Bruce Boudreau, Washington Capitals Working Blue Print For Cup Run?

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 22, 2011

Bruce Boudreau, Washington Capitals Working Blue Print For Cup Run?

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    Is this all part of a master plan?Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Washington Capitals offense has been less than stellar this season, and while Bruce Boudreau offers no apologies he does insist that his team is working on a plan to make the Capitals a better playoff team.

    The offensive numbers are well documented from both an individual and team standpoint. Star forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are on pace for career lows in goals and points but could they be sacrificing for the greater cause?

    Boudreau has been poker-faced when answering questions about his teams lack of offensive production.

    He's almost arrogant when telling everyone how sure he is his stars will come around. He has to know something, right?

    Boudreau said, "Eventually they will start scoring again at the rate they are capable. If they learn to play defense and then they get the balance with the offense, our team will be in good shape."

    After Thursday's win he commented, “It was a different situation where we didn’t have to come from behind, but people will complain that we only got two goals and we didn’t go for offense anyway. But I thought it was a great shutdown third period."

    Notice the defensive theme in these quotes in comparison to the once high powered offense.

    After last years disappointing first round exit he knew he would have to change some things and maybe we are beginning to see the fruits and patience of that labor.

    Click forward to see the numbers inside a system that seems to be coming together.

Ovechkin and Backstrom: Sacrificing For The Greater Cause?

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The offensive numbers are well documented from both an individual and team standpoint. Star forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are on pace for career lows in goals and points but could they be sacrificing for the greater cause?

    One would hope so when looking at these numbers.

    Ovechkin’s lack of production is probably the biggest surprise and it’s hard to imagine a Russian born player willing to sacrifice any numbers on offense, but how else do you explain his drop off?

    It’s no coincidence his numbers are a mirror imagine in the Capitals overall offensive decline. Ovechkin has just 16 goals through 48 games compared to 36 at this time last year and 33 two seasons ago.

    His struggles extend to the power play where he has just two markers, both of which occurred in the same game. Ovechkin hasn’t scored a goal in Washington’s last 128 man advantages.

     His good buddy and line mate, Nicklas Backstrom, is also struggling mightily this season.

    Prior to Backstrom’s game winning goal in Thursday’s win over the New York islanders, he had gone 21 games without lighting the lamp and after scoring 33 goals last season has just 11 through 48 games this year.

    Both are still playing hard and Ovechkin still delivers the hits we all know and love to see.

    Both are showing signs of coming out, Backstrom has an assist in nine of his last 12 games and points in four straight. Ovechkin had two assists in the win on Thursday.With the defense playing as it has been wouldn't now be a great time to see these two break out again.

Unfortunatly To Make This Point These Numbers Must Be Repeated

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Through 48 games, Washington has 135 goals compared to 183 at the same time last year and while the Capitals continue to earn points, their lack of scoring is at times “offensive” to watch.

    After 48 games these numbers aren't indicative of a slump. Slumps last five maybe ten games, this offensive draught is 25 games and going strong

    In beating the Islanders on Thursday, the Capitals ran their streak of not scoring at least three or more goals to 12 games and failed to record 30 shots on goal for the fifth straight contest.

    You would have to go back almost six seasons before you could find the last time the Capitals offense matched those unimpressive streak totals.

    The Capitals number one ranked offense last season scored 313 goals. That goal output was the most since three teams scored more in the 1995-96 season.

    The Capitals are on pace to score just 232 goals or 81 less than last year and their power play isn’t helping much in their fight to find offensive answers.

    The Capitals power play which was ranked No. 1 last season, and as high as number three this season, is now 16th in the NHL. The Capitals have just nine power play goals in their last 81 chances.

    The Capitals were the fastest starting team in the NHL last season scoring first in 52 of 82 games and earned a total of 73 points when gaining the 1-0 lead.

    This season the Capitals have scored first just 19 times and after, thankfully, scoring first on Thursday now have company being last in the NHL with the Islanders.

    Both teams have allowed the opposition the first goal in 29 games.

    Somehow, the Capitals have still managed to earn 30 points in those 29 games compared to the Islanders who have just 12 points when trailing 1-0.

    Somehow the Capitals just continue to earn points, period!

Are These The New Washington Capitals?

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Any team with almost a 30 percent drop-off in those offensive numbers with two of their three top scorers producing 50 percent less almost would certainly mean a lost season with almost 50 games played, wouldn't it?

    Not this Washington Capitals team. If the Capitals can manage a successful playoff run then it would be apparent that head coach Bruce Boudreau knew his new defensive blue print saved the day.

    Boudreau’s Capitals are 26-14-8 and one of only seven teams to have cracked 60 points in the NHL so far this season. The Capitals are in a fight for the Southeast division as they trail the Tampa bay Lightning by one point and lead the third place Atlanta Thrashers by just six points.

    Last year at this time the Capitals had a 17-point lead over the second place team in the Southeast after 48 games.

    So how has Boudreau done this without his potent offense you ask? How are the Capitals going to win the Southeast and wear down the Tampa Bay Lightning?

    Keep going my friends.............

It Starts In Net and The Caps May Be On To Something If These Two Stay Healthy

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Boudreau has used three of the 10 youngest goaltenders to play in the NHL this season.

    Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, just 22 years old have split time this season and recently the 21-year-old Braden Holtby filled in while both were recovering from injuries. All three have looked impressive.

    Varlamov has is 4-2-2 in his last eight games with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. Neuvirth is 3-0-2 in his last six with a 2.01 G.A.A and a .932 save percentage and Holtby filled in nicely for the injured pair on Thursday stopping 24 of 25 shots.

    The Caps have allowed just 32 goals in their last 16 games with all three goalies combining for a G.A.A of 1.93 and a stingy save percentage of.936 in those games.

    The Caps rank ninth in the league in goals against (2.54). They have not been in the top 12 in the NHL in goals against since finishing fourth in the '99-'00 season.

    Boudreau may have to pick one and ride him down the stretch. Teams that alternate goalies come post season time aren't very successful. My guess is Varlamov will be that goalie, since he's already played in the past two post seasons.

A Nice Mix Of Youth and Veteran Play Could Have Caps Blue Line Ready For Cup Run

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Led by Mike Green the Capitals defensive core is young. Aside from Green, the Caps blue line boasts last year’s NHL plus/minus leader, Jeff Schultz. Completing the core are youngsters John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

    Carlson is currently third amongst rookie defenseman with 20 points and second in plus/minus with a plus-13.

    Veteran leadership always serves youth best, and the Capitals have good solid blue line mix of just that.

    Scott Hannan who was acquired in a trade with Colorado joined Veteren blue liners Tom Poti and John Erskine in December.

    The mix of experience and youth are beginning to payoff for Boudreau.

    The Capitals have given up 11 less goals than this time last year. The growing pains have been present as the Caps look slow to start games, being out-shot and outscored in most first periods this season.

    The Capitals have scored just 29 first period goals, last in the NHL.

    They have been outscored 42-29 in the opening stanza and have allowed as many shots (464) as they have taken in the first period through 48 games.

    After settling in defensively and adjusting the blue print to their opponent, those numbers change in the second and third periods.

    The Capitals have 136 more shots through the last two periods and have outscored the opposition by nine goals in the second period and 16 in the third.

    The Capitals defense is adjusting to the new “trap” style Boudreau seems to be implementing.

    The Capitals were 7-12-2 in games they scored three or fewer goals before December 18 and since then, the team is 7-2-4 in those same types of contests.

    Just as the offensive woes carry over to the power play, the same can be said for an emerging defense on the penalty kill.

    The Capitals, since allowing three power play goals against Florida on January-11 have killed 17 out of 18 short-handed situations, including 11 in a row.

    Washington’s 85.5 percent penalties killed ranks third in the NHL. The Capitals have not finished amongst the league’s top 10 in penalty killing since 1999-'00 and have not been higher than 17th in the past eight years.

It Would All Be Worth It

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    I know I'm constantly calling for Boudreau's head, but after watching the Caps last two road games against the Flyers and Islanders I am starting to see some things take shape.

    So yes Caps fans, I would say that Boudreau is on to something in transitioning this offensive juggernaut to a better-balanced more efficient playoff type team.

    Boudreau himself has a lot on the line and his spot behind the players on the bench is not a secure one if this all fails. He could be out before March 1.

    The Capitals were looking for answers after becoming the first President’s Trophy winner and number one seed to lose a 3-1 lead and the series last year in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    As long as the Caps can continue to remain patient and, more importantly, earn points in the standings than Caps fans may have an answer they have been waiting since 1975 for.

    A Stanley Cup would sure make all of this offensive futility this season worth it. No it's no fun to watch but it's still earning points.

    You older Caps fans remember when defense was all the Caps played. There was no Ovechkin or Backstrom to blend in with a Stevens, Langway or Hatcher.

    If this "new style" continues to go well then Boudreau could look like a genius and right now with 60 points in 48 games I have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Let's face it Caps fans, we asked for the team to go back to the drawing board after last year didn't we?