Caps European trio hurt most by style change
As I watched the Washington Capitals process of transforming themselves from an aggressive offense first approach to a team that plays a more balanced game I've noticed the European superstars numbers drop like an anvil on a feather bed.

The fact is Bruce Boudreau rode Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin to success, accolades, awards and division titles. What became apparent to those who know playoff hockey is the Caps could not win the Stanley Cup playing that way. A lot of people are down on Ovechkin this year because he is not in the lead for goals and points but what they do not seem to realize is Ovechkin is Captain now and he has to lead this transition from offense first to balanced hockey from the front.

Lost in all the talk about Ovechkin is the fact that Nicklas Backstrom is not putting up the numbers or playing lights out hockey either. Alexander Semin started off the year like gang busters but as the Caps changed their style of play during the losing streak Semin has all but disappeared. There are two European players thriving in the new system. Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson. No shock that Perreault is producing because he played in Hershey and has more experience playing two-way hockey. The rookie Marcus Johansson is using his wheels and his hockey smarts within the scheme to create scoring chances for his line mates. Perhaps Johnasson is excelling because he does not have as many bad habits to break as his European teammates. 

So what do the big three need to do in order to get themselves back into the mix in terms of production? Each has facets of their games they need to grow. The one thing they all need to improve is how to take defense and turn it into quality offensive chances like Boston and Philly. 

Alexander Ovechkin has the benefit of an overwhelming physical component to his game. What he needs to do is add discipline and an adherence to the basics. Ovechkin needs to figure out when to unleash that big slapper, when to try to deke someone and when to go to the net with his stick down ready to make a play. As he becomes more defensively aware he will be able to use that physical ability on defense to create higher quality scoring chances for himself and his line mates.

Nicklas Backstrom is such a solid player that all he really needs to do is practice some discipline and add a more tenacity to his defensive game. Backstrom may want to get in better shape as it seems he is not skating well or at least as good as he was last season. Backstrom should watch tapes of Pavel Datsyuk if he wants someone to pattern a good two-way game around as a center.

Alexander Semin is the enigma of the trio. He has shown an ability to play defensive hockey at a high level but he has also shown a tendency to play lazy hockey and be a turnover machine. If the Caps are going to play tighter games and not take as many chances offensively Semin has to play a smarter brand of hockey and be able to pick his spots. Semin is a player that needs time and space so he would benefit most by playing the type of defense where he can create chances for himself and others on his line. Semin is also not very physical which will hurt his game as the Caps shift styles. 

The bottom line is changing from a cute hockey team to a balanced team is going to take a lot of time despite the good showing in the Winter Classic. The big three European players have the biggest transitions to make and the scary thought is a guy like Semin may not be able to change his game enough to be as productive as he was playing cute hockey. If that is the case the Caps can unload him this season while he has value for a player that can function better within the new system. 

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