"Losing the Room"

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 10, 2010 | , , , | 4 comments »

There's a lot of hang-wringing this morning in the wake of last night's embarrassing 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers, in which the Washington Capitals dominated the first period, including outshooting Florida 18-6, then turtle-ing in the third period when things didn't go their way.

Coach Bruce Boudreau called his star players out in the media afterwards, and immediately a certain segment of the fan base started crying that the sky was falling -- that Boudreau's system was no longer working, that his message wasn't getting through, that he was "losing the room."

What I find laughable this morning is people saying "losing the room" that have never been there and have very little idea what they are talking about.

I carry credentials for the Capitals. I'm in the room after almost every home game.  I've been in the room before and after practices.  There's not a single player that pulls on the red that doesn't have complete respect for Bruce Boudreau. The Caps problems right now are what has plagued them in the past: trying to do TOO MUCH.

Stars like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green aren't free-styling because they aren't invested in Boudreau's system.  It's that they are so immensely talented that they think if they play "harder" they'll have better success.  They take things into their own hands because that's what got them there in the first place.  It's how they've earned their success thus far.

Some lessons in life are just harder to learn than others. Much harder.

When they play within the system, as a team, they are much stronger than they are when they try to rely on their natural abilities and individual assets. Boudreau knows that. The players know that.  And the man that is in the biggest funk of all -- the Captain -- knows it all too well, as he told reporters last night:
"We know our strengths. When we play simple, when we do what we have to do, it works. When we play casual it doesn’t work."
This team -- and fan base -- is accustomed to winning hockey games by outscoring their opponents and being flashy doing so.  But it hasn't been that easy this season, despite the Capitals owning the league's third best record to date, tied for the second most wins and tied for fifth in goals per game.

You don't think New Jersey, Toronto or the Islanders would LOVE to have the Capitals problems?

There needs to be some realism injected into the hysteria. 

Are the Caps struggling on the ice?  Absolutely.  Four straight losses -- and just six goals in those four contests -- speak to that.  The last two games have been downright heartbreaking, losing a 4-1 third period lead to Toronto, one of the league's least talented teams, then last night's complete and utter surrender.  And make no mistake, that's what it was.

As Boudreau told reporters:
"But once it was 2-0 you could see the shoulders sagging and everything on the bench and they just didn't believe they were going to be able to come back tonight."
Are they distracted by the lights and cameras of HBO, filming their award-winning 24/7 documentary as the lead-in to New Year's Day's Winter Classic?  Perhaps.

Has the Winter Classic itself, meant to be a grand spectacle and showcase for the brightest and best talent this league has to offer, become too much of a burden for this team to carry?  It's possible.

Is their collective confidence, normally one of this team's biggest strengths, damaged and bruised right now, having lost seven of their previous 11 games.  Without a doubt.

Is the league catching up to Alex Ovechkin, realizing that with his skill he never feels the need to dump the puck into the opposite corner and go chase it down, rather than carry it across the blue line himself and try to make a play, as he has so many times in the past?  Almost certainly, as defenders crowd him at the blue line, two deep, standing him up and making him bang shot after shot into their shin pads.

Does the grind of playing an 82-game schedule, when every media member, fan and player themself are judging this season solely on success in the playoffs, seem meaningless, even if it's on a subconscious level?  It's not out of the realm of possibility. 

But is a four-game losing streak, while sitting third in the league in points and fifth overall in goals per game, the appropriate time to be calling for the coach's head?  The winningest NHL coach over the last three seasons?  The man whose system got the Caps here in the first place?  The man who every player in the room looks up to?

No.  It's not.

Fans in this market might be accustomed to the Redskins changing out coaches on a whim every other year.  Looks where that's gotten them.  Now is not the time to be contemplating a switch.  It's a four-game losing streak.  The team isn't playing particularly well.  It happens over the course of an 82-game schedule.

This isn't the NFL, where a four-game losing streak is the death of a playoff opportunity.

Maybe I'm being naive, but when the Capitals are in ninth place in the conference, looking up at the playoffs, give me a call.  Otherwise, let's let things play out.  There's too much talent here  to believe these system-wide struggles are going to go on for too much longer.

4 comments

  1. Ted // December 10, 2010 at 11:55 AM  

    Well, I want to agree with you. I do. You want me to believe we are filled with well-meaning head cases. How many games do you have to play with that excuse? When Atlanta was up on us, that young team stayed disciplined and shut us down in the third period. Toronto is the worst team and played with more discipline than us. Florida stuck to a game plan and came away strong in the last period. How many games does it take for the Caps to get some discipline? Please. The world is filled with excuses. As a season ticket holder, I need a better answer.

  2. Dave Nichols // December 10, 2010 at 12:30 PM  

    Ted, I appreciate your frustration. But it's a slump. The team had a four-game losing streak last year. The Hawks were terrible in March and won the Cup in May. These things happen over the course of a long season.

    Spending a lot of money to see a bad hockey game sucks. But they've also only lost at home four times this season. Stay the course.

    If we're still talking about this in March, then we can debate possible answers.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Darla // December 10, 2010 at 5:36 PM  

    "themself"?

    :headdesk

  4. CapsFan75 // December 11, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

    Great perspective, Dave.

    While I'll admit I'm upset and wondering what the team do, you have a good perspective.

    And, on the Black Hawks, I heard one Hawks fan dubbed losing a 4-1 lead in the third period as "Hawksitis" for the propensity to do just that.

    I also learned yesterday that several of the Caps (including 50% of their top two lines) are now sick with the flu.