Three Keys to Avoid Capital Punishment

The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as is every NHL postseason, a treacherous hike. The Capitals would be in the Rockies if this was a race to cross the country, suffocating from lack of oxygen and preparedness. If this team is to regain their traction in this icy climb they need to follow my three keys for tonight’s Game 4 in Tampa Bay.

Scoring First

How massive the pressure of scoring first tonight is for this organization. I told some friends right after Game 2 that if the Capitals could not pot the puck first in Game 3, the series would be over. It turns out they did score first, even if they didn’t, and it’s the only reason I am not sticking to my prediction — that and hope. These playoffs, the Caps have taken the first lead of the game twice, both times against the Rangers, and both times they won. Tampa Bay has relinquished the lead to the Caps twice (Game 1 and Game 3) in this series. But that volatility in scoring presents the Caps with the challenge of playing two different styles of games, one of catch up and one of disciplined defensive responsibility. I believe it is that very volatility that Tampa dealt with in the regular season and their series against the Penguins that made them comfortable playing in any situation.

There is no denying the Caps have dealt with the same pressures throughout this season and even prior, but I believe they are one-dimensional in the sense that they play either catch up — as they did in Game 4 against the Rangers and Game 2 this series — or team defense. They are the best team in the league when trailing. The inherent problem is that the Caps are a better team, as most are, when they score first and establish their strategy from the first puck-drop. Scoring a tying goal at the beginning of the second period as Knuble did last night, while huge for a team’s momentum, only gives the club 40 minutes to work its system. If the Caps can score first tonight, we should see their resiliency, but if Tampa can shake Washington out of the lead, we will know which club really deserves it.


Pucksandbooks sent me a link this morning regarding Keith Jones and Mike Keenan’s reaction to Boudreau’s coaching ability. I watched CSN and didn’t catch their analysis. Last night, Boudreau asked his captain to serve the penalty for the Too Many Men call, which put the clubs four-on-four for well over a minute. The thrust of the Jones and Keenan critique was: How in the world could Gabby have the world’s best player confined to the sin bin for a minute-plus of 4-on-4 play? Additionally, what if Tampa had taken an additional penalty — think the Caps would have liked having Ovi out on the ice in that situation? Boudreau was badly outcoached last year against Montreal, despite going up 3-1 in the series, and he seems to be replicating his naivety of NHL playoff hockey. In fact, he’s making a rookie coach look like Scotty Bowman.

Last night, with Mike Green out, Boudreau elected to have John Carlson sit on the bench while Ovechkin attempted to skate through center ice on the breakout. If there’s been one composed player in the lineup skating the puck at center ice and dumping it deep, it has been Carlson. To leave him on the bench and go with five forwards (Brooks Laich at the other point) and Semin at wing, was in my opinion a grave error. Semin should have been on the bench. There is a reason why Boudreau has above a 70 percent win record in the regular season. There is also a reason why he is 17-19 in the NHL postseason.


This has plenty to do with Bruce Boudreau’s questionable coaching decisions, but I believe a dose of Matt Hendricks and possibly the first Caps fight of these playoffs can go a long way in Game 4. Katie Carrera of the Washington Post noted that Hendricks came off the ice early and was seen taping his sticks up, which is a positive sign, but just a sign. In our last post, I dissected the Caps errors and made particular note of the Caps’ inability to win pucks below the circles and behind the net. Hendricks does that for this team and is defensively reliable. Marco Sturm needs to be scratched for this game and Hendricks inserted.

Sturm has been a major on-ice disappointment  for the Caps since arriving, but he is a veteran and his past performances has earned him status. He’s been good for this team as a veteran member with leadership skills, but I don’t believe that he has contributed in any positive or lasting fashion on the playing surface. In fact, putting him on the fourth line is on par with Glen Hanlon’s decision to start Nicklas Backstrom on the Caps third and fourth lines back in 2007. Sturm should be playing at least third line minutes, but as Boudreau has seen his play dip, the coach assigned him fourth line duty for much of last night. Mistake. Hendricks will play the role of a fourth liner and Sturm will not – case closed.

If the Capitals can manage to score first, be composed on the ice and bench, and use Matt Hendricks in the corners and for some rough stuff, there is some hope for success tonight. Just ask Philadelphia or Chicago. Series turnarounds do happen no matter what the odds. Tampa’s hallmark may be the trap but they are also awfully inconsistent. Unless Boudreau & Co. can do to this series what they did in Game 4 against the Rangers, a new regime is in order by week’s end.

This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Bruce Boudreau, Eric Fehr, George McPhee, John Carlson, Marco Sturm, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Three Keys to Avoid Capital Punishment

  1. Jon says:

    The Caps need to throw some bone-crushing hits on LeCavalier and St. Louis, both these guys were responsible for the Caps early exit in the 2003 postseason and now they’re back to do it again. The Caps have never been that physical (with the exception of a few players) I want to see the finesse forwards Backstrom and Semin hit somebody out there, be a physical goal scorer like Ovie. We need gritty guys who show heart!

    Watching this team through the years, the quadruple overtime Easter Epic where NY Islander Pat LaFontaine killed us with a fluke goal, I’m reminded of childhood traumas as I see Scott Hannan deflect a puck into his own goal and a puck bounce off of Mike Greens skate into the net. We have to regain our composure! (like Will Ferrell says) and confidence on the ice. Maybe if they weren’t aware it was the playoffs they’d play better like they do in the regular season.

  2. Doc says:

    Well seeing how the Pens took it to 7 games with out their two Top Players, Why is that The Caps were not able to WIN ONE Game With their Super Hero !!!!!

    As many Sad Cap Fans now realize which in the past few years their choice for a Captain was a POOR one.

    Coaching: All you Cap Fans have been saying for the last few years about Boudreau get RID of him.

    Well now the Washington Franchise will have to have a long look where they are sure they perform in the Regular Season. They have shown themselves they have no Experience when the playoffs gets under way.

    Maybe 10 years down the road they will be able to go all the way and hold a CUP?????????

  3. Robert says:

    What a war on our nerves that was… Another Caps post season, and another big let down. Looks like no matter how much commenting is provided on the blogs, that nothing helps these guys perform in the playoffs. Time to clean house this off season. Once and for all, GET RID OF GREEN. Lose the coach. Trade for decent defenders. Light a fire under Semin and Backstrom. Get back to basics, start training camp in June. Teach people to check hard and hit hard. Learn how to do a flawless line change. learn how to clear a puck. stop taking stupid penalities. Get the power play scoring goals. Fight once in a while. or once per game. crash the net. stick to the game plan, get some wind conditioning in – stop gassing out. stay healthy, study your opponent’s method of play, stop worrying about the regular season so much – you burn yourself out in the regular season, you’ll start the post season hurt.

    But a nice job on keeping the Caps tradition of an early exit from the playoffs. A large let down, and another notch in the belt of ‘should have, could have’.

    For the 37th year, let’s say it in unison this time: “Maybe next year.” but given the caps franchise record, I’m not getting my hopes up.

    See you guys next April.

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