Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
As I watched with helplessness the Caps embarrass themselves in front of a lukewarm home crowd filled (yet again) with Pittsburgh idiots, I got angrier and angrier. And Glen Hanlon is now the focus of my rage. I like Glen. I really do. I think he has shown a great ability (up until now) to get the most out of minimal talent, get his guys to play hard every game, and stay positive in the face of mounting losses. But now he has a real NHL team to work with, and the results are not good.
I know we're only 7 games into the season, but the Caps are going to need all the points they can now get to make the playoffs this year. So, I ask you, what are the signs of a good coach in the NHL? How about these, for starters: Good matchups, good special teams, good effort. Glen's one for three. Let's take those first two in turn, shall we? Matchups/Line combinations: First, let's look at the Caps lineup on Saturday:
Not exactly Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson, are they? Or Lecavalier-St. Louis-Prospal? Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom? Not even close. Now why is it that most of the guys on those lines are always near the top of the NHL in scoring? Maybe because they are playing with other WORLD CLASS players!
Now I like Joe Motzko, and it's nice that Kozlov and OV can talk Russian together on the bench -- but if I hear any more about their great "chemistry" I'm going to puke. Chemistry is important, but great talent often creates great chemistry. And Kozlov is not a great talent. He is a pretty good player, and, as tsn.ca stated in last year's scouting report: "does not look good playing the pivot." Does that sound like a center you want to pair with your franchise, all-world left wing? NO! In fact, it sounds a lot like Zubrus II.
Know who IS a world-class talent at center? Michael Nylander. I don't know how many times during Saturday's game I turned to Grumpy One and Original Six and said, "Look at Nylander. He's UNBELIEVABLE with the puck on his stick. He's playing keep away with NHL defensemen, and they can't get the puck away from him." And I actually had time to say all that while he was still holding the biscuit. Then he made two beautiful passes to a breaking Backstrom (whom I like), who promptly flubbed both of them. Think OV's going to miss those? Neither do I. If OV and Kozlov have such great chemistry, let them play together: How about OV-Nylander-Kozlov. Then Kozlov can take advantage of that huge frame to park it in front of the net or dig pucks out of the corners while Nyls and OV play keep away together.
I don't know why Caps coaches always insist on having two average lines instead of one great one. Anyone remember when Oates came to DC, and everyone said, "watch out. Bondra's going to score 60 goals now!" Well, guess what? Oates and Bondra played on separate lines, so we could have a "deeper" lineup. Great.
As for the second line, I'd be perfectly happy with Backstrom centering Semin and Clark. Or Flash, if you still want to give him a chance to show what he can do. In fact, while Semin is out Flash could have the perfect opportunity, playing with Backstrom and Clark! Now, I know, Glen doesn't want to "rush" Backstrom to center. I can only assume that's because of either 1) faceoffs and/or 2) defensive responsibilities. OK Glen, that's fine. Put Steckel or Gordon up with those guys until he's ready. They'll still be potent, but more importantly, WE'LL STILL BE STACKED ON THE FIRST LINE! I'll take the above stated first line against any checking line in the league. Let it ride! And we still have a shut down line of Pettinger-Gordon/Steckel-Laich. So there it is. Stop converting wingers to center to play with OV, and give him the setup man he deserves. Did we really pay all these millions to Nylander to play him with two rookies?!
Next - special teams:
Well, really this is just a repetition of the previous rant. Last year (to start off the year), Glen tried to have two good power plays by breaking up Semin and Ovechkin, his only all-star caliber players. The results were so atrocious that (thankfully) he scrapped the idea three games in and just "stacked" the first PP. What's the quote about those who forget history are doomed to repeat it? Well, see all Glen's quotes this year about all the best teams having two great PP units. Um, Glen, at this point, I'd settle for one average PP unit!
Once again, we're throwing out JOE MOTZKO, Kozlov, OV, Poti, and Clark. Please see previous paragraph about Michael Nylander. If you're not going to match him with OV on a line, at least, for the love of GOD do it on the PP Glen! The only goal Saturday night was set up by a nice patented Nylander curl around, followed by a pass to the point, a shot on net (no, really!), and a real honest to goodness screen! So please, move Nyls up where he belongs. How about putting Ovechkin on the point, where penalty killers would be forced to respect his cannon and stay up high, thus opening up space down low for Nylander to operate (not that he needs that much space). It has to be better then putting a career minor leaguer out there, doesn't it?
So, there you have it. My expert analysis from the cheap seats (actually, they're not so cheap this year!) The effort is still there, now we need the smarts to go with them. And that starts with the coaching staff. The players are saying all the right things. They buy into Hanlon's systems and strategy. But they'll also buy into any changes he makes right now. Four losses in a row will do that to you. Please Glen. Do the right thing. Save The Russian Machine. And my two-year old from another thirty-three years of suffering and losing to those G-D Penguins.