Last year at this time, the Washington Capitals were contemplating what went wrong after the Tampa Bay Lightning swept them right out of the conference semifinals. They vowed to get better, be more responsible, and play a better two-way system.
Here we are a year later, and the Caps lost (again) in the conference semifinals. They played better defense, but their offense was clearly weakened. Last year, they averaged 2.56 goals per game over nine playoff games, slightly better than the 2.07 goals per game they averaged in 14 games this postseason. Additionally, they gave up 2.67 goals per game in the playoffs last year, and that number dropped to 2.14 goals per game this time around. (This, of course, was a huge drop from the 3.14 goals per game they averaged during the 2010 playoffs, but then again, they lost in the first round that year.)
The offense has looked more stagnant each year and the defense has gotten more solid. What has changed, though, is the attitude of the team (at least in public). The players all spoke about putting team before self, and players were genuinely upset when Dale Hunter decided not to return as coach.
GM George McPhee’s first major decision of the off-season is deciding who should stand behind the bench next season. And he needs to do something he hasn’t done: find a coach who has won a Stanley Cup.
Four of the five coaches McPhee has hired as GM never coached an NHL game before leading the Caps. Only Ron Wilson, his first coach, had NHL coaching experience. Otherwise, Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, and Hunter all coached their first NHL game with the Caps. But that also follows the franchise’s historical trend. Over the course of the Caps’ 38 years of existence, only nine have included time with an experienced head coach – and eight of those nine years were eaten up by Wilson and Jim Schoenfeld. Otherwise, every other Caps coach was plucked from the minors (or juniors, in Hunter’s case).
But finding a new coach is only the tip of the iceberg. McPhee needs to find more players who will commit to a two-way style of play. There are clearly players who will do this that already are on the roster: Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, Matt Hendricks and even Joel Ward (to some extent).
Read more at Fanspeak.com.