F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 11/14/11 at 06:34 PM ET
At the NHL level, a team cannot succeed based on the fact that they simply have good players. True success comes when a team is able to use the players in a way that allows each one to contribute in their own way (goals, assists, shot blocking, etc.) and do so on a consistent basis. This season the Capitals clearly have some good pieces, but have yet to show the consistency needed to find continual success. Yes, they have won 10 games out of 15, but they have also had only 1 game that saw them play a complete 60 minutes (Florida).
Consistency, in large part, is the responsibility of the coaching staff. The players do need to execute, but the coaching staff is responsible for establishing a system that allows for success. There is a lot that a coach must do to get the team to that level, but it really comes down to 2 things: choosing the right players and using them effectively. In my belief, Bruce’s constant tinkering has hindered the ability of the Caps to hit a long-term stride.
After the last preseason cuts, Boudreau was left with 14 forwards and 8 defensemen (including Poti and Erskine). This was a direct result of Bruce’s tendency to give credit to those who deserve it, and he felt both Beagle and Perreault deserved a bigger chance to make the team. He was also left with the curious case of DJ King. While it is not uncommon for a team to carry an extra forward (typically a tough guy) that generally only suits up for rough games, it is a bit odd to try to cycle 3 guys into one spot within a lineup. Eventually King would be waived and assigned to Hershey, leaving Perreault the full-time job of 4th line LW (Beagle had already been battered Asham). Then Bruce decides to call-up 20 year-old Cody Eakin. We were told it was simply to get a closer look at him in a week where Hershey was relatively idle. He has impressed and finds himself still with the team 2 weeks later.
The blueline has really yet to run into this problem due to the injuries to Mike Green. Hopefully Green’s current injury (something of the groin variety) does not keep him off the ice for long, but when he returns, the Caps will have some decisions to make on defense. Bruce will be forced to make a decision on which of the 7 (eventually 8 if/when Poti returns) will not play. If Bruce decides to run it anything like the cycle of the forwards, the Caps D will continue to suffer. While the 4th line LW might only see 10-12 minutes per game, a 3rd pairing D will see over 15 minutes per game. It is hard to expect guys to be able to work together effectively if they have to change partners every few games. If Friday’s game against the Devils was any indication, then it would appear Wideman would see either Schultz or Erskine as a partner. Wideman cannot focus on his game if he is constantly changing it to mesh with a new partner every game.
That brings us to the effective use of the players chosen. In the early parts of the season, we have seen a plethora of different line combinations. Here is a list of just some of the combinations (using #s to save space):
We are not even a quarter of the way through the season and Bruce is almost out of possible line combinations. For the most part the starting lines have remained the same (latest starting lines seen in the first column). The other combinations are mainly ones that are put together mid-game, when they are struggling. Even when the starting lines change, they typically revert back at some point in the game. Bruce is so concerned with looking for that instant spark that he seems to not worry about long-term success. I’m not saying he doesn’t think about it, it just doesn’t come off that way from an outsider’s perspective.
With the exception of the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble line, all of these lines feature a player that was somewhere else the season before. One cannot expect to throw a new guy on a line and expect the line to instantly click every time. This isn’t NHL 12; growing pains are going to be a part of this team. I understand Bruce has always been one to mix things up. At certain points in the season, that is necessary to prevent players becoming complacent and slumping. I don’t believe we are there yet. Bruce cannot expect Ovechkin to develop chemistry with Brouwer if he doesn’t let them work together. It is better for the Caps to have their struggles now and be in stride late in the season, than to find themselves going into playoffs without complete chemistry.
This is by no means meant to be a call for Bruce’s head, or a post detailing that the season is lost. The Caps are top of their division and are 2 points out of 1st in the conference with 2 games in hand. However, they are not clicking at the pace they once were. It would just be nice to see this team play a bit more consistently. Insert required Semin penalty joke here.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.