Friday, December 10, 2010

How About Those Capitals?

Yes how about our/your/my Washington Capitals. This is what I just saw posted over at Japer's Rink ...

The Noon Number
3.8 - Caps' shooting percentage during their current four-game losing streak, down from 10.7% over the previous 26 games.

Well that says something for sure, especially when you understand that's just the number based on actual shots on goal that got through and the number looks even worse when you consider the attempts that were blocked or missed the net. There is no doubt the Capitals are slumping right now and as a fan watching a slump is nothing but painful anguish. However, I've gotta believe living through it as a coach or player has to be a lot, lot harder. The crazy thing here is that when you look at the comments, etc. on various message boards, etc. there is just so, so much total drivel in response to this. From statements that amount to crazy conclusions that these sorts of numbers and the past four games mean that Alex Ovechkin will never win a Stanley Cup to things like this all is total, unequivocal proof that Bruce Boudreau is a lousy coach, Mike Green isn't a good defenseman, etc. To me all of it - and I mean all of, also actually including this blog post - my own thoughts and words should totally be ignored by the coaches and players as they and they alone are the ones who can and must change and "fix" whatever it is that really needs fixing.

What am I talking about you justifiably ask. I'm saying that a group of professional athletes and coaches - the ones on the Washington Capitals - are a talented, driven team. They are all getting paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to play and WIN ice hockey games. I'm not sure of much but I'd bet and bet A LOT that these guys might not have the answers this second, and they really didn't seem to have the answers last night while they were playing the Florida Panthers. So what can and should be done about this? I really do not know as far as what can and should be changed, I do know that whatever changes do need to get done, they seem to me to be about being a team - using this reaction to the current issues and adversity as a reason to bond together and be a team. It's needs to be a lot, lot more about things like Ovechkin's stick salute to DJ King while King was in the box serving his five minute fighting major after Ovechkin scored in the third period of the game against Toronto on Monday night and a LOT LOT less about looking for things to blame or quick fixes and heroics by single players to "fix this". It's clear every and I mean EVERY one of these guys, including Coach Boudreau is frustrated and looking for answers. I am absolutely not going to sit here and say that people should be dodging the tough questions or not stepping up and identifying issues. I am going to say that for a team to be a team when things are going like this, everyone has to shoulder a portion of "the blame" because in the end everyone is as much a part of the problem as they are the solution. We need to recognize this is an excellent hockey team, they are playing below the level they are possible of, no issue and they need to make some adjustments to fix that.

That being said, they are not going to win all their remaining regular season games nor will they make it through all four playoff rounds without a loss or even a bad game. We fans and the management are expecting a lot from this team - rightfully, it's a very, very talented team. However that does create a pressure cooker for them at times. So here is a change that I don't think you need to be a world class athlete to make since it's really about leadership and dealing with adversity, etc. The first thing I would do if I were Bruce Boudreau is I'd stop calling out players - ANY players to the media in his post game pressers. I'd also tell the players I wasn't going to do it, but that doesn't mean I have any issue with them taking exception to their OWN performance on any given night. I'd also encourage players - win or loose - to point out and to teammates who had good games and did good things. I know, you're hearing "kumbayah" being sung in the background. I'm not saying be ridiculous or practice denial, I'm just saying at this point the emphasis needs to be you win or loose AS A TEAM. So here's some not so bland comments all of which are okay in my book and some that would be way out of bounds as well in this regard.

Fine post game comments after a loss like last nights to Atlanta:

1A: "We got frustrated after the first period and didn't stick to the game plan like we should have in the second and third periods."

2A: "Vokoun played well, we didn't make it as hard on him as we should have and the Panthers picked up on our frustrations and were able to bait us into shooting from the perimeter too much in the second and third periods."

3A: "Well, I really wouldn't fault Varley for any of the goals, I'm sure like just about every goaltender that ever lived he'd like them "all back" but tonight on at least two of the three he made the first two stops, we just didn't give him enough help and allowed the Panthers to get even more chances than the first two."

Post comments that I don't think help the situations at all - and seem to be the type of comments we are hearing these days (all be it with a lot of exaggeration and satire laced in) in reverse order:

3A: "Well we didn't loose tonight because of having a young goaltender. We just sure didn't backcheck or play defense well a lot of the times. I mean go back and look at Bernier goal, I mean, jeez, Carlson takes out Alzner who is sprawled in Varley's way and the guy gets the third whack at the puck that's right on the doorstep. I know Carlson's a rookie and he and Alzner get better every game but we just gotta do better. The forwards could have been back checking deeper and maybe ..."

2A: "Okay so we come into the locker room at the first intermission and I see them down after that late score by Florida. It's my job to build them up and I give them my usual good words on that that should work. However, they don't go do it. I mean hey Ovechkin isn't scoring much lately, even Semin hasn't scored in a while, Backstrom where'd he go? Knuble almost nothing all year. Heck you'd think Green would take advantage of things lately - heck he loves to score and instead he goes out there and throws his body around. Don't look at me on this one guys, talk to those guys, why they can't find the back of the net and don't keep driving it and revert to perimeter shots on a guy like Vokoun is beyond me."

1A: "So last game we get that great "I'm back in the bigs effort from MattyP and you know we don't win. This game we let these guys put one in on a third whack at the puck with seconds left in the first period, then we let them put one in on a third whack at the puck about halfway through the second period, then we give them a power play with just under 2:30 left in the game to kill any momentum we might have AND we let them score the third goal of the game. First period was fine, Vokoun frustrated us but we stuck with the game plan. Last two periods - you know that scene from that "Replacements" movie that Keneau Reeves is in and that speech about "quicksand" well s#&t next time we have an intermission right after a late goal forget about the whole coach is happy pep talk, forget about showing video and you know maybe actually coaching, forget about talking to Ovechkin about maybe trying moving things around and giving him some time on the off wing, forget about pointing out that the real issue is we didn't score when we had man advantages and people got to get in a guy like Vokouns face, forget about admitting to the team that putting MP85 on the first power play unit might not have been my best idea of the season and taking my share of the heat/blame - I'm gonna talk about freakin' BEES AND SPIDERS - yep you heard me right. It's all the best players faults because they weren't the best players tonight and they are making me and my Mercedes Benz "cup holder" commercial look really bad. I'm so pissed right now I could be Joh Tortorella..."

What changes should they make - I don't know but the coaching staff and the team need to do three things to fix this:
1) Communicate;
2) Get On the Same Page are: the issues and changes that need to be made;
3) Make the changes, stick to the revised game plan and "Just Do It>"

To do that if it were me in charge here's what I'd do if it were my call though relative to a process to address this:
1) Spend a bunch of time together looking at the video;
2) Have the Coaches tell them what they think the problems and mistakes have been - but not the changes ... yet..
3) Let the players have a players only meeting to discuss it and come up with some suggestions and hold themselves accountable for some of this.
4) Concurrently brainstorm with ALL the coaching staff and make some changes - also setup a lineup that we will stick with for at least the next 5 games no matter what except if somebody goes sick or injured.
5) Get back together with the Team present the plan and then if we agree with any of their comments/suggestions tweak the plan and lineup that will be used for the next five games.

Put in place two inviolate rules for the next five games and post-game comments to the press and fans:
1) Stick to the Plan - Keep executing the plan and approach the coach's call for whether it's relative to shift length, distance from the net for shots, etc. - Just Do It.
2) Stick Together - everyone, - No more negative waves, just like oddball says in Kelly's Heroes. No more calling anybody out before or after or between games. Do whatever it takes to bring this team together both on the ice and off it so they play more team focused hockey - every minute of every game.

Then, I'm pretty sure when we say "How about those Capitals?" I think we'll be doing so "in a good way."

LETS GO CAPS!!! AND Don't forget to post at least five write in votes every day for Alexander Semin on your All Star Ballots.

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