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F Street Perspective: Strategy

Earlier this week, Bruce Boudreau celebrated his 4-year anniversary as bench boss for the Washington Capitals.  Nobody can doubt the amazing work he has done in those 4 years.  He took a team that had not made the playoffs in 4 years and turned them into a perennial contender almost immediately.  He is generally given the majority of the credit from taking the Caps from last in the East to a division title.  The team gradually improved over the next few seasons, culminating in a monster 2009-2010 season that saw the Caps notch 54 wins while tallying over 300 goals.  The following year, despite leading the East again, was a step back as they struggled a bit in implementing Bruce’s new hybrid defense.

This year, we watched the Capitals catch fire out of the gate as they opened with a 7-0-0 record.  Since that time, the Capitals have gone a measly 5-9-1, including a 4-game losing streak.  Over this 15-game stretch, we have been forced to hear such words as “accountability” and “perseverance.”  We have seen Semin benched for penalties, Ward for oversleeping, and various other benched for 3rd periods of games.  I firmly do believe that Bruce will not stop benching people until the Caps hit their stride.  Unfortunately, I do not see this happening under Bruce’s current system.

For a minute let’s look away from hockey.  Instead consider the Denver Broncos.  They started the season with Kyle Orton as quarterback .  After a poor start to the season, they switched to Tim Tebow, despite the fact that Tebow lacked many of the skills that comprise a high-quality quarterback.  Instead of trying to force Tebow to play a traditional system, the coaching staff drew up a new strategy that allowed Tebow to use his feet more than his arms.  After starting 1-3 with Orton, the Broncos have now gone 4-2.  This turnaround was a direct result of the coaching staff building a system around their talent, and not trying to force their players to change their style.

Unfortunately for the Caps, Bruce has spent the last two seasons trying to force his players to play a style that does not fit their strengths.  It would be great if Ovechkin played like a Selke nominee, but that isn’t his style.  He has found his success when he is uncaged, allowing him to fully commit to scoring goals.  I still don’t understand how people can be surprised that Backstrom and Ovechkin’s stats have been declining past 2 seasons.  They have been spending more time focused on their own end and have been playing less time.  Players like Backstrom, Johansson, Carlson, and Perreault were not drafted because they were defensive stalwarts.  They were brought in because they were good offensively.  In fact, Carlson’s play early on this season has showed that he is actually lacking in his own zone but does have the ability to put the puck in the back of the net.

I do not think it is necessarily the right time to give Bruce his walking papers.  Yes 5-9-1 is a bad stretch, but they have showed improvement over the past 3 games.  Yesterday they faced a Buffalo team that played without 9 regulars.  If the Caps truly are as good as we believe them to be, they should have posted 2 points last night, but they lost 5-1.  Should the Caps find themselves in a similar situation a week from now, Bruce has to revert back to the old system.  Even if it is a shot in the dark.

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John W.'s avatar

Good post, I’ve been thinking the same thing about the Caps this year.  Two seasons ago they played with Ovie, Backstrom, and Semin on the first line and all 3 had great seasons with Semin posting 84 points in only 73 games, Backstrom hitting the 100 point mark, and posting 50G, 59A.  Starting last year Semin was moved off the 1st line most of the season, and ever since all 3 players numbers have declined greatly.  Like you said, Boudreau is trying to force all of his players to be great 2 way players when that’s not their game.  I think his stubbornness is going to cost him his job pretty soon.  I think it’s time to reunite the big line, and let the rest of the guys worry about defense, because what they’re doing now just isn’t working.  Semin has been absolutely lost since moving away from those 2, and Ovie and Backstrom haven’t been all that great, either.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 11/27/11 at 01:07 PM ET

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About F Street Faithful

Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.