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Washington Capitals: 5 Changes for Next Season

Alan ZlotorzynskiCorrespondent IIIMay 5, 2011

Washington Capitals: 5 Changes for Next Season

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    The NHL promotes in their commercials advertising this year’s playoffs that, "History will be made" and for the second straight year, the Washington Capitals complied.

    Last year, the Capitals became the first No. 1 seed to cough up a 3-1 series lead and lose to an eighth seed.

    This year, Washington became the first No.1 seed to be swept out of the playoffs in the first two rounds since the new playoff format began in 1995.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning closed out their second playoff series in just six days, eliminating, once again, the Washington Capitals from the Stanley Cup playoffs

    Owner Ted Leonsisi said that his goal for his team was nothing less than a Stanley Cup this year. Bruce Boudreau, Alex Ovechkin and everyone else in the Washington dressing failed miserably.

    Leonsis summed up the series with the Lightning in his blog, Ted's Take, by writing the following and really, the entire series could not have been written about any better, especially in bullet points.

    Their role players outplayed our role players.

    Their highest paid players outplayed our highest paid players.

    In fact, their role players outplayed our highest paid players.

    Their goaltending was better.

    Their special teams were better.

    They adhered to their coaches’ system better than we adhered to our coaches’ system.

    The wheels fell off for us. No doubt about that.

    Leonsis goes on to write that, "The best course of action for us though is to let a few days pass; be very analytic about what needs to be improved; articulate that plan; and then execute upon it.

    "Clearly we know we have to improve to build a franchise that is as good as our fan base."

    Changes are in order for the Washington Capitals. There has to be. Your franchise is ultimately judged on how well you do in the playoffs and the Capitals do not do well.

    Many of the current Capitals players that first reached the playoffs together under Boudreau in the spring of 2007 have now played in six postseason series together. They have won just two of them and both were against the Rangers.

    New York was a No.7 seed in '09 and an eighth seed this year. The Caps have played 37 postseason games in those four trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs, posting an overall record of 17-20 in the process.

    I can hear the excuses now form Caps sympathizers and in fact, have already read them right here on the Bleacher Report. Many players were hurt or playing with injuries, Boudreau has won four straight division titles and my personal favorite, this team is so talented and young.

    My answer is, everyone plays with injuries this time of the year, and Stanley Cups are made up of 95 percent silver, Southeast division banners, cloth or heavy nylon.

    Yes, the Capitals are talented, but led by Sean Bergenheim's four goals, the Lightning played much deeper and much better for 60 minutes as a "team."

    The Capitals play like individuals and I would be willing to bet that the term "curl and drag" is heard more during a Caps telecast than any other teams telecast in the league.

    Bergenheim plays on the Bolts' third line with Steve Downie and Dominic Moore. These guys are role players that are supposed to compliment the top-two lines and chip in while they rest between shifts.

    Successful secondary scoring in the playoffs always equals wins. Remember John Druce? Downie averaged about 11 minutes of ice time per game in the series and managed five points in four games.

    Add the top line of Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and team captain Vinny Lecavalier, who led the Bolts in the series with six points and you have 24 points from six players.

    The Capitals had just 26 points as a "team" for the entire series.

    Changes are in order. So, sit back and either agree or disagree, comment if you like but just know that excuses will not be tolerated, because I am not making any in the next five slides.

Capitals Must Be Tougher Up Front

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    The above video proves the Washington Capitals were successful scoring goals in front of the net. For whatever reason, they simply failed to so on a consistent basis.

    I know that Caps coach Bruce Boudreau preached it, practiced it and expected the Capitals to do more of it.

    Knowing this, I am left to believe that they simply could not get there as much as they wanted to. The Caps have plenty of speed in their forwards but speed is of no use in front of the goalie. That requires strength and the Caps seriously lacked muscle this season.

    Washington was out hit and out muscled in front of opposing goalies on many occasions, especially against the Lightning.

    Not to mention that Washington was not very good in the corners for stretches during the season. The Caps did get to many loose pucks but the ones that required work did not often end up on the sticks of the guys wearing red and white.

    The Caps had to pick their spots to play deep during the season and in the playoffs and were successful once they got there.

    This would also explain their success in the closing minutes of games when they trailed by one goal. When they could get in front, they could score.

    They also seemed to have trouble clearing out the area in front of their own goalie at times. Two and sometimes three of the opposition’s players could be spotted in front of the caps crease.

    The Washington Capitals are not a tough team. They do not scare anyone on defense or in front of the net. Not to mention the fact that Alex Ovechkin led the team in hits.

    Mike Knuble was the Caps top garbage man this season, registering his eighth consecutive 20 plus goal season. He will turn 39 in July and was recently resigned to a one-year extension.

    They will need more than Knuble for next season to pick up the trash. Several players may be of interest to the Caps this offseason.

    George McPhee may want to consider extending and invitation to Raffi Torres in Vancouver, Thomas Kopecky in Chicago or Joel Ward in Nashville. All three are unrestricted free agents. 

Need More Speed at the Blue Line

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    The Washington Capitals finished as the best defensive team in franchise history during the regular season. They played a slow methodical trapping style of defense that slowed teams up in the neutral zone taking away the up ice breaks.

    One of the reasons Boudreau chose this style was that the Caps are not quick at the blue line. The Caps are big but fast is not in the résumé for Washington's blue line unit,

    Mike Green is fast but he is not exactly going to be in the top five when you think about defensive defenseman and his health is always a question mark.

    The Caps' young duo of John Carlson and Karl Alzner along with Jeff Schultz looked as if they were skating in mud during the Lightning series. Schultz is built like Carlson and Alzner and plays a similar game.

    The three of them were beaten on plays to the outside and up the middle frequently against Tampa. Bolt coach Guy Boucher encouraged his players to go right at the Caps defenders and when they did, they flew right past them.

    Having Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman for an entire season on the ice and healthy would be a great asset in DC but one more defenseman with speed can't hurt.

    The Caps blue line is good, they were very impressive this season and Caps fans are blessed to have such a young unit but more speed must either be had or developed this off-season.

    Thomas Kaberle would be a nice addition to a blue line filled with youth. Scott Hannan is an unrestricted free agent as is Sean Collins while Karl Alzner is restricted. Neither Hannan nor Collins is expected back in DC.

Name a No.1 Goalie out of Camp and Sign a Veteran to Compete

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    The Washington Capitals were the first team in NHL history to posses three goalies aged 22-years or younger to start the season, finish with 10 or more wins.

    Michael Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov, and Braden Holtby performed above expectations this past season. As a unit, the three of them combined for 48 wins with 2.29 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.

    Neuvirth led the group with 27 wins but it was Holtby who showed why he might come into the fall as the projected starter. Holtby was 10-2-2 with 1.79 GAA and a .939 save percentage.

    While Neuvirth was great against the Rangers in the first round, he was soundly beaten by Tampa.

    He allowed three or more goals in the final three games and was outplayed by veteran 41-year-old Tampa goalie, Dwayne Roloson.

    Neuvirth's defense was also better in front of him against New York than they were against Tampa. Of course, veteran goalies are supposed to pick up the slack when defenses break down. Caps fans just witnessed that very feat in four straight games from the Lightning's net minder

    If you look around the NHL playoffs at the remaining teams, veteran goalies outnumber the young guns. Only San Jose with Antti Niemi has a young goaltender between the pipes and Niemi has been there and done that already as the Blackhawks goalie in the Stanley Cup Finals last season.

    Varlamov appears to be the odd man out. Injuries and streaky play this season may have the 23-year-old native of Kuybyshev, wanting to return to his roots.

    There are whispers he may head back to Russia and play in KHL. He is restricted so it would be nice if the Caps could package him up and get something for him before that scenario becomes a reality.

    Holtby did not finish his season on high note as the two time defending Calder Cup Champions, the Hershey Bears were dismissed in the first round of the AHL playoffs. Holtby was not spectacular in net.

    One of things that cannot happen next year is three goalies splitting 82 games.

    Washington must have a No.1 out of camp. I though the Caps played more like the team Boudreau envisioned with Holtby in net. Washington was more confident in the offensive zone and took more chances.

    Neuvirth seems to need to be protected a little more and is prone to a soft goal more than Holtby. Maybe this postseason will give him more confidence for next season. Who knows, but whatever happens, Washington must have a No.1 goalie to start next season.

Break Up the Band, Player Changes Must Be Made

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    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers holds onto Alexander Semin #28 of the Washington Capitals in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 15, 2011 in
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    It is time to send a clear message. Nothing but 60 minutes of hockey is acceptable for 82 games and if you are not willing to play that way then go disappear on another team.

    Take your pick and nobody in my mind but Alex Ovechkin is untouchable.

    Does this mean that I am implying that Backstrom could be traded, that's exactly what I'm saying. I know I'm not crazy even hockey royalty such as Stan Fiscler agrees.

    In fact, it is Ovechkin’s comments from his post game interview that make me feel that way even more so today.

    “I don’t think we miss something,”Ovechkin said. “We have unbelievable team, great locker room and great atmosphere. We just miss one opportunity to win one game and bounce back. But again, it happen and we’re gonna see what’s gonna happen.”

    When Corey Masisak of the Washington Post asked Ovechkin if the roster should be broken up he said,”

    “I hope not, again, this locker room, it’s unbelievable. Everybody support each other. I hope this team’s going to be back next year.”

    In the real world, complacency kills success and while it is great that the locker room is so tight, they do not win in the playoffs. Do you really think vets like Mike Knuble feel there is nothing missing from this team?

    Twelve current Capitals were on the playoff roster two years ago when the Caps came back to beat the Rangers.

    That is a significant group of players that share a losing record in the post season.

    I do not know about you but I am tired of asking where Harry Houdini disappeared too (Alex Semin) or where Nick Backstrom's head might be. 

    Two points in the postseason for Backstrom and while Semin played well in round one against the Rangers, he was gone in a flash against the Bolts.

    Brooks Laich was the Caps second leading scorer in the playoffs, not bad if they are still playing but they’re not so enough said.

    This locker room needs to change and while I still believe the Caps are only two or three players from winning it all, I also believe that this current group, will not get it done.

    While the three players mentioned above have made defenders look bad at times, they have made more than a few look like Norris trophy candidates as well.

    Instead of being friends, this locker room needs to hold each other accountable. I do not care how they do it but this is getting ridiculous. It is obvious that the team concept is not first and foremost in some of the most important player’s minds. 

    I do not believe that they are more stats oriented or selfish but in the heat of battle, they do not seem to trust each other and that is why a solid veteran who has some years remaining needs to be brought in.

    Semin, Backstrom and even Ovechkin get to cutesy with the puck and in the NHL, more time equals a goalie getting back into position or a defenseman recovering to make a play.

    Semin is not worth the money when he plays as aloof as he can. Players that make the money he does must produce more consistently. Trading Semin would assuredly send a message.

    Ovechkin may not like that a fellow countryman was shipped out but he would get over it. Shipping a producer like Semin will send a message that no one is safe.

    Washington needs some new blood to mix with the “talent: on this team. New blood with a winning post season pedigree like Arnott's but younger.

    Washington needs a leader that will not succumb to pressure from greatness and instead, stand up to it at times. The Caps need a guy that if they have a better shot, (Jason Arnott) will take it instead of looking for Ovechkin.

You Knew It Was Coming from Me: Boudreau Must Go!

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    Worth repeating from the introduction is owner Ted Leonsis's stated goal:

    Nothing less than a Stanley Cup will do for the Washington Capitals this season.

    So what now? You know the saying in sports; you cannot fire all of the players.

    First, let me say that Bruce Boudreau will be back behind the bench for the Washington Capitals.

    GM George McPhee has already said so today. “I expect him to be back, yeah,” McPhee said on breakup day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “He's a good coach.”

    “Someone said he's not a good playoff coach,” McPhee added. “There's no difference between a playoff coach and regular season coach. Either you're a good coach or you're not. He's a good coach.”

    Ummmm...yes, there is George. Legacies and legends are not built off Presidents trophies and Southeast Division banners. Even Penguins coach Dan Bylsma took Tampa to seven games without Crosby and Malkin.

    We had our entire top line on the ice and got swept. This does not bode well for Boudreau or at least it shouldn't.

    Boudreau is 17-20 in the playoffs and failed as miserably this season in the postseason as he did in last year’s postseason. The owner of the team set a hard goal with his team but an achievable considering the talent.

    The Capitals did not even make it half way to Mr.Leonisis set goal, again. Since 2004 the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes have won Stanley Cups, The Capitals playoff history looks like this.

    First round, second round, first round, second round and heartbreaking does not describe the losing feelings in everyone of those series.

    Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has done his job and has done it well. Under Boudreau, the Capitals have had their best four-year regular season stretch in franchise history. They are 189-73-38 during that time but also worth repeating, 17-20 in the post season.

    Boudreau's specialty is developing talent.

    With his time in Hershey and Washington, Boudreau has been around most of these players for almost seven seasons. He has got the most he can get out of the talent he's been responsible for developing.

    Many of his players are capable of achieving the next level of success in the playoffs but Boudreau cannot seem to get them there. Boudreau got his veterans at the trade deadline and he was able to overhaul a system that was not working.

    After being swept, it all has to be considered a failure in terms of the goal. All of the successes and failures fall on his shoulders. Unfortunately, that is how it is in big time, big money professional sports.

    Now, someone from outside the organization needs to come in and get Washington to the next level. Tampa Bay found a young rookie head coach outside of the organization that is a disciplinarian and demands his players work hard, surely the Caps could do it.

    Whom you ask? If I am suggesting to fire fire a coach that has won 63 percent of his games than I must have a replacement picked out.

    Well not exactly but please give me a few days research this very topic and then check back here on the Bleacher Report for some suggestions. That is another article for another day.

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