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.