Systemically Speaking, Where We Do Go from Here?

One of the most interesting questions our readership has asked over the past week relates to what kind of Capitals team we ought to see on the ice starting next fall. The vast majority of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure — the vast majority of his coaching career — has delivered a highly entertaining, highly winning brand of up-tempo attack: maintain puck possession, put inordinate pressure on the forecheck to get the puck back, attack vertically with speed, in waves, and once in the attack zone exploit weakside openings with creativity and flair. It’s the very system that filled Verizon Center night after night for the first time in Washington hockey history but subsequently was deemed unfit for springtime prosperity in the NHL. When the coach jettisoned his calling card of a system in the middle of the 2010-11 season, the revolution was sold to Caps’ fans as  acknowledgment that the coach’s way wasn’t working.

But the replacement system didn’t fare so well this spring. And a few of our readers have even suggested that in light of the NHL’s pledge, immediately after the 2004 lockout, to return a more appealing brand of hockey to fans, one that placed a premium on skating  and free flow and skill, that skill-based rosters like the Capitals have what is tantamount to a moral obligation not to fall back to the rest of the pack, and sag back and clog and stifle and suffocate the life out of the game. And so we ask an important and interesting philosophical question: should the coach’s old ways of attack — the ones that won he and his teams championships in professional hockey — be re-adopted? Should the system that made Verizon Center a once intimidating place for visiting clubs to play be revisited? Could there perhaps not be some middle ground between the extremes of systems we saw last season — perhaps a hybrid system implemented that blends the beautiful scoreboard-alighting attack of a Red Army with the quasi-trap/defensive-minded alternative?

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10 Responses to Systemically Speaking, Where We Do Go from Here?

  1. The Horn Guy says:

    I agree. During the losing streak in December I felt that the Caps would not make it deep in the post season. After they crawled back into Division contension as the new year crept along and they displayed greater defensive coverage than had been seen in Verizon Center since the Devils came to play the last decade or so, I thought they were foolish to change it up so drastically. Now that they’ve again been bounced from the Playoffs, and decisively so by a team with seemingly greater offensive prowess than they have, maybe Boudreau and Co. will see that the “right” way to play is to mix a potent, reactive, opportunistic offense with a strong, disciplined defense. They learned how to score a lot of goals over the past few seasons, then they learned how to better limit their opponents’ chances. The time has come to make the two styles work in unison.

  2. Fantastically stated, Horn Guy, if I may say.

  3. NHL_Observer says:

    I don’t think the issue is how the Caps play offense. It’s about how they get the yips when you pressure them on defense. The slower Caps defensemen were exposed as being unable to make speed adjustments against the Lightning. The faster Caps defensemen were prone to blow their assignments in front of the goal and generally cough up the puck. The forwards looked lost in their own end and gave the puck up constantly when aggressively forechecked. This is not a debate about coaching systems. You can put in any system you want, but it’s been long known around the league that they way to beat the Caps is to pressure them relentlessly in their own end. Doesn’t matter what system the Caps play, if they don’t solve that fundamental shortcoming.

  4. sean says:

    As much as the NHL says they want a free flowing game, too much grabbing, interference, pitchforking and such is allowed to let that happen. Especially in the playoffs it is allowed even more so. Until we get more players that can handle a more physical type of play for 82 games and the playoffs, I don’t see us getting the prize. We looked worn out, slow, were outworked, outplayed and undisciplined against TB. If that is due to conditioning(see Lemaire’s message to Stecks after he got traded), Veteran leadership or other things, everything needs to be looked at. I hope GMGM is playing coy, because if he thinks this roster can stand pat with a few Hershey call-ups it will be groundhop day all over again.

  5. TG says:

    But I think the more important question is CAN the two systems work in unison?

  6. Daniel says:

    There is a missing category here. What does the system matter with a coach who can’t implement it properly come playoffs? This is all a moot point under the current leadership.

  7. Tre Kronor says:

    @ Horn Guy: It sounds great but how can you have, with this roster and leadership, an opportunistic offense that does not create gaps (like our high flying teams that scored a lot of goals in the regualar season but was doomed for 3 years in the playoffs) while, at the same time, playing tight D that requires all 3 forwards to bear down in the neutral and D-zones? I’m no coach but I don’t see this possibility with the current roster – and I certainly question whether BB can manage such roster moves and tactical changes. On the other hand, I think Tampa played exactly this type of system really well – contrary to popular belief, they did not play the 1-3-1 the entire series and seemed to my uneducated eye really committed to creating offensive rushes when the Caps gave them the opportunity – which was often.

  8. mostholy2 says:

    I don’t think it is a question if the 2 styles can be meshed or not. If you take Tampa Bay as an example, the 1-3-1 is their defensive set-up. However, they use this extremely boring style of defensive play to clog up the neutral zone and generate neutral zone turnovers, when then generate potential scoring chances for their quick forwards.

    I see no reason why the Caps couldn’t follow this same philosphy. I think the problem with the system currently implemented is the execution of dump-and-chase for all 4 lines as almost a default reaction for advancing the puck. This really kills the offensive momentum of the team and shouldn’t be needed except for maybe the 4th line.

    If Backstrom and Johansson play to their abilities next year, the top 2 lines shouldn’t have many problems carrying into the offensive zone, regardless of what other teams are throwing at us. In the past few years, I’ve really felt that the team goes as Backstrom goes and that he is more the key to the Caps success more than even OV. This year, he was clearly struggling in the playoffs and it showed.

    Playing good defensive hockey, doesn’t automatically translate into boring hockey. I just hope the coaching staff can work this out for themselves to find a system that best suits the talent on this club. I don’t think the current system is the best for the team as currently composed.

  9. APCaps says:

    @NHLObserver — well said. The Caps/TB series was at many times, the story of momentum, offensive zone control, and how you finish when you have it. When TB was pressuring the Caps, usually the third period, we were running around, quite undisciplined and committing bad turnovers. When we were pressuring TB, frequently in the second periods, they were doing a lot of the same and we had tremendous numberes of chances with lots of zone time. In Game 1, when it mattered most to set the tone, we didn’t capitalize on our zone time and chances and Rolonson came up big. We didn’t build the 4-1 lead we should have had and let them back in to have life. In game 3, when we had that great 2nd period, we sat back in the third, started running around and turning over the puck, and they scored 2x inn 30 seconds and that was that. Very few teams in the NHL do well against a really good forecheck and a team that can cycle down low. We didn’t do enough of that against TB. The key to defending that is to not let it happen by digging the puck out first when it’s sent in and having clean, crisp breakouts. We didn’t do a good job of that at all against TB.

    As far as merging the systems and playing an exciting brand of hockey while having a solid defensive scheme, did anyone watch the Sharks/Wings series? I think there was plenty of both to go around. Defensive hockey requires team effort and we had too many forwards not really interested in playing much defense. As much as I love Ovi, he gets way too much of a pass in the press on his not playing any D. Hence, sticking him at the point on the PP is really not a solid move. Watching him defend a shorthanded 2 on 1 after a turnover is like being at a bullfight.

  10. Spank That Donkey says:

    A coach that understands Defense would be handy. Again, David Poile vs. McPhee… Think about it.

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