through 47 games this year the Capitals have 58 points—just six behind last year’s pace. Their offense is what many consider the biggest letdown so far in the 2010-11 campaign.
Using the same 47 game comparison to last year the offensive numbers are drastically different and in some cases stunningly different.
Last year at this point the Capitals had scored 177 goals compared to just 133 this year. The big four of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green all have lower goal totals at this point of the season than this time last year.
Ovechkin had 35 goals through 47 games last season and less than half that total this season with just 16. Backstrom, Semin and Green have 12 less goals between the three of them.
That stat was compared to the same amount of games each has played last season to this season.
The best power play in the NHL last season is now ranked 18 and falling. The Capitals are just nine for their last 80 with the extra man.
A team that boasted the best road record in the NHL last season going 24-10-7 lost their 10th road game last evening just three weeks into January.
The Capitals under head coach Bruce Boudreau are in the middle of their first mid season division battle for first place. Currently the Capitals are one point behind the Southeast leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
As an avid hockey and die hard Capitals fan here are five tings I feel Washington must fix to the right the ship towards Lord Stanley's Cup.
Reduce Alex Ovechkins Time On The Power Play
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With just 16 goals Alex Ovechkin is pressing and so are his teammates in trying to get him the puck, especially on the power play.
47 games into a scoring slump means it's not a slump anymore, it's a cold hard reality that teams have figured out how to defend Ovie's game.
Ovechkin has not lost a step and he is certainly not less talented, he just needs to be better prepared.
Ovechkin consistently plays almost two full minutes of each power play on most nights.
It's clear that teams know that the Caps power play starts with Mike Green and ends with Alex Ovechkin and they have figured out how to stop it.
The power play outage started last year in the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Montreal Canadians and has continued this season. In seven games Montreal held the Caps to just one PP goal in 28 chances.
Boudreau has begun to move Ovechkin more to the front of the net with the extra man instead of his customary high circle slot area but it doesn't matter.
Teams are sitting in the passing lanes waiting for his team mates to force the puck to him and they usually aren't disappointed.
With Ovie's power play time reduced the Caps can get speedy scrappy players like Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault some extra time. Guys like Johansson and Perreault create in space instead of standing still waiting for the puck.
There’s an old saying that goes "just because you were doesn't mean you are". Ovechkin must begin to start playing a smarter game as teams have adjusted to his pure skill.
Wayne Gretzky did it when he began his little slide moves to the left and right of the net. Mario Lemieux with perhaps the best hand eye coordination in the history of hockey did it when he began to play smarter in front of the net.
Ovechkin must swallow his Russian pride and realize his skill set may not be good enough on its own anymore. All great ones do and when Ovie grows up a little more off of the ice he will be great once again on it too.
How much film of his game or the way he is being defended do you think Ovechkin watches?
Of course it looks as if his head coach will live and die with his stubborn decisions. Boudreau must be willing to commit to do such a thing first and that may be more difficult than getting Ovechkin to change his game a little.
Get Rid Of The So Called Trap and Play a Simple Defensive Game Plan
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One of the biggest surprises on the Capitals this season is the improved play of their young defense. MIke Green, John Carlson, Jeff Schultz and Karl Alzner are the core of a unit that will eventually win a Stanley Cup.
Joined by veterans Scott Hannan, John Erskin and Tom Potti the Caps have a nice blend on the blue line. Through 47 games this season they have given up nine less goals and while that stat is not a knock your socks off number it is a steady improvement which could be a 18 goal difference by year’s end.
The problem is that head coach Bruce Boudreau claims the offensive woes are due to a new "trap" style defensive system the Capitals are struggling to learn and play through.
While many questioned the defense last season, many failed to realize it was simply young. I say forget whatever version of the "trap" the Capitals think they are playing and roll the dice playing last years defense with a unit that is a year older together,
It's obvious through 47 games that whatever is happening out there is confusing and takes time to get established in games. 29 out of 47 times this season Washington has given up the first goal.
Further proof that Washington settles down and finds a rhythm is their record when the opposition scores first. Ranked first in the NHL with 13 wins when giving up the first goal.
They also don’t score in the first period and it may be because they are trying to apply their complicated defensive style to the new opponent. Washington is dead last in the NHL with just 28 first period markers.
The sytem seems to take a period to settle in to, the Caps jump from dead last to fifth in the NHL with 51 second period goals.
Mike Green looks like former Caps defenseman Larry Murphy at times and not the hall of fame Larry Murphy either. The one that would at least once a night get confused on the blue line and surrender a goal.
The Larry Murphy that was heckled right out of Washington for his poor defense in the playoffs.
If Green is going to lead the young blue liners then he must get more physical around the net and that goes for the rest of the defenseman as well.
The Capitals will be OK on defense; in fact by year's end they may be good enough to win a Cup at the blue line right now, just as they are.
The addition of one more veteran may not hurt and the core may lose one in a deal for that veteran but for the most part it will remain the same.
Boudreau needs to keep the defensive game plan simple and get rid of whatever is slowing this team down. In keeping the game plan simple he must continue to allow his young gifted two way blue-liners to still contribute offensively.
Keeping it simple may also eliminate the need to play from behind 61 percent of the time.
Pick One Goalie and Ride Him
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A team’s confidence is greatly affected when teams play musical goalies. With one guy playing 55 times a year, teams can establish a better defensive identity and feel more confident as a team playing up front.
You begin to get a feel for how much give and take you can have up and down the ice with a number one goalie. When the head coach refuses to name one it can disrupt the rhythm and flow of the club on the ice.
Not to mention it creates unnecessary debate and could show a head coach as indecisive.
This may also be a contributing factor in the Capitals slow first period starts and why they have allowed the opposition the first goal in 29 of their 47 games this season.
While competition may be healthy it can also be damaging, especially 47 games into the season when both guys are playing like number one’s
Caps goaltending coach Artus Irbe has done a great job bringing along Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth. Irbe has said on numerous occasions that his wish is for one of them to step up and become the number one guy.
That’s an interesting take on a situation that seems to be controlled by just one guy, head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Varlamov's experience and play this season should have been enough to establish him as the number one guy a month ago. The play of Neuvirth to begin the season should have kept him between the pipes as the starter even when Varlamov came back from injury.
Boudreau needs to find the hot hand and ride him and not for five game stretches. Playing these guys at four, five and six game clips can't be healthy for their psyche.
Lets look at the latest switch in net. While Varlamov was just 4-3 in his last seven his G.A.A was 1.71 with a save percentage of just under .950. Why would you sit those numbers down?
The start for Neuvirth against Philadelphia was very puzzling especially since he was seen icing down his left groin and hip following the morning skate prior to the game.
Was it a coincidence that he left after the first and couldn't get back to stop what amounted to a near end to end wrap around goal?
Sorry Goalies, I played this game, you’re good teammates but arrogant with already fragile psyches and I can't see how this season's version of musical goalies will benefit Neuvirth, Varlamov or the Caps in any way. Unless the Caps are showcasing one for a trade.
One of the many lessons in the sorry history that is the Capitals postseason is that alternating goalies late in the year or in the playoffs does not work.
Remember the Jim Carey and Olaf Kolzig fiasco's or even further back with Don Beauprea and Mike Liut. It simply never works.
When the Capitals were their most successful they rode a 26 year old Olaf Kolzig for 64 games during the 97-98 Stanley Cup Finals season.
The one ingredient and the reason I believe that either Varlamov or Neuvirth will be traded was what Washington had behind Kolzig for two years backing him up.
A veteran Stanley Cup winning goalie that could win big games if needed but more importantly showed Kolzig how to become mentally tough.
His name back then was Bill Ranford and his name this time could be Martin Brodeur.
Package Semin a Young Defenseman and One Of The Two Young Goalies For Needs
Semin playing against possibly his future team
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The Capitals have needs and plenty of them. They need a vocal veteran leader in the dressing room and sorry if I offend anyone but Alex Ovechkin is not that guy.
Neither is Mike Knuble or Brooks Laich or Tom Potti or Scott Hannan or anyone else. The Capitals don't have a lot of room under the cap but McPhee is adept at working the system when it comes to the salary cap.
While some of those mentioned can be that guy sometimes, none of them can do it everyday.
February 28th is the trade deadline and if Alex Semin is still a Capital then he was re-signed to an extension. The Caps will not end up with nothing for him but they also need to replace him.
They need a veteran goalie and if they were willing to part with one of their young blue-liners they could really come out with some quality talent to make a decent run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
If I were McPhee I would look to Toronto, Montreal, Florida, New Jersey and Los Angeles as potential trading partners. The Canadians never stand still and the Maple Leafs according to GM Brian Burke are still buyers despite being 11th in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers have a "blue print" they are sticking to and may be willing to deal within the division. Either way the Capitals will have plenty of willing partners to trade with.
They must come away with a veteran goalie, just one Alex on the team and a veteran leader that has been there and done that so to speak. A player that can wear the A and knows what it takes to win a game seven.
George McPhee has the depth to make a blockbuster deal and bring in everything the Capitals need. Only time will tell if he pulls the trigger.
Fire Bruce Boudreau
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Yes I know his record and I've also made my case for why he should go. Any Caps fan that thinks Boudreau will lead this team to a Stanley Cup title needs to stop hitting the snooze button.
Boudreau's decisions seem to be more out of desperation than anything else. His puzzling line combinations combined with his system of musical goalies is clearly hurting his team. Especially early in hockey games.
His locker room is uninspired by his less than "Win one for the Gipper” speeches as Boudreau seems to simply be going through the motions these days.
Boudreau has done his job developing talent for the Capitals. Between his time in Hershey, the Caps AHL affiliate and Washington, Boudreau has seven years of tenure.
It's time to let someone finish the job. It sounds cruel but it's the nature of the business. There is always the Gruden-Dungy factor in every sport and the Caps seem like a good candidate to be the NHL's version.
The Caps need to find the guy with Stanley Cup experience. A guy that can spark that necessary jump start the Capitals so desperately need.
Some names to consider.
Michel Therrien-Scout, Minnesota Wild
NHL head coaching experience Seven seasons (Montreal, Pittsburgh) Not that they needed much help, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin spent their first years in the NHL under Therien, who quickly took the rebuilding team to the Stanley Cup final in 2008. In his first season in Montreal, he helped the team to a 16-point improvement from the previous season.
Ken Hitchcock-Current occupation Unemployed
NHL head coaching experience 14 seasons (Dallas, Philadelphia and Columbus)
If McPhee wants someone with experience, Hitchcock (who has coached 1,042 games) is the perfect candidate. A defensive specialist, he has been criticized for stifling offensive creativity. But his Stanley Cup victory in 1999 with the Dallas Stars proves he knows how to win. Maybe after some time away he has softened on the offensive side of the game.
Two more names that could surface if Boudreau gets fired is Craig Mctavish and Guy Carbonneau