Patience is a Virtue

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, April 30, 2010 | , , | 5 comments »

I had a much longer column partially written, about practicing patience and taking to task everyone that seems so infatuated with blowing up the Caps for failing to close out Montreal after being up three games to one.

But instead of preaching, I'll give a simple history lesson.

It took Glen Sather, Wayne Gretzky, and his talented teammates four playoff seasons with the Edmonton Oilers before they won the Stanley Cup.  They then won the thing five times in seven years, including the last when the Great One had moved on.

It took Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings three playoff seasons working together, but then won the Cup three times in six seasons.

It took Al Arbour, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy five seasons together before they won their first Cup, then they went on to win four years in a row.

All had heartbreaking playoff exits before being able to drink from the Cup.

Bruce Boudreau, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been together for three playoff seasons.

History tells us we should be patient.

Of the Capitals top nine scorers this season, seven were 26 years old or younger. 

In what should be their top four defensemen next season, the oldest will be 25 years old.

Their two top goaltenders next season will both be 22 year old.

The window isn't closing.  It's barely cracked open.


From Sergei Federov's interview with Puck Daddy:
"The thing is that the team is gaining experience right now. I know that good teams with good players 10 or 15 years ago were not winning everything right away. Right now the most important thing is to leave the team and players alone, and to calmly get ready for the next season. There are no revolutions needed."


Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, April 29, 2010 | , | 4 comments »

WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin was despondant in the few moments he spoke to a circle of media that was five and six deep, with another group at least that deep not capable to get their recorders close enough to record what words were coming out of his mouth.

When asked how it felt to lose a series the Captials were so heavily favored in, he replied, “I think we are all disappointed, but you know I really have nothing to say right now.”

He pretty much repeated that phrase, 'I have nothing to say right now," several times.  It wasn't that the captain was avoiding answering the questions, but that he couldn't find words to aptly describe what he felt.

That was a common theme throughout the room.  "We had high expectations this year and I really don’t have much to say about it," Matt Bradley said.  "We didn’t get the job done and it’s very disappointing."
There are a lot of people in D.C. right now that feel much the same way.

The Montreal Canadiens played a perfect game and defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, ending the season of the President's Trophy winners.

Much will be said, incorrectly, about how Ovechkin couldn't will his team to victory.

Much will be said about how an "offense-first" team couldn't finish off the eighth seed in the conference after they got out to a three games to one lead in the series.

Much will be said about the poor play from Mike Green, the inability of Alexander Semin to score despite so many shots, and the invisibility of Tomas Fleischmann.

Much will be said about a goaltender interference call against Mike Knuble that washed out what should have been the Caps' first goal of the night.

Much will be, and should be, said about the Capitals inability to score with a man-advantage in the series.

And much will be said about Jaroslav Halak, a goaltender that simply isn't as good as how he played the last three games.

But for one game, what should be said is that the Montreal Canadiens had a game plan and executed perfectly.

Montreal knew that they could not let the Caps stretch their legs, use their speed, get into a track meet.

They packed their zone with all five skaters, dedicated to doing anything they could to keep the puck from reaching their goaltender.

Yes, the Capitals got 42 shots on goal.  But the Canadiens also blocked an ungodly 41 shots.  The shots that did get through were either turned away of gobbled up by Halak, who played outside of his ability in the last three games of this series.

Montreal Coach Jacques Martin commented on his team's "buying in" to his philosophy.  "I think it's a commitment by the players.  I think they know at this time of year you've got to do everything in your power to win games."

Jason Chimera probably said it best in the room after the game. "Look at the last two games; were they out of their end? I don’t think so. They just scored on their opportunities, but they never got out of their own zone. They played in their own zone the whole time."

Pack the defense in tight.  Muck up the neutral zone.  Counter-punch.  Take advantage on the power play.  It's a script that hockey teams have been using since they organized the game.

Montreal played it perfectly.

The Caps, unfortunately, did not.  Or could not.

Defense didn't do this team in in this series.  Neither did goaltending.  The Caps gave up seven goals in the last three games.  You hold a team to 2.33 goals per game, you should win one of them.

But the Caps did not.  The strength of this team is scoring goals.  And in Game Seven, like the two that preceeded it, Washington could not solve what the Canadiens threw at them.

"Maybe we didn’t work hard enough," Nicklas Backstrom said quietly. "We were scoring a thousand goals in the regular season and we can’t even score in the playoffs. That’s kind of not acceptable for our team and for us."

When asked if the lack of scoring from the power play was what ultimately did the Caps in against Montreal, Backstrom responded with one word:  "Yes."

The post-mortem for Game Seven belongs to Coach Bruce Boudreau.

"There wasn’t much I could tell them,” Boudreau said. “I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year.  I would have bet my house that they wouldn't have beaten us three games in a row, and that we would  have only scored three goals in almost 140 shots."

"I told them there was no sense in me saying anything right now because we all feel as low as we can possibly feel."


Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, April 28, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

It's not about superstitions.  It's not about beards.  It's not about ghosts, or history, or streaks and slumps.

It's about hockey.  It's about skill.  It's about desire and drive and determination and dedication.

It's about effort.

It's about time.

Rock the Red.

I have a friend, who is not a big hockey fan, who has a saying about playoff hockey:  "Hot Goalie Wins.  Period."

It's not a particularly nuanced or sophisiticated outlook on the game, but one could surmise from last night's statistics that is exactly what happened.

Hot Goalie Wins.

Jaroslav Halak made 53 saves on 54 shots last night in defeating the Capitals 4-1, sending this series to a previously unthought of seventh game.

By all accounts, Halak played a hell of a game.  Veteran Montreal scribe Red Fisher told Mike Wise of the Post, "That's the best goaltending I've seen next to Patrick Roy against the Rangers in overtime [in 1986]".

A review of the shot chart, though, shows that the bulk of Washington's shots came from above the circles.  And while they might have been shots on goal, they certainly wouldn't qualify as scoring chances.

Sure, sometimes a floater from the blue line, such as Joe Corvo's Game One goal, will get through a screen and go in.  More often than not, though, those long range shots only serve to bolster the confidence of a net-minder.

If fact, the shot charts for Games Five and Six look an awful lot alike.  And if you look at the series--excluding the empty net goals of Game Four, the Caps have scored a grand total of three goals from past the top of the circles.

So credit where it's due, but it doesn't tell the entire story.

Halak's opposite number, Semyon Varlamov, hardly distiguished himself last night.  Just nine minutes into the game the Caps were down two goals.

The young goalie only faced 22 shots, and allowed three past him, including Maxim Lapierre's first career playoff goal early in the third period, further deepening the hole the Caps had to dig out of.

For what seems like the millionth time in this series, the Caps defenseman covering Lapierre (this time, Shaone Morrisonn) retreated toward his own goal instead of challenging the shooter, and Lapierre, who had a grand total of seven goals all season (and was minus-14), fired the puck past Varlamov.

It was a routine, run-of-the-mill, not-screened slap shot from the right wing circle that Varlamov just whiffed on with his catching glove.  That's a save that has to be made.

Goaltending is not the only problem the Caps have.  The vaunted power play went 0-for-6, and is now 1-for-30 in this series.  The Caps had a five-on-three late in the first, down 2-0, and did not even register a shot on goal in 1:15 with the two-man advantage.

Montreal blocked 23 shot attempts, further adding to the mounting frustration of the Capitals goal scorers.

In sum:  Hot Goalie Won, but the Caps didn't help themselves.

Thus, we move on to another agonizing Game Seven.

Capitals fans across the blogosphere, in message boards and in the twitterverse are besides themselves.  Some are taking the fatalistic view, some are downright angry and vindictive, some in downright panic, relying on superstitions, and some retain a postitive, "We can do it," attititude.  But the last group is the smallest in number.

The way the Caps have played the last two games, when advancing was all but a given, give no one--including themselves--any confidence heading into the elimination game.

The Washington Capitals have one more game to prove that the President's Trophy, and all the post-season award nominations, and regular season highlight reel goals mean something.  A loss Wednesday, at home, to the eighth seed, will only reinforce the opinions of outsiders and naysayers about this team.

If the Caps can't find the will to win Game Seven, maybe the critics have merit.


Here are some stats for you to either embrace or stew about:

In Game Seven playoff history, the home team has won 62% off the time.

A No. 1 seed has never blown a 3-1 series lead to a No. 8 seed since the NHL adopted the current playoff oformat.

Every one of Bruce Boudreau's playoff series have gone to seven games.  His record is 1-2.