Fixing the Caps: Part III

They Need a New Coach

In sweeping the Capitals just over a month ago Guy Boucher and the Tampa Bay Lightning dictated the flow of every game with their 1-3-1 scheme. Take it from promising young Caps’ forward Marcus Johansson, who recently shed light on the series loss in an interview translated by Japers’ Rink.

“Tampa got us to play exactly as they wanted.,” Johansson said. “We had to dump and chase and we failed when we tried to do that. They tightened up the game for us and they took away everything we are good at.”

Boudreau never had an answer.

Similarly, last year Jacques Martin figured out how to stop the Caps power play and how to neutralize Alex Ovechkin’s solo attack on the rush.

The Caps never adjusted to either strategy, instead insisting that they ran into a hot goalie. They ended up losing in seven games to the eighth seed. In fact, they still haven’t made any counter adjustments to Martin’s tactics, which teams all around the league caught onto last season and continue to use to stifle Ovechkin and the power play.

Boudreau never had an answer.

Sure, Boudreau helped implement a more defense-oriented system and greatly improved the penalty kill. But it was at the expense of goal scoring. What used to be the best offense in the league disturbingly dropped from 1st to 19th in goals per game with largely the same roster in place.

Much of that can be attributed to the league figuring out how to stop the power play. In 2009-10 the Caps operated at 25 percent efficiency, far and away the best power play in the league. This past season they dropped to 17 percent for 16th place. In the playoffs? They ranked 12th among 16 teams.

First, teams took away the Green’s backdoor cut move. From there they figured out that if you cut down on Green and Ovechkin’s shooting channels from the point, you essentially shut down the entire power play.

By the midpoint of this season, Ovechkin, arguably the most gifted goal scorer in 20 years, had just one power play goal on home ice. And what did Boudreau do to adjust? Nothing. He left his best scorer on the point, further from the net than any other player, instead of moving him to the half wall or in front of the net.

If the Caps had any sort of power play threat, perhaps they would have achieved far greater results in the playoffs. Instead, one of the league’s most talented units has become a non-factor, leading the team to hit the links in early May.

Tactically speaking, Boudreau has failed to do his part in giving his players the best chance to succeed. So, what does he offer at this point? Is it a winning culture? Hardly. Just look at the team’s captain as a primary example of the pervasive culture in D.C.

Ovechkin and his team have consistently displayed bad habits which have gone largely uncorrected to this day. Ovechkin selfishly spends far too much time on the ice per shift. Time and again he opts to shoot the puck from high in the zone harmlessly into a defenseman’s skates rather than establishing puck possession.

Not once has he been disciplined by his coach in the form of losing ice time, which would send a message that such behavior is unacceptable.

Time and again, Alexander Semin chooses when and where he wants to exert maximum effort. And time and again, the entire team displays an appalling lack of attention to detail throughout the regular season that catches up to them when such details can no longer be ignored in the playoffs.

Is it the players? Maybe, but as the cliché goes, you can’t fire the whole team. Any talk of getting rid of Ovechkin or Backstrom is unrealistic at best and in, all honestly, should be mocked and ridiculed. McPhee can choose to trade Green, but given his playoff struggles, injury history and value to the team, will he get anything fair in return?

Semin is the most likely candidate to go, but even he would only bring back pennies on the dollar in return given his pending free agency and his reputation for inconsistency. Besides, the Caps’ offense already struggles mightily when he’s out of the lineup or not playing well. How does losing him solve that problem?

The only realistic major change the team can make is to get start with the coach. If that doesn’t work next season, then McPhee can evaluate whether it makes sense to bring back Semin and Green since both will be up for new contracts.

The Caps are far from the only talented team to experience frustrations in achieving their potential. Tampa Bay went through similar issues last season before Guy Boucher took over and led them to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals.

Peter Laviolette took over a .500 team in Philadelphia last season and led his team to the Stanley Cup finals. Dan Bylsma took over a Penguins team that was dead in the water the season before and brought them a championship. Even in San Jose, Todd McLellan has led the Sharks to two straight conference finals after years of disappointment under Ron Wilson.

Boudreau may be a great fit on another team that already has a stronger leadership core in place and needs a jolt of offense. Perhaps the Minnesota Wild would bring him on. Right now, the Caps need to go in another direction.

Furthermore, the Caps should make this decision quickly so they don’t lose out on potential candidates, of which there are several. Red Wings Assistant Coach Paul MacLean is already interviewing with the Senators. Canadiens Assistant Kirk Muller is sure to be in demand as well.

Talented teams that underperform fire and hire head coaches all the time and in many cases it works out exceedingly well. It’s time for the Caps to take the leap and do the same.

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