Baltimore is blessed with a bunch of talented sports bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. I often link up to these local writers in my morning Coffee Companion posts, but instead of just exchanging anti-social links with them, I have decided to be slightly less anti-social by exchanging emails with them in a somewhat regular feature called Blogger on Blogger.
On the heels of the
MV: So what went wrong for the Capitals this time around?
IO: After swiftly beating the
When the first game of their semifinals series finally started, the Capitals struggled to find the same rhythm they had in the first round. The offense stayed to the perimeter -- unwilling to pay the same price for goals as they did against New York -- and had problems hitting the net or getting shots through. When they actually did, 41-year-old goaltender
The series could have been different if the Capitals could have won Game 2 at home or Game 3 in Tampa. Instead, they made crucial mistakes unbefitting of a championship team and lost. During overtime in Game 2, Capitals defenseman
It's important to remember that the Caps finished only four standings points (which amounts to basically two wins) above the Lightning during the regular season. Tampa Bay rarely strayed from their 1-3-1 trap and played well for [coach] Guy Boucher all year. They are a good team, too. Washington also struggled with injury throughout the series --
MV: Have you seen Backstrom and Semin anywhere, or should we file a missing person's report?
NG: I saw Backstrom create more than 25 scoring chances since March 22 without scoring a goal, so I know he was on the ice. When they had the exit interviews [Wednesday] and the media said that the Super Swede wasn't injured, I was not all that surprised: [coach Bruce] Boudreau relied on him pretty heavily to take defensive zone draws since David Steckel was traded and wouldn't have if he knew of an injury. At least I don't think. Backstrom and Ovechkin were used very differently than they were in years past, and I wasn't surprised to see a downturn in production. I was only surprised by how long the slump lasted.
Semin, compared to last season, had a decent playoffs: four goals and two assists in nine games after going zero for 44 [shots] against Montreal last year. You need to keep expectations low with Semin: He's a purely offensive player who shows glimpses of concentration on the penalty kill while taking stick penalties in the offensive zone. Deviate from that and you'll probably be disappointed.
MV: Will another disappointing early end cost Boudreau his job, and should it cost him his job?
IO: [Wednesday] during breakdown day, George McPhee told the assembled media at Kettler Capitals IcePlex that he believed that there was no difference between a "regular season coach" and a "postseason coach," and stated that he would like to see Bruce back next year. Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog as well that he would like a few days before making any big decisions for next year. For all intents and purpose, Bruce will be back.
We covered this on RMNB Wednesday night, but we are of the belief that Bruce Boudreau was not at fault for the Capitals wilting in the playoffs; it was the players. [Editor's note: Here's an except:]
"Well, the regular season is not an 82-game preseason," we wrote. "October to March are not a preamble. The regular season is where habits are formed -- habits that echo through the postseason. For Tampa Bay that means a focused system, strictly executed with tons of speed. The Lightning players follow orders like soldiers. The Capitals don't have soldiers. Not enough anyway. Instead they have divas: players who only care when they have to and do so only on their own terms. The regular season saw players sleepwalking through games, perhaps even literally. We saw some players vacillate between disinterest and self-interest. We saw players ditching Dean Evason's and Bob Woods' systems at will. Those bad habits became a pattern, and those swift postseasons became reckonings. Case in point: Alex Ovechkin's suicide run into the Tampa Bay Lightning's trap when the dump-in hard-around was the right and authorized move. Bruce Boudreau isn't the problem in the organization, but maybe he knows what that problem is now. It's not tactics or strategy, it's attitude."
MV: The Capitals changed their overall approach midway through the season and it seemed like the transformation would result in a deeper playoff run, at least to the conference finals. But the team appeared to get back to their free-wheeling ways against the Lightning, or "river hockey" as Boudreau calls it, and got swept. Assuming Boudreau stays, what do you think the team's on-ice philosophy will be next season?
IO: I believe the Capitals will stay with the defensive system they put in place this year and expand upon it in training camp next year. I think the philosophy of the organization has changed and they feel now that it's better to finish first in goals allowed than goals scored. And frankly, more power to them. As we've seen with the Ravens in past years, defense wins championships. Very few free-wheeling teams win Stanley Cups or championships for that matter in other sports.
MV: I've read and heard fan criticism of the team's "soft players" -- and some are calling out the team's European players specifically -- saying they weren't hungry enough. In terms of personnel, will we see any radical changes to the Capitals' roster? Which players are locks to stay?
IO: I don't believe there will be any radical changes to this club over the summer, though I could certainly foresee some trades happening depending on how everything shakes up. I would actually look for the Capitals to try and solve any problems they have from within. I foresee prospects Cody Eakin, Dmitri Orlov,
In regards to the veteran players, I do not foresee rentals like Scott Hannan,
MV: Alex Ovechkin, in particular, is under fire because he wears the 'C.' Is too much being asked of him at this stage in his young career?
NG: I don't think so. Hockey captains, no matter what age, are revered. They also have a ton of responsibility heaped on them. If they score, they are leading by example. If they are overaggressive on a check into the boards and take a minor, they're just trying to energize the team. If they have a defensive miscue, they are berated because captains aren't supposed to commit errors. There is a new movement in the
MV: What are some silver linings to take away from this season despite the stomach-punching playoff exit?
NG: Despite key injuries, they made a system change that was a complete departure from a year ago, and somehow made it work. They had an eight-game losing streak, but also a nine-game winning streak. Ovechkin did the unthinkable and barely cracked 30 goals scored, but they still were the top seed in the East. [Rookie] Michael Neuvirth stood tall in net, despite most (including me) thinking [
MV: Three years ago, it seemed like the Capitals would be destined for multiple Stanley Cup titles after the excellent rebuilding job GM George McPhee did after the lockout. Now it is no longer certain. Ultimately, will this core of players led by Ovechkin lead the Capitals to a Cup?