It’s a good thing the Summer heat in DC is finally breaking. Everyone is going crazy. It started out with media types and bloggers trying to place blame on members of the Capitals organization for the disappointment of the 2010 playoffs. An old school media member tried to be funny and stir up the rumor mill. Now, we have Damien Cox having it out with Ted Leonsis in the blogosphere and Twitterverse. Fans, players, front office staff, ownership, and the media are all frustrated with last season’s results. Last season was supposed to be “The Year” for the Washington Capitals. There will be even more pressure on the Caps this season and that is not a good thing.
Last week, the second guessing of George McPhee and the Caps’ roster moves this Summer really escalated. I could not keep up with all of the Twitter traffic. The familiar themes of, “we need a defenseman”, clashed with, “we need center depth”. Sprinkled in was some speculation around goaltending. Everyone wants to fix a first round playoff loss to the last place team in those playoffs with a single roster move. I don’t disagree that the Caps lack depth at center. I also do not disagree with the assessment that a solid shutdown defenseman would have helped Semyon Varlamov fend off the Habs. However, roster moves to bolster these positional deficiencies will not address the lack of Stanley Cup Playoffs experience and the style of play required to be successful in the playoffs.
Many have pointed to the Caps’ inability to score at the same pace in the playoffs as they did in their Presidents’ Trophy winning regular season as the reason why they lost to the Canadiens. I suggest quite the opposite. The Caps did not know how to play conservatively when they faced the white hot, Halak. In hockey, sometimes you are going to put 50+ shots on a goalie and only 1 or 2 are going to go in. You cannot let the other team score because most likely, you are not going to score. During those games, coaches and players need to recognize that they need to play a much tighter game. No adjustments were made. The finger pointing shifts to Bruce Boudreau.
Can Gabby’s emphasis on quick transition, 2 man forechecking, and offense first, win a Cup? Given the right circumstances, I think so. He was successful at lower levels of professional hockey. As mentioned already, the Caps ran head on into a brick wall named Halak. No one could score on him the way he was playing. So, why didn’t the Capitals adjust to tighten up defensively and win some 1 or 2 goal games? Well, maybe Bruce and his staff did instruct the bench to tighten up and the players did not execute. It is all speculation, I know. However, it would not be the first time professional athletes could not carry out the wishes of their coaches.
Are the players to blame then? Not entirely. There was probably some let down and fatigue from completing such a successful regular season. The Washington Capitals never really had a bad month on the path to the Presidents’ Trophy. To play at such a high level for so long, had to take it’s toll physically and mentally. That is not meant to excuse their on ice performance. As a player at that level, you shouldn’t need much in the way of motivational speeches from coaches to understand the importance of games and situations. The great teams overcome the bumps, bruises, tired legs, and tired minds. The players on those teams make personal decisions to play through pain and win, at all costs.
As the Caps prepare to start training camp this month, they do so with the same core that ended last season in such a disappointing fashion. The feeling going into this season seems much more negative. Last year, everyone looked at the Capitals second round exit to the Penguins as a sign that the organization was on the cusp of something great. That feeling carried through the regular season only to be crushed by a first round loss. This season everyone is angry. The fans are in a, “show us” state. Show us why we should believe the Caps are an elite team. Show us a Cup. At the very least, show us what the organization is doing to ensure, it doesn’t happen again.
There is 100 times more pressure on the Capitals to make that next step to elite NHL status. It will be very interesting to see how Alex Ovechkin and the Caps’ young superstars handle this pressure. However unrealistic, they will be expected to perform at the same Presidents’ Trophy winning level and make a deep playoffs run.
As the 2010-2011 campaign progresses, the second guessing will continue. GM George McPhee’s decisions this Summer will be analyzed time and time again as the team experiences successes and setbacks. Head coach Bruce Boudreau’s coaching style and systems still need to be proven in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Finally, the Capitals leaders on the ice have to prove to themselves and the rest of the world that they are elite players, capable of raising a Cup in Caps’ red.
As fans, we should all be happy we get to witness the process firsthand. We shouldn’t drive ourselves crazy about it.