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.
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.