After losing all hope for my hockey team during that abysmal 16 days in December when the Caps pretended to play hockey, they seem to be regaining their footing with some notable exceptions. More on that later. They’re playing much better hockey during this 5-0-1 stretch, including their 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Winter Classic.
“Losing all hope” may seem like an extreme statement in January midway through an 82 game hockey season, but I’ve been watching this team since the beginning and have had my heart broken by them more times than I care to remember. This particular version of the team wasn’t making any adjustments to their game after three years of deplorable playoff appearances culminating in a beat down of the number one seed Caps by the number eight seed Montreal Canadiens last year. This season, so far, looked to me like a good prescription for another early playoff exit in April.
But, finally, finally, they’re making the adjustments that they need to make before April. Coach Boudreau, for the first time, introduced the concept of playing a modified trap defensive system after the 7-0 shellacking by the New York Rangers on December 12th. He’s also matching lines against the opposition more instead of just rolling his four forward lines. As always, it remains to be seen whether or not the system changes will stick. I hope they do. It also remains to be seen whether or not the Caps players really want the Stanley Cup because they are far too many times when they don’t act like they do. No team wins the Stanley Cup on talent alone. It also takes heart, grit and effort.
The bright spots since the losing streak:
Mike Green's play alongside Scott Hannan. Green has been a defense focused, shot blocking machine since being paired with Hannan on the blue line. Hannan played rough in his first several starts with the Capitals, but has since gotten into a groove and is performing like the sound veteran defenseman I thought GMGG finally found.
Green called Hannan “vocal” and said he liked that he talked a lot. Whatever works to hopefully get Green to reach his potential is fine by me. Coach Boudreau paired Green with Hannan when Jeff Schultz went out with injury and has kept them paired even though Schultz is back. I’ve always thought Green could benefit from the wisdom of a veteran defenseman that has a Stanley Cup ring. The question remains though…will Green play like it in April?
The blue line pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. The rookie pairing that played together last year in Hershey keeps improving with every NHL game they play. They both still make rookie mistakes, but that’s to be expected and they have plenty of time to tighten up their mistakes before April. This pair shut down Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic and they have great chemistry together. Alzner plays a solid positional game, which allows Carlson the freedom to roam a little more and chip in on offense.
The role players and Hershey Boys. Guys like Matt Hendricks, David Steckel and Matt Bradley work their tails off game in and game out. Steckel is killer in the dot with a faceoff win percentage of 63.4%. Hendricks brings it to every game and wins the little battles. The Hershey call ups Matthieu Perreault and Jay Beagle both brought much needed energy and goal scoring during the last month since they were called up. Beagle’s smile upon netting his first NHL goal, the game winner, against New Jersey lit up the rink. Perreault started out his recent call up with two goals against Toronto on Dec 6th during the horrid losing streak and has made it hard to say he doesn’t belong in the NHL since then.
The not so bright spots:
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The sniper and playmaker offensive threats for the Caps have been more like offensive gnats this season, easily swatted aside by everyone they play. Ovie clearly needs help in figuring out how to keep scoring with three players hanging on him and shutting down his normal scoring lanes. According to Tarek El-Bashir’s column today the coaches are giving Ovie advice, but he has yet to embrace it. Please work on it Ovie and find your joy in the game again. I miss watching you jump into the glass after scoring a beautiful goal.
Backstrom just needs to wake up. I have no doubt the fact that both are struggling is hurting both of them, but they have to turn it around if the Caps are to have any hope in the playoffs. I’d like to see Coach Boudreau hold them both more accountable by making them attend optional practices. Practices shouldn’t be an option for the stars if they aren’t producing.
Alexander Semin. Semin hasn’t scored since November 28th starting one of his disappearing acts that are familiar to anyone that has watched him since he’s been in the league. Maybe playing against Tampa Bay tonight where he recorded his last two hat tricks will bring him alive.
The power play. It’s ugly, even though they netted one in the Winter Classic. At the end of last season, the Caps had the number one power play in the NHL with 25.2% effectiveness. This season they rank 12th with an 18.9% effectiveness. There’s a reason many Caps fan call the power play the power kill and want their team to be able to decline penalties and it’s because they’re downright horrible with the extra man. Ovie on the point is ineffective and, at times, the Caps looks like they’re playing the penalty kill by losing the puck so often to their opponents.
Tonight starts four games for the Caps against their Southeast Division rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Tampa Bay and the Caps are tied for the division lead right now so now is the time to bring it on boys and gain some points in the division.
Let’s go Caps!
Labels: NHL, Washington Capitals