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Washington Capitals post mortem 2012-2013
By: Turner Sports Desk
I wanted to wait until the pain of going out early again wore off before I wrote my post mortem on the Washington Capitals. I also wanted to hear what the official "Party line" would be from both the organization and those paid by the organization to be subject mater experts.
What I heard from Capitals General Manager, George McPhee and other Capitals paid representatives is basically that they need to follow a Boston like plan and stay the course. They cited Boston as a model of franchise consistency and success as the model to follow with the Washington Capitals. I am ok with this theory but I would like to point out glaring differences.
Other than Chara, Boston has no superstar players
Boston's team is tougher than a two dollar steak while the Caps.....ummm....not so much. This attribute does not come with time. You are either a tough team or you are not.
Unlike the Caps, Boston's entire team has bought into their system and plays smart, tough and aggressive North American hockey. The Caps top line was completely out of sync with the rest of the team and combat ineffective when it mattered most.
Unfortunately the Caps best players (Ovechkin and Backstrom) have an issue with North American hockey because they simply refuse to play it. We all watched as they rushed up and down the ice trying to beat the goalie clean with perimeter shots. The Rangers were more than happy to let them shoot themselves right out of the playoffs with perimeter shots. They refuse to adapt their game, yet they wonder why they keep getting booted from the playoffs early. By Contrast the Caps third line put on a clinic on how to play in the playoffs led by little Matthieu Perreault. Matty P attacked the Rangers at every opportunity by taking his little frame to the net which opened up space for his linemates and kept the Rangers on the defensive. Stevie Wonder could see the difference between the third line's play versus the first line's complete disappearance after games one and two.
So what do the Caps do moving forward? Adam Oates and George McPhee must figure out a way to convince two of his best players to adjust their games to North America. There are plenty of European superstars that have made successful transitions like Fedorov, Zetterberg, Kovalchuk, Hossa etc. so why is it so hard for Ovechkin and Backstrom to adapt their games? Probably because they are still confusing regular season success with the playoffs. If they refuse to get with the program the Caps will continue to be a 1st or 2nd round exit of a team. As you watch the teams playing in the conference finals objectively I cannot see the Caps on the same level as any of them.
So what happens if Ovechkin and Backstrom refuse to adapt their games? More of the same unfortunately.
The Caps are paying Ovechkin as the franchise leader who will do any and everything to get the Caps a Stanley Cup but thus far the only things he has proven to excel at is scoring goals and big hits. While those things are fantastic where is the growth in his game? Why is he not much better defensively? No one expects him to earn a Selke Trophy but we should expect him not to be a defensive liability. Nicklas Backstrom should also face heavy scrutiny because as the top line center he is the heartbeat of the team in the Oates system. His play in both ends of the ice sets the tempo for everyone else. If he is playing Euro-hockey with Ovechkin then he is part of the problem. Nicky has little excuse because his coach happens to be one of the best two-way centers in the history of the game. Oates has forgotten more about NHL hockey than Ovi and Nicky know combined so it makes zero sense that these two were completely shut down in the playoffs.
Don't get me wrong..the Caps have a lot of problems besides Ovechkin and Backstrom but if the Caps want to earn a Stanley Cup they need their best players to perform in the playoffs. If you want to take a lesson from Boston it is that teams outperform individuals in the playoffs. Look at what the Boston team is doing to Sidney Crosby and all that talent in Pittsburgh. Boston is successful because everyone is buying in. If the ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup and not just making money then no one is off limits. Teams win Cups not individuals so your best players have to be willing and able to play the system/style that the team is playing. The Caps have the right coach but it remains to be seen if they truly have the right players.
Next season the Caps will be in a much tougher division so they will not have the "Southleast" division to beat up on any longer. Just making the playoffs will be a much harder proposition from now on. Staying the course is not the smartest play.
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