First playoffs loss to NY Rangers and here we go, we've got a first critical revision of Bruce Boudreau's defensive system. It is a very good read, by the way, and unlike most of the articles it gives us something to talk about and argue. I wish I could discover this blog earlier.
By Steven Ovadia, "Puck Update", Apr. 18, 2011, "Washington Capitals Need Ovechkin to Find Offense in Transition":
Much has been made of Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau’s sudden conversion into the Church of Defensive Hockey.
When the Capitals struggled during the regular season, Boudreau moved the team into a more defensive system and found consistency and success. And Boudreau hasn’t looked back, maintaining a defensive posture into the playoffs.
So far it’s paid off, as Washington is up two games to one over the New York Rangers. But is Boudreau’s new defensive system sustainable?
So let's follow the article and discuss.
- Playing Boudreau’s system, Ovechkin has looked like a solid two-way player, but not an NHL superstar. It’s because Boudreau’s defensive system is overly simply and without nuance.
Ovechkin is not the same as he used to be, but it is not because of Boudreau's system. It is clear now that some big mistakes were made by Alex Ovechkin in pre-season. He lost his personal trainer who used to follow him an entire season and throughout playoffs, and he didn't get an adequate replacement.
You can say, what about Caps fitness trainer? I don't want to be negative, but the fact is that a lot of Caps players have struggled with injuries, too many got injured. Semyon Varlamov came to DC in early August to work with him and had the worst season injury-wise. That is not very encouraging.
Now back to Ovi. For the most part Alex looks like a fish out of the water, he is even using oxygen. He does not look like a guy he used to be, a guy who could stay on ice forever. Why is he still a superstar? Because superstars can adjust and this is what Ovi does. He now scores "ugly goals", he is more discipline on line changes because he knows his limitations and this is what great players do, they adjust.
Can Alex Ovechkin get in a better shape even after his down the drain pre-season training? Yes, he can and he will, but first the team needs to pass through the first round.
As of defensive system, I am not an expert, but isn't it supposed to be simple? Yes, like we said before, Boudreau has never coached a trap team; he never played a trap himself as a player. So yeah, these are some uncharted waters for our Coach.
- What’s the point of having one of the NHL’s best players if you’re not going to give him opportunities to showcase his talent? Why play things so safe that Ovechkin’s talent is completely obviated? The answer is simple, to win the Stanley Cup. But in a regular season I would let players to showcase their talent. Like we said before, let them play some games at home run 'n' gun style and lock it when on the road. This is, by the way, what great Victor Tikhonov did with CSKA and Russian national team.
- Boudreau’s defensive system has no transition component. When opponents turnover the puck, play stops while the puck is protected and everyone re-sets. In essence, every time the Capitals have a chance to create an odd-man rush, they give their opponent time to get back.
Yes, quick transition is the key nowadays because virtually every serious Stanley Cup contender plays some kind of trap. Playing trap means scoring on a counter attack, on a quick transition. Are Caps really bad in that category? No, don't think so. And a good example was playing against Penguins in the Winter classic game. That was after Caps have adopted a new system. Pens are one of the best quick transition teams in the league and I was really impressed how Caps actually beat them in that category. So I disagree, when Caps are on the roll, they are second to none in transition from defense to offense.
NJ Devils at their prime scored a ton of goals where just one forward would have an odd-man rush and score on a slapshot crossing the blue line. This is where the fast accelerating skaters should play a bigger role, players like Marcus Johansson or Alex Ovechkin. Use their fast accelerating abilities, let them stay up close to a blue line to create odd-man rushes. There's always a room for improvement that why we all should agree on the next statement.
- If Boudreau wants his Capitals to succeed in the playoffs, he needs to take his coaching to a higher level.
No argument here, it starts with the Coach. The game was lost to Rangers because players took undisciplined penalties, because Rangers were more desperate. In these situations coaching stuff didn't make it clear to players, didn't motivate them enough, or the players didn't listen, which is the same.
Now there's plenty of time to change all that before Wednesday, but Caps can't afford to lose another game as a learning experience. They've had it last year when the team lead the series 3:1 and was eliminated.
History teaches us that it teaches us nothing. We all hope it won’t be the case this year.
Game 4 is a "must win" for Caps, make no mistake about it.