Saturday, May 7, 2011

Another year, another choke

Disclaimer: I waited at least 48 hours to write this, to, well, let the emotions settle. I figure a clear head is less biased than a rage filled one. Although, mostly my rage was directed at the chain of command for the Capitals than against Tampa Bay, I was still full of rage nonetheless.

Welcome to "America's hockey capital". Washington DC. A town full of yuppies Rockin' the Red who can't tell Bondra from Kolzig.

But they fill the seats. That's all that matters. And they're going to next year, and the year after. Because hockey's "cool" in DC.

Not that the fanbase isn't good, it's just not great. How many sports bars in DC were packed with rabid fans watching the Flyers get embarrassed? I bet there were quite a few in Chicago, or New York, or Minneapolis - I could be wrong though; they may have watched the Wings game. But the point remains. The guys in DC who fill the Verizon Center and complain when your favorite blogger stands and cheers for a big hit or a great penalty kill ("because we haven't scored yet!!!!") just don't know hockey. So they don't see the problems with the team in the same light that us diehards do. Not to say that these fairweather fans don't have their place - they do and it's great that the sport we love is finally getting the attention it deserves, even if it's a watered down version [an upcoming blog post] - but they just haven't seen the sport enough to really say what's wrong with the team. Just as I couldn't tell you how to fix the Wizards, a DC native who had never heard of Jeff Halpern couldn't tell you how to fix the Capitals.

Not that I necessarily know how to fix the Capitals; I just think I'm more qualified to opine than most.

The problem comes from the top. No, not Leonsis, he's done a fine job of cultivating the team in accordance with his business model. Not necessarily McPhee either; he has drafted better in recent years and has made adequate adjustments to the roster when necessary. Boudreau is the head of the problem. While a GM constructs the roster, it is the responsibility of the coach to make it work. The head coach has more direct responsibility in the results on the ice than the GM does. And when the results are not up to par, which they clearly are not, then a change is in order.

Boudreau somewhat successfully instilled a new plan - a defensive strategy - which effectively took the second best player in the world and made him average. But this plan was met with one major obstacle. The playoffs. Pressure. When things broke down, the new plan was the first thing to go.


I'm not saying the players don't respect the coach, which I'm sure they do, but maybe they don't trust him. Or maybe they just didn't really buy in. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. The head coach was unable to motivate his players to take their game to the next level. Boudreau had the right idea of what the next level was, but he was unable to guide the team to that level.

As Leonsis said previously, coaches get fired because they lost their team. Well, was the team not lost by Boudreau when it mattered most? Did they stick to their plan against Tampa? Did the guys really ever buy in to begin with?

They started winning games again, after the embarrassing losing streak, but is that a sign of superior coaching? Or is it merely due to the fact that they were supposed to win to begin with? The roster, considering their previous successes in the regular season should have won 48 games. Hell, they should have won 54 games. They're certainly good enough, and their division is certainly poor enough to dominate. This is after all, the only division to have never sent three teams to the playoffs in the same year. Each of the other five divisions have done so prior to and after the lockout.

I just don't buy that they really bought in. Regular season success in the worst division in hockey isn't really success. It's to be expected.

Further, Boudreau seems to just not 'get it'. He watched idly as Mike Green got clobbered by a rookie shortly after returning from a concussion. After watching him get run from behind by David Koci. And after watching him get crosschecked in the mouth by Colton Orr.

But we shouldn't retaliate. We need the power plays! Without a power play quarterback, that is.

When your rookie goaltender is harassed all series long by veterans in New York, and your "best" defenseman is bullied for years, and guys can take runs at your megastar and walk away grinning, and so on, maybe it's time to change the culture of the team. Maybe the guy in charge has created a team that can really punish on the power play, but is otherwise easy to play against.

Yes, these Capitals can dazzle you with their speed and their triple axels, but they can also be knocked over by the showerhead and be given wedgies while bullies take their lunch money.

These Caps scare no one, and as a result, their players will continue to suffer preventable injuries, shortening their careers. How many hits does Mike Green have left in him before he has to sign his retirement papers with a crayon?

They play with no heart, no edge, no size. And it's the culture of the team. With Boudreau at the reins, the end is not in sight.

But I will give credit where credit is due.

Boudreau came up with a good idea. Playing defense. What an innovator! Waiting for the puck to clear the defensize zone before the mass exodus to try to create an odd-man rush. What a revolutionary!

I could go on, but you should get the point. His ideas are not new. He will still overlook the glaring problems, and be unable to fix it because he just isn't that guy. And there's nothing wrong with that. He's a good coach, but not a great one. And we need a great coach to take us to the next level.

We need Dale Hunter.

Or if he wants to stay in juniors, then we need Mike Keenan. Or Pat Quinn. Or John Tortorella, since I'm sure his days are numbered. Or someone, anyone else. A guy to come in and bring a physical game. Someone who can come in and make these big bodies actually utilize their size. Someone who understands that hockey isn't won from the point. Someone who understands that hockey is won on the boards, and in front of the net.

As a wise man once said, we need pugnacity, testosterone, truculence, and belligerence.

Pretty just ain't cutting it.

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