Regarding Boudreau’s job security

I wouldn’t go as far to say that Washington is in panic mode just yet.  But the Capitals’ faithful certainly have one leg dangling over the cliff.  The recent play displayed by the Caps has been an absolute disgrace.  They are lacking heart, passion, killer instinct, discipline, you name it.  They haven’t played a full 60 minute game since the Winter Classic, which was over a month ago.  During the eight game losing streak, there was a small piece of the fan base calling for Boudreau’s dismissal.  That tone seemed to diminish when the Caps were able to put together a few wins in a row.  But the ship is still slowing sinking.

 In my opinion the Capitals are still hung-over from the eight game losing streak they endured in the month of December.  Prior to the losing streak, the Capitals were averaging 3.42 goals per game.  Since the streak, the Capitals are averaging 2.00 goals per game.  During the streak itself, the Caps averaged just 1.62 goals per game.  I don’t care which team you are; if you average 1.62 goals per game for any significant amount of time, you aren’t going to win many games.  Since starting the season 18-6-2, having a power play percentage at 24.6%, the Capitals just haven’t been the same.  Sure, the expectations were high coming into the year; but with the skill level this team possesses, this mediocre play is quite the head scratcher.  Injuries certainly have played a role in the recent struggles.  The Capitals are missing a 40 goal man in Alex Semin, a 20 goal scorer from a season ago in Eric Fehr, and the team’s 2nd best puck moving defenseman in Tom Poti.  Obviously offensive output would be affected.

 So once again the rumblings of a coaching change are in the air.  I can’t help but ask why?

 For starters, using the John Stevens and Michel Therrien situations and applying them to the current Caps’ scenario is foolish.  Nobody should argue that if it worked for the Flyers and Penguins, it would work for the Capitals.  Each organization and the circumstances surrounding the teams are different.  I would be more than happy to wager the Caps’ success this season on a coach who has won 50+ games the last two seasons, resurrected the team from the hands of Glen Hanlon, and is by all accounts “liked” by the player as opposed to a knee-jerk midseason move that is based on speculation and assumptions.  Anybody advocating this line of reasoning should be shunned from this point forward.

 The primary area of concern is the offensive struggles facing the Caps.  I mentioned the injuries that certainly play a role.  The power play has been an embarrassment.  Practically the same team that finished number one in the league in power play effectiveness a season ago is now in the bottom half of the league; 18th to be precise.  It is really beyond the realms of logic that a team with this much talent could be so poor with the man advantage.  A recent 1-28 clip on the power play was…..well it’s not worth describing. 

So the Boudreau haters point to his failure to adapt to changing defensive schemes, the persistent love-affair the Caps’ star players have with scoring the highlight reel goals instead of the ugly goals.  This is all Boudreau’s fault right?  As if he is on the ice preaching this method of hockey.  Apparently there is no such thing as player responsibility.  What I find even more curious is what these people DO NOT give Boudreau credit for. 

Take a step back one year.  A season ago the Capitals could score at will.  All well and good until you get to the playoffs and the stark reality sets in that games in the playoffs aren’t won 6-5.  The playoffs are different beast; a beast the Capitals weren’t ready for.  A season ago, the Caps couldn’t stop anybody.  Their penalty kill was horrendous (25th in the NHL) and they were giving up 2.77 goals per game.  Skip ahead to this year, and you’d think you were watching a completely different team.  The Caps now have the 2nd best penalty kill in the NHL and are ranked 7th in total defense.  Why isn’t anybody giving Boudreau credit? The same people who complained that Boudreau wasn’t able to implement a defensive scheme are now silent in giving him praise for giving them exactly what they asked for.  Tough crowd. 

 Although the Caps offense has gone into winter hibernation, Boudreau has increased the likelihood of success in the post season.  An offensive juggernaut will get you to the postseason, but a stingy defense mixed with timely goaltending will win a Stanley Cup.  Are you sure you want to get rid of the coach, who in the long run has put the Caps in a better position to be successful?  I would argue, No.

 If you look at the big picture, that picture being this season’s playoffs, the Capitals are in a better position then they were a season ago.  Obviously I’m not referring to their standing in the Eastern Conference, but instead their likelihood of being successful.  But as the losses pile up, Boudreau’s leash does get shorter.  Boudreau’s sentence should not be handed down while the Caps are in the middle of a division race, a division they can still win.  Realize that if the Caps do catch the Lightning, they are guaranteed a top-3 seed in postseason.  But if things begin to spiral out of control, there will be changes in Washington.  The Caps are in real danger of finishing in the bottom half of the postseason qualifiers.  Finishing as a 5th seed is a real possibility.  With that likely comes a date with the Penguins.  Another first round loss will mean the end of Boudreau’s tenure in Washington.  This franchise, which has been marketed as a Cup contender for the last two-plus seasons must live up to the expectation they themselves have set.  Postseason disappointment is an all too common theme.  It is my belief that Boudreau will not survive another early playoff exit. 

 But let’s not rush to judgment to quickly.  The Capitals have hit a rut, no doubt.  Let’s see what happens when the team is healthy again.  It’s time for the players to start calling each other out.  I will criticize Boudreau for his use of excuses loss after loss.  Boudreau needs to light a fire in the locker room.  If it requires him to start calling guys out, then so be it.  The recent CBC/NHL player poll showed that Boudreau was rated “the easiest” coach to play for.  This is not a good thing.  Playing in the NHL shouldn’t be a cake walk.

 The bottom line is that the Capitals still have time to turn this around.  They still sit in the top-8 and are within striking distance of the Lightning to win their third straight division title.  Boudreau deserves credit for putting this team in a position to win every night.  He deserves some criticism as well, but is bringing in a different guy really the answer?  No coach will be able to free up these players any more than Boudreau’s system has.  Who would his replacement be?  Would promoting a current assistant really change things?  They have all bought into Boudreau’s system so the change would be negligible.  Boudreau has built this team and should be given the opportunity to see this season to its end.

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About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.

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  1. Fred Poulin says:

    I watched the game yesterday and the Caps played a crappy home game. The lacked motivation, passion and grit as soon as they took a 2-0 lead. The Caps are not built to play a defensive game and the players hate it… Backstrom hasn’t scored in what? 20 games? Maybe that’s because he’s concentrating too much on defense…

    Playing defense is one thing, but making the playoffs is another one!

    • I agree that the personnel may not be the best suited for playing a defensive style, but the results don’t seem to support that. They are top 10 in GAA, which is a huge improvement from a season ago. And yes, a crappy home game. This has been the trend for the past month and a half. They can’t seem to put a full 60 minutes together with any regularity. That is one thing I blame Boudreau for. He has to do a better job of getting the guys ready to play. They are dead last in the NHL in first period goals. That’s on the coach.

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  3. Mike says:

    Defensive hockey is good and all but if you have personnel making bone-headed pinches and rookie mistakes, it doesn’t matter how good your overall defense is. They need to be able to score more than 2 goals because the Cap’s defensemen make at least 2 egregious plays every game even if they ARE 7th in total defense. Most of the reason we are 7th is because of goaltending.

  4. Alex says:

    All this talk about where the Caps rank in PK%, PP%, etc. doesn’t mean anything. The only stat that truly matters is wins. Last year, when the Caps were rolling over everyone in the regular season, I didn’t care that they weren’t killing penalties well. I didn’t care that they won some games 6-5 or 7-4. I cared that they won. And winning is what gets you into the playoffs; whether you win 1-0 or 12-11, you still get the two points in the standings for the win. There’s no NHL rule that you don’t qualify for the playoffs if your PK% or PP% is too low. You win enough games – any way you can – and you qualify. If you win 4 games in a playoff series, you move on, regardless of whether you win each game by 1 goal or by 8. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is winning, and the Caps aren’t doing that now.
    So stop analyzing stats down to the minutest percentages and look at the big picture – the Caps aren’t scoring. That’s what killed them in the Montreal series, not defense. They lost the last three games in that series 2-1, 4-1 and 2-1. That screams offense is the problem, not defense. Why they scrapped all that for this stupid defensive scheme is beyond me. It needs to end.

  5. Roderick says:

    Honestly why does everyone fail to miss the most obvious issue. Last year the defense did not let the team down in the playoffs against Montreal, the offense did and it has basically been broken since then.

    ” If you look at the big picture, that picture being this season’s playoffs, the Capitals are in a better position then they were a season ago. ”

    Not unless they find a way to score. There defense was good in the Montreal series, their scoring and most specifically the PP let them down.

    “The primary area of concern is the offensive struggles facing the Caps. I mentioned the injuries that certainly play a role. The power play has been an embarrassment. Practically the same team that finished number one in the league in power play effectiveness a season ago is now in the bottom half of the league.”

    The PP broke in last years playoffs and has not been addressed. If you are looking for a reason to replace a coach or an assistant coach right there you have a big one.

  6. Monty says:

    I don’t quite understand why the Caps can’t play two styles depending on the circumstances. You often see teams play one way – more offensive-oriented – in the first two periods or so to establish the lead, and then once the third period begins, transform into a defensive mode, with only one forward down low in the offensive zone and other strategies to protect the lead. The problem with the Caps last year is that they played run ‘n gun the whole game, even if they were up 5-2 going into the third period and the final score would be 6-4 with an empty netter. With this defensive style, the Caps rarely have a lead, and usually not a significant one come the third period. I think they need to jump on teams like they did much of last year, but unlike last year, if they have a two-goals or more lead in the second half of the game, revert to the defensive style they are currently using throughout the game.

    Now some may say that a team can’t do that. But why not? I recall in the 1992 or 1993 playoffs, the Caps (with Dino) were scoring 6 or 7 goals a game on the Pens and leading 3-1. And then the Pens, despite having Mario, Francis, Stevens, Coffey, etc., changed their strategy for the final three games and went into a defensive shell, and I believe won the last three games 3-1, 2-1 and 3-0.

    The Caps act like it is rocket science to change in-game or game-to-game schemes, but other teams can do it effortlessly in the middle of games.

  7. Todd says:

    Wouldn’t this be Washington’s 4th Southeast division championship in a row??

  8. Rob says:

    The Montreal formula for stifling the Caps offense has been copied all over the league. After the Caps put up two six-spots within two weeks against Tampa Bay in November (I was at both games), opponents started using the neutral zone trap and using their top defensive pair at all times against the Caps #1 line. The result has been the 1.62 goals per game since Dec. 1st. Teams have figured out Boudreau’s PP scheme and offensive system & he’s been unable to adjust. A veteran coach like Hitchcock or Stevens would have lit a fire under the team, changed things up on offense, and held the star players accountable for their poor play. Unfortunately, I think the season is lost as neither McPhee or Leonsis has the stomach to fire Boudreau when they know the Verizon Center will sell out the rest of the season and the team will make the playoffs….the big changes are coming in the offseason.