Focus. Without it, talent rarely achieves success. Sure, luck’s a big factor too, but focus is something one can control. How do these Washington Capitals hold onto the lessons learned during the season while still facing forward for the playoffs? Just about every member of the Caps has his own way of preparing.
Netminder Jose Theodore is obviously a critical piece of the Caps’ playoff puzzle, and the subject of much discussion. Theodore’s preparation is more personal—oh, he’ll work with coaches and trade ideas with teammates of course, but it’s more of an internal approach. JT is usually pretty quiet, until Tomas Jagr-I-mean-Plekanec riled him up that is. But generally his playoff prep mirrors that thoughtful demeanor.
With Washington punching their playoff ticket so early in the season, Theodore had plenty of time to prepare. “I’ve been approaching the last 20 games like the playoffs. Every game I am trying to do the details,” Theodore said. “You can’t get away from the details and that is what I am focusing on right now, controlling rebounds and challenging the shooters.”
Judging by his performance in Game 1, I would say that Jose got some of those details down and has his focus in the right place. If it ain’t broke…
Would it really surprise anyone if I said that Walker likes to talk about his preparation? I think he is a younger (although not by much) version of Gabby. Unlike Theo, Walker is in the same type of mood regardless of outcome, although Walker’s is a bit chattier. His playoff preparation involves that chatty lifestyle, even if he doesn’t think it can help all that much.
“I talk to people in general and people who have been around the game and even the old guys like broadcasters, [we] talk about experiences,” Walker said. But then he minimized what talking can do. “Its like somebody said, you have to get experience yourself, you can’t get it from talking.”
Walker summed up the regular season perfectly when he said, “Now it starts back at zero, what you did [in the regular season] doesn’t mean anything anymore.” Sure, you can learn from what you did well over the last 82 games, but it won’t mean much if you put up a big goose egg in playoffs — words that the team’s captain (and others) could take to heart for Game 2.
For most players though, it is all about their coaches and teammates. A sign of a good team is one that can lift each other up and pull their comrades out of slumps. Washington has a solid team in the locker room, so it is no surprise that several players turn with in for their preparation.
“I think we have a great team here,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We are talking to each other and we have some experienced guys on the team and we will take advantage of that.” Teams that win it all generally have a strong veteran presence. Players like Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison are terrific assets for young players like Backstrom looking to learn from others’ experience.
Players who were acquired in the middle of the season sometimes find fitting in with the team awkward. New players may not have had time to form any significant bonds with their new teammates; this is where the coaching staff comes in. A sign of a good coach is one who can relate to any player, even the ones who spent most of the season on another team. From what some of the newest Caps are saying, it seems like Bruce is that kind of coach.
“I think our coaches give us a pretty good game plan of what we need and who we play,” Jason Chimera said. “You talk to some people, but you don’t want to over think things otherwise you are thinking out there and not playing.”
A coach who knows what a player needs and can focus them on the ice, is one destined for greatness. In Chimera’s eyes, Bruce can do just that.
Players have their own unique ways of preparing themselves for the grueling playoff run. Mike Green, Eric Fehr and the others on the 2006 Hershey Bears team have the coach that got them to the NHL with, something not many players can say.
It’s pretty rare for a player to win a Calder Cup, then to have their AHL coach join them in the bigs a couple years later for the NHL playoffs. For Green, playing for Boudreau again is something special.
“When [Boudreau] speaks I really listen,” Green said. “[It’s great] because you get familiar with him and he is familiar with what my game is. We developed a relationship before we came together to the NHL level, and I think that helps.”
For the Caps, players’ preparation methods vary, but it’s the results that count. Tonight we will see just how focused and prepared the Caps really are.