Let’s be frank about this. Watching the Penguins lose Game 7 to Montreal was awesome, and I’m sure every Caps fans agrees. The Pens had similar issues as the Caps with the Habs’ defense and goaltender Jaroslav Halak. For Caps fans, this makes the disaster of the first round slightly more palpable. If nothing else, the Pens fans have to shut up for a few minutes now that their team has the suffered the same fate.
Of course, how the fans react should not be how the team reacts. With Montreal in the conference finals, it’s tempting for the team to shrug and say “We ran into a hot goalie, we’ll get ’em next year.” This would be wrong. Halak was amazing, but that doesn’t explain the power play issues, the defensive issues, and whether the Caps’ overall style of play can even work in the playoffs. The ability to score “dirty goals” are a necessity, and the roster as presently constructed can not do that. There are also concerns about the Caps attitude, particularly with their propensity to hold optional practices in big moments that the captain and other stars don’t show up for. A re-tool at the minimum is needed here.
However, there is evidence that the team brass has gone with the “hot goalie” option. While actions speak louder than words, and no action can be taken yet, the words don’t sound good. Coach Bruce Boudreau held a chat a few days ago on washingtonpost.com, and this one question can only be reacted to with a facepalm if you’re a Caps’ fan:
C’ville, Va.: Coach:
I’m a huge fan of yours, and a lifelong fan of the team. Damn, that hurt! How much, in hindsight, do you think we were victims of waiting for our regular season game to work in this year’s playoffs? It’s tempting to say a hot goaltender got us, especially in view of our territorial dominance, but scoring only one goal in three straight games has to be more than just a fluke. Likewise with a power play operating at less than 3%. To what extent does playing a team up to 7 times in a row require specific adjustments? Looking back, are there any specific things you wish you had tried or changed to get things going more against the Habs?
Bruce Boudreau: We had 140 shots on goal in the last three games against Montreal. Our players tried as hard as they could. Montreal scored eight goals in the last three games. One was an ENG, two were PPGs and we limited them to the fewest scoring chances and shots in any three-game segment that we had all year. At the same time, we averaged 45 shots on goal. Our power play went cold for the first time in the three years. We made adjustments for it every game. We just could not score. We attempted 100 shots in Game 7 – that is unprecedented. It just wasn’t meant to be.
NO! The problem, Coach, is that most of those 100 shots weren’t any good because they were 20, 30, 40 feet from the net, most of which were easily blocked or landed harmlessly on Halak’s chest. How many of those 100 shots actually required top effort from Halak? 10 tops?
Also, “the power play went cold?” How about the power play had no creativity and a bunch of guys afraid to shoot and crash the net?
We’ll see what the Capitals do in the offseason, but if their words are any indication, the team will be going down the same road next year.