Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes You Try To Change Things And It Just Doesn't Work - Other Times as Freud Said A Dream Is Just A Dream ...

Last night the Washington Capitals lost their third straight game in Newark to a New Jersey team that had hereto for been, to put it mildly, struggling. Further the Capitals did so in monumental fashion.

Let me say this though - Caps Nation, fret not, all is not lost. Let's review. By the end of the game the Capitals were playing without either of their top two defensemen and had only four blue-liners on the bench. There goal tending consisted of two young players one of whom had awakened that morning in Hershey, PA on what was to that point an extended post-injury conditioning stint. Even their vaunted forward line corps had been affected by recent injuries in that veteran top six forward Mike Knuble was also not dressed for the game - out with an injury. Welcome to November in the NHL regular season. A month where there always seems to be a few more games on the schedule than a team would like. Even if that team isn't affected by injuries by the end of November, the lack of any time to practice often becomes an issue. Often both things factor into how a team "finishes out" the month. Now I'm not making excuses and I'm certainly not going to suggest that being shutout and outplayed to 5-0 shutout losses in 2 out of 3 games isn't something that you should just shrug off. Further I'm not going to expect that it's something that can just be shrugged off. By that I mean, don't expect tonight's game in Carolina to be played in a manner that would suggest there were/are no reasons at all for those two 5-0 shutout losses.

Tonight's line-up though will no doubt look somewhat different from last night's starting line-up. According to Katie Carrera's twitter feed, the forward Capitals lines in practice today were:

Ovechkin - Backstrom - Hendricks
Fleischman - Johannson - Semin
Chimera - Gordon - Fehr
King - Steckel - Bradley

No news on who of the defense will and won't play other than that at this afternoon's practice, Brooks Laich played defense, and that Mike Green skated this afternoon while Tyler Sloan did not after both left last night's game with injuries. So my guess on the defensive parings:
Laich - Alzner
Green - Schultz
Carlson - Erskine.

I also wouldn't be totally shocked to see Holtby in net though if he's not, I'd expect to see Varlomov, vice Neuvirth between the pipes.

Was I as a fan happy with last night's play by virtually anybody on the Capitals team? No. Do I understand that after watching the Caps and Devils play each other every game over the past 5 seasons, how New Jersey, as much as anybody knows how to disrupt the rhythm of the Caps style of play? Heck, yes. Did the Devils do that as well as ever last night? Heck, yes. Did the Capitals make any meaningful adjustments to effectively counteract hat New Jersey was doing last night? Heck, no; and that includes the coaching staff from what I could see. Coach Boudreau is being quoted today as saying that Boudreau said his decision to play Ovechkin, who said he expects change when the team is playing poorly, elsewhere wasn't a demotion but an attempt to spark some offense.

"I just didn't like the way that first line was going at all," Boudreau said. "So I mean, I had to break them up. They were not working. Outside of sitting all three of them....What you're hoping for is that if they get a goal all of the sudden it might turn it around for those guys because they're struggling."

The problem I have with this statement is that it indicates that Boudreau would even consider sitting anyone, let alone all three of his team's top offensive threats. I don't really think he would or did, that said I do think the statement indicates a lack of ideas on the coaching staff's part of what they might do between periods, other than juggle the lines up a bit. My problem with that whole thought process really wasn't what happened with the Ovechkin - Johansson - Bradley line last night but rather how out of synch the Semin - Backstrom - Hendricks line looked and played from what I saw. Further I found the failure of the coaching staff to quickly notice that and make some additional adjustments, both a little baffling and frustrating. I understand why you'd try to put Hendricks up there - he was one of the few Caps who seemed to want to play hockey all out last night and kept his head in the game. However, it also looked to me like there was no chemistry between Backstrom - Ovechkin and Hendricks and that the three were frequently out of synch and out of position when they were on the ice together. Further, I know so far this season, Eric Fehr hasn't been on the same page he was last season, but if there is anyone on the Capitals roster today I think can someday grow into Mike Knuble's skates and play his style of game, it's Fehr. So why on a night when nothing was working you wouldn't try that, I don't know.

Finally, let's be honest the only 5 guys on this team who can skate with Ovechkin when he decides to skate full speed are probably: Backstron, Semin, Green, Laich, and Chimera. Johansson might get there and soon, but he's not quite there yet. Especially if you might have also been telling the whole team to simplify the game, play north-south hockey, and put as much rubber with as much traffic towards the New Jersey net as possible to break out of the shutout. No it's not time to panic or make any rash changes, neither was last night. That said I think this immensely talented Capitals team - all of them, including the coaching staff - needs to step back and buy into the idea of that when things aren't going the way they want them too, they need to simplify the game. One aspect of simplification that this coaching staff doesn't often seem to buy in to, is playing with familiar linemates, linemates who play a similar and complimentary speed. To me that generally means that the top two lines need to consist primarily of the top six forwards and the third and fourth line should consist of the remaining six (6) forwards, even when say one or two of the top six guys aren't having great nights or when one of the next six guys are having a great night. This is still a very young team and they all need to work through some bad games and figure out how to adjust things during a game to turn things around for themselves and their team. Sure these are all great athletes but this (the NHL) is Ice Hockey at the highest level it's played in the world. Anyway, nobody pays me to coach a team and it's a good thing I don't have to try and get paid enough to feed our clan by doing that. I'm just a fan who is disappointed in the quality of the play I've seen over the past three games - a fan who wonders if some, not all, not most, but some, of the blame for that isn't a bit of impatience and frustration on the part of the coaching staff.

I do know this though. All the silliness I read around the blogsphere today about how this is a referendum on whether Ovechkin is the right guy to be Captain of the Capitals or if he's a good Captain/Team Player/Team Leader is just that total silliness. Everyone needs to take a breadth and just settle in because as we saw last season - it ain't over till it's over.

Now we're on to tonight's game in Raleigh, NC. It will be interesting to see what DJ King makes of his first chance to play in a couple of weeks and what the entire Capitals line-up does tonight against a recently not totally consistent Cam Ward in goal.


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