Washington Capitals: 5 Ways Bruce Boudreau Can Fix the Capitals' Offense
The Washington Capitals offense is in a full-blown draught. The kind of drought that requires a benefit concert to fix. The numbers are sickening and there is no relief in sight. There is no quick fix and unless one is found, there will be no Stanley Cup in Washington, again.
I will, for the sake of the article, touch on just a few of these numbers you have heard and read time after time. The one's that just keep growing after each game.
Through 51 games this season, the Capitals have scored 55 fewer goals than this time last season. Their power play, which was ranked No. 1 last season, has become a severe power outage. The kind of outage that a state experiences when a major storm hits and power companies from all over the country come in and help fix.
In their last 29 games, the Capitals are a maddening 9-for-88 and show no signs of dumping and chasing their way out of it.
They are currently trailing in a division they led by 17 points a year ago at this time. With two of the top four leading scorers in the NHL on the team they are chasing (Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis), putting the puck in the net would be a good way to win the Southeast for the fourth straight year.
While defense wins championships, it will not win games when you score three goals or fewer in 26 of your last 32 games. Especially if names like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin are in your lineup.
Here are the top five ways Bruce Boudreau can remove his backside off the hot seat and jump-start his drought-stricken, horribly anemic offense.
Reduce Alex Ovechkin's Power-Play Time
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When Alexander Ovechkin is on the ice for the power play, the Capitals dump the puck, chase the puck and then look for Ovechkin. If I know that and you know that, you can bet your sweet ice that the Lightning, Flyers and Penguins do too.
Reduce his time on the power play and get creative. The Capitals like to look for the man in the slot and we all know who that man usually is Ovechkin. Without Ovie on the ice for most of the power play the opposition must then play honest which could free up some space for some playmaking to occur.
Ovechkin's teammates are constantly trying to force-feed him the puck. It's like trying to get a new baby to eat carrots or peas from a jar. Once they've had a taste they won't get burned again and it's the same with the opposition on the ice and how they are shutting down the passing lanes to Ovie.
Shut down Ovie and you have shut down the Capitals power play. Ovechkin has just two power-play goals all season. It's no longer a fluke, ladies and gentleman it's a way of life in Washington.
They could get some more power-play time to guys like Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson and even look for Alexander Semin a little more, who is very creative in space with the puck.
Whatever the Capitals do, they had better boost their extra-man advantage because no team in the last 10 years has won the Stanley Cup finishing lower than eighth in the league with the extra man.
Actually, every team finished fourth or higher and only the Penguins from the '08-'09 season finished eighth.
The Flyers should also pay close attention because the Capitals are currently No. 19, four spots behind the Flyers.
It is time to get drastic with the extra man and giving some other forwards a chance to play on the power play while reducing Ovie's time is as extreme as it gets.
Getting Boudreau to recognize this as an issue maybe even harder than trying to feed that baby those peas.
Make 1 Less Pass and Shoot the Puck
The Capitals average a little fewer than 32 shots per game ranking 10th in the NHL. That number is a bit misleading as the Caps recently went five straight games without registering 30 shots.
Washington needs to quit trying to make the perfect pass and start putting the puck on the net more. This is the risk part with the majority of the Caps roster coming from Europe—skilled position players look to make the perfect pass and look to take perfect shots.
This is also a problem on the power play as the Caps try to edge a foot closer to the net with each shot, collapsing the umbrella down between the circles. They end up being bottled up, making it easy for the defense to gain control of the puck and clear the zone.
The problem with that is in today's NHL the guys playing defense are too fast and the rinks are not as big as they are where guys like Ovechkin and Backstrom come from
They simply need to shoot more and what is the worst thing that could happen if they did a fluke goal? It sure does beat a blank, or seven of them in 32 games.
Play More in Front of the Net
The Washington Capitals need to get more traffic in front of opposing goalies—when they do they win. Alex Ovechkin scored two of his three goals against the Maple Leafs less than five feet from Toronto netminder J-S Gugiere.
These are not pretty goals by any means and certainly not the kind many of these skilled players are used to scoring but they all seem to be getting pretty used to NOT scoring as well.
Former Capitals and recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Dino Ciccarrelli scored many goals in front of the net and had this to say about his career and how goals are scored: "It's just a matter of getting the puck on the net and getting traffic in front of the goalies.”
Ciccarrelli told greatesthockeylegends.com, "I don't know why more teams don't do it. I still believe 90 percent of the goals scored are ugly goals, 10 percent are pretty goals. You won't find many of mine on the highlight films."
Washington simply needs to get more physical in front of the goalie. Playing in front of the net also draws more penalties and the Capitals sure could use some extra time on the power play.
It is just smart hockey and smart hockey is not always highlight reel hockey and neither is scoring goals five feet from the goalie but you know what highlight reel material is? Skating the Stanley Cup around the rink in early June.
Let the Defensemen Jump into the Play More Than They Have Been
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The Capitals are a team in transition with the style of trap defense they are running. Washington is not utilizing their forward-thinking defensemen as they once did and this has hurt the offense considerably.
Let us look at two teams that ran a neutral zone trap and won four Stanley Cups combined in '90s.
The New Jersey Devils ran a strict trap, which Washington seems to be trying to employ and the Detroit Red Wings ran a variation of the trap but allowed their defensemen to jump the play and get involved.
The Capitals have skilled offensive-mined defensemen in Mike Green and John Carlson. Karl Alzner and Jeff Schultz are also capable of jumping in on the play. The Devils, in their two Cup-winning seasons, never had a defenseman score over 38 points, while the Red Wings had Larry Murphy and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Murphy joined the Wings with 12 games remaining in the '96-'97 Cup-winning season while Lidstrom had 57 points that year. The following year both defensemen in the Wings' trap defense combined to score 111 points (28 G, 83 A).
Comparing New Jersey's top two defensemen—the two Scotts—Stevens and Niedermayer's best season was good for just 67 points combined.
While the Capitals do not quite have a Lidstrom and Murphy, they do have better offensive defensemen than did the Devils.
In short, Boudreau needs to find a happy medium, something in between the Wings and Devils as he has the talent to run a trap and score some goals in the process. He must begin to allow his blueliners to contribute more than they are right now.
Boudreau Must Find Continuity on His Lines
Head coach Bruce Boudreau must find three guys on two lines that can play well together consistently. It sounds much easier said than done but with just 31 games remaining it's a crap shoot some nights as to who is going to join Ovechkin and Backstrom on the first line.
They are still going to have to make a deal before or at the trade deadline to get more scoring into the lineup but that is going to be for a top, second or third-line forward. The Capitals do not have any continuity on their top two lines and it shows.
You get a feel for how a guy plays and where he is going to be at during certain situations in the game and without playing consistently together on a line it simply hurts the team.
I am not sure if any of this will work or even if the Capitals and Bruce Boudreau can repair the offensive situation this far into the season. If I were such a genius I would not be sitting here writing about how to fix the offense, I would be coaching the boys to do so.
I may not know much but I do know this—if someone does not fix the offense and soon, it will be another long offseason in the District. If the Capitals are not careful, an offseason that could begin the second Saturday in April.