My Kingdom for a Competent Line Change!

How does a team with so much talent suffer fortunes so stinging spring after spring after spring?

My kingdom for a competent line change! A horrific line change ended game 2; game 3’s first power play, which produced an ever elusive goal for the Caps with the extra man, ended prematurely because of . . . a poor line change. Which of course washed out Mike Knuble’s goal.

Naturally, Bruce Boudreau, in his postgame reflections, focused on how Alexander Semin’s unsanctioned presence on the ice then didn’t really impact the play. Here’s a relevant area of inquiry, coach:  How is it that for a third consecutive game in this series your team didn’t show up for the third period?

How many poor line changes have you seen from Tampa in this series? This is a symptom, somewhat small but oh so telling, of why regime change must follow this series. The good ones get the little things right, the fundamentals of the game — always.

More than a few observers, including some inside the Capitals’ organization, weren’t comforted by what HBO cameras revealed of the Capitals’ head coach, especially relative to the portrait of the Penguins’ bench boss. That, too, is worth meditating on this rainy Washington Wednesday morning.

At OFB we change lines just fine. Our Young Guns reflect on another sour night in spring for the team in red:


  • I am as clueless as Mike Knuble, the rest of the Caps, and probably all of you as to how this ended the way it did. Weren’t the Caps supposed to be a composed and formidable defensive team? I thought, just as Joe B pointed out at the end of the second period, that this was probably the best 2011 playoff game the Capitals skated this season.
  • It’s amazing what a gifted goal can do to a team’s spirits, as not only was Eric Fehr’s third period clearing attempt picked right off the boards but Scott Hannan lazily attempted a poke check instead of separating Steven Stamkos from the puck or getting his body in the way of the shot. Michal Neuvirth, despite brilliant play throughout the game, should have had that one; it just wasn’t a playoff goal. Three mistakes by three players in the span of about three seconds is not playoff hockey, and that play is why the Caps lost this game.
  • Bounces? Yes, Tampa has had their fair share. But those bounces are created by hard work down low and strong board play, which in this blogger’s opinion has decisively been Tampa’s strongest asset, not the 1-3-1. The 1-3-1 is a preventative strategy in hockey — one variation of the trap — but it’s not a play to rely on all the time. When the Caps are in the offensive zone after hurdling the passive Tampa trap, they have to go to the corners, the boards, and behind the net, where they are simply ineffective. Tampa, meanwhile, has worked immaculately in the corners and quickly moves the puck towards the net.
  • The Caps could lessen their perimeter play a lot more and send pucks on goal as soon as they get the puck below the circles. When a team is settling into their defensive formation on a given play, they are at their most vulnerable. The Caps seem to want to establish dominance in their zone and throw Tampa’s defense off balance. Their composure, however, has been the Caps’ undoing.
  • Examine the Caps’ goals from last night, not counting the Ovechkin 5-on-3 PP goal. Carlson’s goal was scored by a rushing Jason Chimera, who beat the trap and rushed the puck down low and around the net. He saw a screen develop in front and fortunately flipped it out high to Carlson for the screened shot. Knuble’s goal was almost identical except Ovechkin, after beating Hedman wide, threw the puck on goal and a fortunate bounce leveled the score. All of Tampa’s goals except Stamkos’ were scored right around the blue paint from plays developing below the circles (St. Louis’ assist on Lecavalier’s goal, Thompson’s assist on Malone’s goal) and because of some very sloppy exits (Fehr on Stamkos’ goal, Erskine/Laich on Bergenheim’s goal).
  • All that said, why aren’t the Capitals getting more pucks on net? They are simply getting outhustled and outworked in this series, particularly Semin and Backstrom, and particularly along the boards. These guys have yet to show up in the series and Semin is especially due for some positive streakiness against the club he torched in the regular season.
  • On the topic of the regular season, Tampa was a minus goal differential the whole year until the last week or so of the season. I am baffled, as bewildered as Mike Knuble, by Tampa’s system working so effectively against Ovie & Co. Teams adapt and Boudreau should have only needed that Game 1 loss to solve Guy Boucher’s men. If DC doesn’t push this a la 2011 Chicago or 2010 Philly, there will be no hot saucy shirts to joke about come October. Maybe come the weekend.


Excuses. They are what separate the championship caliber teams from the championship pretenders. Unfortunately for the Caps, they are in the second category.

The time has come for answers in Washington, not more questions. After their catastrophic Game 3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau brought up that he thought a Tampa goal should have been disallowed. That is a hollow, vacuous excuse, and saying “we lost because they had a goal that shouldn’t have counted” is nothing more than saying we have no explanation for what happened. There are any number of answers that could have been given as to why the Caps are down 0-3. None of them have to do with one Lightning goal.

  • When looking at the game as a whole, really the series as a whole, how does a team with the skill level of the Caps allow a line change to cost them Game 2 in overtime? Beyond that though, how do they then let a line change cost them a huge goal in the early going of the very next game?
  • Expanding on these coaching points though: how does a team like the Caps, a team that has played the Lightning more than any other team in these playoffs, not look prepared coming into one of the most important playoff series in their history? Tampa Bay is certainly a good team, but they should be nowhere close to the Caps in terms of overall team strength. Tampa of course has an Elite Three if you will, just as Washington does. Is there any doubt who among St. Louis, Stamkos and Lecavalier versus Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin is bringing more to their respective team in this series?
  • Guy Boucher never seems satisfied, never seems content with the status-quo and always seems like he knows his team can do more. And you know what? I think his team likes that and respects that.
  • In the first half of this series — of which there appears there will be no second half — Boucher has spoken in glowing terms of forward pairings he’s relied upon all season: Lecavalier and Purcell, St. Louis and Stamkos. What a novel concept — maintaining cohesion and chemistry among your line pairings.
  • He has also spoken of the “great character” his core guys possess. Me = envious.
  • The never-ending story of the last three springs has been that the Caps have underachieved. Well, from looking at what was said after Tuesday’s loss we can all see why. Instead of saying the team can play better and needs to perform up to their pay grade, Bruce Boudreau is talking about a goal that should have been waived off.
  • Amazingly, with nearly a week off to prepare, the Capitals in this series have looked unprepared, from the get-go, not rested, not ready and just plain bad. Washington looks like a barely .500 team. Meanwhile the Lightning look like world beaters and have taken the mighty Capitals and made them the just a stepping stone to the Eastern Conference Finals.
  • How did Tampa Bay get where they are this morning, you may ask? I’m not sure it’s the stuff of Special Ops secrets. Likely reasons: lots of hard work, dedication, cohesion, faith and trust in their systems, and certainly astute if precocious coaching.
  • How did the Caps get to where they are down three in a series many picked them to win in five? Through deficient work ethic, a sense of entitlement rivaling that we saw against Montreal last spring, the core (excepting Ovechkin) coming up small, and a ridiculous lack of desperation, all things Bruce Boudreau has never seemed to work to fix. Now they are on the verge of the end of their season if they don’t win tonight, and the end of an era if they don’t win the series.

One last thought: today brings yet another optional practice for the Caps. It would be interesting to go back over say the past three seasons and inventory the number of days taken off by this team’s stars — especially with respect to optional skates — and compare the tally against stars from clubs who prosper is spring.

This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau, Eastern Conference, Front Office, HBO's 24/7, Hockey hearts, Montreal Canadiens, Morning cup-a-joe, NHL playoffs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to My Kingdom for a Competent Line Change!

  1. Cathy W says:

    I know it is not over yet, but the Caps have not given me a reason to hope. Your analysis is spot on. How this team could have come out that unprepared for Tampa is mind boggling. How after having such a bad Game 1 that an optional practice was held on Saturday so they did not at least work on the power play is mind boggling. (BTW, re last parargraph – today will be a morning skate and not a practice as there is a game tonight.) To listen to Boudreau after this loss and hear pull out yet another excuse form his list of 100 and 1 excuses is mind boggling. To read Steinberg’s blog this morning and hear that Ovie thought they played well makes me wonder what game was I watching last night.

  2. tracy says:

    I seem to have more emotional attachment to this series than all the Caps combined( excpet maybe Neuvie).

  3. Chubbs says:

    The demise started here — “Put bluntly: have the Capitals ever looked quite as formidable and buzz-worthy relative to their remaining competition in the final eight as they do this spring?” (On Frozen Pond, April 29)

    Did we learn nothing from last season’s coronation post when the Caps went up 3-1 on Montreal?

    You fall for it every year. One good game, one good series, and you think the Cup is won. It’s symptomatic of what ails all of Caps Nation, the team included.

    But let’s also face facts. This is more than a Capitals issue. It’s a hockey issue.

    Tampa Bay is killing the game with their 1-3-1 impenetrable defensive system. Granted the Caps were in control after two periods, but still, give the Lightning the lead and they will suffocate the hell out of any team for the rest of the night, a la New Jersey Devils, circa 1995-2004.

    It’s hardly enjoyable to watch, but also a system every other NHL team will struggle to beat.

    So while much hand-wringing is warranted vis-à-vis another early Capitals demise, as is the criticism with respect to the mental mistakes that true champions just don’t make, let’s not forget that the Caps are simply falling to a steamrolling team that is quite frankly playing better hockey precisely when they need to be.

  4. Marc,

    Great to hear from you again. Alas, we in Washington again will have plenty of time to dissect in detail the demise of another strong Capitals’ club. My guess is we’ll get at that beginning tomorrow morning. The point you make about Tampa’s tactical approach is compelling, I think. I was one who here, at the onset of the Caps’ experiment with the trap, wrote that the team had almost a moral obligation to hockey not to fall back to the practices of the masses. That their roster had been engineered in a way to grow the appeal of the game. That line of thinking, I submit, will be particularly intriguing this offseason. The next coach of the Caps, I submit, will have to implement a system that maximizes — not mitigates — the strengths of his core players.

  5. Mike says:

    Look, I’m as disappointed as every other long-time Caps fan as to how this is turning out…but, come on…read what you wrote. Alex starts off by saying he’s clueless as to how this ended the way it did, but then goes on to bring up several points/mistakes that he believes are reasons why. A bit of a contradiction? Do you or don’t you know?
    Sure there are things you can point to that didn’t go right, but are they the reason? Perhaps, but unless you are in that locker room, in those meetings, on that bench, then you don’t know.
    And, as has been stated before, optional skates do not equal days off.
    So, if you don’t know why this is turning out the way it is, why do you go and rip certain players and the coach? Why not wait until the dust settles and see what shakes out? Trashing the team and the players that you are supposedly fans of does no good right now…especially if you don’t know what you are talking out.
    Oh, and don’t be envious…if you are so enamored by Guy Boucher and what the Bolts have done, go join them…let me know how that works out for ya…

  6. Random caps fan says:

    I can’t agree more with pucksandbooks and the analysis of this blog. The fact that the Caps have drafted to build an offensive juggernaut and somehow fallen into the notion that defense wins championships is befuddling. This postseason highlights that defense won’t win for us again, and instead our stars, including Ovi in my opinion, don’t show up. There is no leadership on this team and year after year the Caps fail because they don’t make adjustments. If you get pucks deep and forecheck the h##l out of Tampa, they make mistakes, get tired, and give up goals. Instead we are lazy in the neutral zone, don’t clear pucks, and sit back and watch the top two lines pass around our zone. Our only hope is to change things up with a more physical presense (aka Hendricks, who would have started fights in the last two games). If Backstrom is hurt, sit him and put someone out there who will hustle and wants to play. Perreault worked his a## off this year for the Caps and is a fine third line center (he also scored two goals against Ottawa by working down low, to break our losing streak in Dec); Johannson can play 1st and Arnott 2nd. Varly also has good numbers against Tampa and would be a welcome injection of energy into a flat team. Sadly, Boudreau never makes adjustments and I am sure all of our thoughtful analysis will fall on deaf ears. Here’s to another failed playoffs!

  7. Chubbs says:

    Pucks: happy to be here. A real shame that it has taken another Capitals flame-out for me to chime in again.

    Always a faithful reader though.

    When you write the obituary on another lost season, might I suggest you begin on Google, with a search of: Senators, Ottawa, 1999-2000-2001-2002-2004.

    It has all been written before.

  8. Alex says:

    Mike, we, all of Caps NATION, are stunned by last night’s third period meltdown. If you heard the post-game interview with Mike Knuble, my number one star for the Caps (for what it’s worth to you), spoke of Tampa flipping a switch when they needed to get a goal and being as cool as cucumber under pressure. I’m stunned because the Caps are faster, bigger, grittier, and much more physical a squad. They arguably have better players and more depth than Tampa. We all knew that going into this series. Yet last night, after having established their rightful superiority, the Caps looked minnows among sharks. I can assure you that was why Knuble and I were scratching our heads after the game.

    And please don’t question anyone’s allegiance, which I feel you have implied is wavering. I AM enamored by Guy Boucher’s coaching ability much more than I have been by Bruce Boudreau. In hockey, players, coaches, GMs, and staff come and go, but the club remains and my support lies with it. Consider it in tact.


    Sloppy play with an utter lack of discipline. In Game 2, careless with sticks leading to multiple penalties, fortunate some of them werent 4 or 5 minutes. I would have called all of them too.

    I see the offense has regressed to the ‘Four Corners On Ice’. Ive watched hockey for over 25 years, and cant recalll another team that regularly exposes their goaltender to odd man rushes. Yes this type of play happens, but no one on this team appears to have any idea how to prevent or defend them.

    Might get the ‘avoid the sweep win’ tonight, but I doubt it.

    Until there’s a regime change and roster purge (starting with # 52), I’m done with this team.

    Maybe the NFL knuckleheads will wake up and give me something to look forward in the fall, but I doubt that.

    ///Burned out tired of the same broken record.

  10. Funkdeath says:

    I could not agree more with your take on this series. Yes, I do believe Bruce Boudreau is the problem here. There is a theme here…going into the playoffs over the past three seasons this team has not should that they were prepared for the task at hand! There is no getting away from this. Game seven against the Pens three years ago BB had told the media that this was just another game. He told his players that this was just another game! He never mentioned the importance of a game seven! And it would appear he has not driven home the need to focus on the little things like proper line changes in this seires. I don’t think Porky Pig is a good coach when it comes to playoff hockey. When he chose Ovechkin to sit the two minute penalty for too many men on the ice I knew this man had not a clue what you need to win in the playoffs! That was a bone head move. In a four on four situation you want your best players on the ice. Apparently BB doesn’t know this or just figured, “it’s just another four on four”!

  11. Mike says:

    Alex – I agree almost completely with all you write in your above comment, as well as with most of the problems you point out in the main post. I believe the solutions will become more clear, at least to the people who make the decisions, and hopefully, they’ll make the right ones…at the right times.
    I too have been extremely impressed with Guy Boucher, but I don’t know that I could watch his 1-3-1 system for an entire season. Bruce Boudreau has done a lot of really good things for the Caps and as he is still their coach, he’s got my full support.
    Keep up the good work!

  12. Ted says:

    Let’s just win tonight, regroup, and get to the weekend.

  13. Chris G says:

    I didn’t read every comment on here, but you guys have pretty much summed up what I’ve been thinking. They are losing the one-on-one battles, making costly errors, playing poor D, giving up some softies ,and just seemed to have lost something from the NY series. Is it just me or does it seem we need to dump M. Green in the off-season? He just doesn’t seem to fit where this team wants to go. He has not played well this post-season. Someone tell me what is wrong with Backy? He’s weak on the puck, and never shoots. He’s been quite awful really. That’s a problem given the cash we’ve thrown his way.

  14. Chris G says:

    @Funkdeath, agreed. It’s time for a coaching change. Bruce did a good job but it’s clear that to reach the pinnacle someone else is going to have to get this team there. I like Bruce, but it just is what it is.

  15. Chubbs says:

    Funkdeath, a small point about sitting Ovechkin for the bench minor. How long had the captain been on the ice before the penalty was called?

    If he was due to sit for a shift anyway, might as well sit him in the box since he wouldn’t be on to kill the last 30 seconds of the TB man advantage anyway. It forces the opposing defencemen to hang back toward the end of the penalty, and puts your best scorer in prime scoring position if you’ve got the puck when he steps out of the box.

    Not entirely a bad decision if the circumstances are right.

  16. sean says:

    Nothing I can say hasn’t been said already. The players that are making the most money cannot win in the playoffs, I would rather have a team of Knubs making 2M and over-achieving, than have these high aspirations of something great. As Chubbs wrote about Ottawa, we are another incarnation of that team. How long has it taken Marian Hossa to figure out how to play team Hockey? Yes Ovie plays great at times, but he does not play a complete game nor do too many on this team. And the Coach either cannot or will not get them to do otherwise.

  17. martin says:

    If caps fail to get out of the 3:0 hole and win this series, BB must go. ANY coach would do better with the level of talent (alleged) on the caps roster.

  18. STEVE Z. says:

    Only a few offensive Caps players have really shown up and in some way contributed in this TB series. Some keep saying that Capitals have more talent. But beware of the age factor. Caps have some real young guys filling key spots. Experience and physical toughness on the TB side trump this fact. Also, when I go down the defensive player list, I would have to rate the group as a whole with a C-. Jeff Schulz is my biggest problem. Not physical or proactive. Sorry they extended his contract. Others on his side of puck are not far behind him. Finally, think Coach Bruce could do a better job of ‘focusing’ the talent on this team. Yes, he is responsible for doing that. So much has not shown up. If sweep happens, goodbye coach….right or wrong.

  19. Sherrie says:

    Andrew: I agree with almost all of your comments. But I question the one on optional skates. Check out the Red Wings. Year after year, almost no one but the scratches shows up for optional skates but the Wings just keep winning. (and yes, I do know they are down 2-0 going into tonight) Intact bodies are more important than optional skate participation during the playoffs.
    I’ve always been a BB supporter, and I wrote it off as a team collapse against a hot goalie last season against Montreal. Fool me twice…..the playoffs are all about adjustments. The Caps have made almost none. That’s on BB and his staff. That said, BB can’t go out and play defense for Green, who was horrible again last night(among others), and I’m talking before he was hurt.

  20. OldPhil says:

    Once again, we get non-playoff performances from regular-season wonders Mike Green and Alexander Semin. Backstrom, too, but to me Green and Semin are the biggest offenders. And most of the defensemen have certainly underperformed. When TB forechecks, the d-men have no answer to get the puck out of the zone. And if I see Semin attempt to “curl and drag” one more time I’ll cuss so hard it’ll curl your hair.

  21. 2008…2009….2010…2011 says:

    Out-scored, out-played, out-hustled, out-coached…coulda, woulda, shoulda, yada, yada, yada.

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