Friday, November 16, 2007

Welcome to Lottery City

Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:

Early this morning, J.P. of Japers had his post-game offering. Just one mistake, he had the score 3-2. Wishful thinking, J.P. You're giving the Caps' offense WAY more credit than they deserve. TWO whole goals in one game?! Come on, that's expecting an awful lot. Last night, like this whole season, was atrocious. I wanted to throw up, in part because I knew I'd be reading the same ridiculous, "we're getting our chances, the puck's just not bouncing our way" quotes again today. Good teams make their own bounces. Of course, we are nowhere NEAR a good team right now. In fact, we're bad. Really bad. Has the Peerless Prognosticator upped the Playoff Threat Advisory to RED yet? If not, he should.

There are so many bad qualities about this team right now that it would take me all morning to focus on all of them. Bad line combinations, bad matchups, bad in-game adjustments, poor effort, bad giveaways, atrocious power play, bad penalty killing, bad offense -- just BAD. And of course, the most frustrating part of it all is that we as Caps fans just KNOW this team is better than this, much better (of course, we're the only ones who think this right now). Anyway, before I go through the litany of woes, I'll just look at one of the worst aspects of the Caps offense this year (there will be time to go through another after tonight's thrashing at the hands of the white-hot Lightning): The "Power" Play:

First, let's look at the personnel we could throw out there together (and no Glen Hanlon, I will not include Donald Brashear or Joe Motzko as possibilities):

Ovechkin, Clark, Nylander, Backstrom, Poti, Green. There are six guys to choose from who could legitimately play on the first power play for most teams. I won't include fringe PP-types like Pettinger and/or Flash, because they haven't proven themselves yet in that capacity. Now with those six players to choose from (and you can take out Clark if you want because of all the games he missed with injuries), shouldn't the Caps really be better on the PP than 15.0%? I think so. The Caps have scored 12 PPGs in 18 games so far -- pretty bad. It's even worse when you consider that five of those tallies have come from Ovechkin -- and at least 3 of them were individual efforts that in no way reflected a nicely set up passing play resulting in a PPG (if I remember correctly, two have come on rapid fire wristers off the faceoff, and one came where he dangled his way down the left side, cut into the middle around the defenseman, and scored on the rush). So that reduces the true PPGs from 12 to 9. So basically, without OV's great individual efforts, our PP would be second worst in the league, second only to the woeful Edmonton Oilers power play which has tallied only SEVEN times this season. But I can undertstand EDM's woes: Souray is injured, and the rest of their PP consists of Shawn Horcoff, Rafi Torres, Dustin Penner, Joni Pitkanen, and Dick Tarnstrom. Yikes. So as you can see, there is absolutely NO excuse for the Caps' players listed above to be producing at the level of EDM's PP, which is essentially what they are doing.

So what's the problem? Well, as I've detailed before, the first problem is that Hanlon got way too cute at the beginning of the season, and tried to have TWO good PP units when he really should have been focusing on just one. The exact same mistake he made last year. The result -- you had the evil Victor Kozlov playing with OV and Clark, and Poti and heaven-only-knows who else manning the point. The problem -- those guys couldn't maintain possession of the puck down low. The second unit was Backstrom, Nylander, and Pettinger playing with, gasp, Pothier and Green up top. Not surprisingly, Nylander, a puck possession and passing specialist, leads the team with 8 power play points (3 PPGs, 5 PPAs). In other words, if Nylander and OV ain't on the ice, don't even bother watching! After a few games of this two-headed monster, I was begging Hanlon to put OV and Nylander together. But he steadfastly refused until just three games ago -- against Carolina. Just before that game, I asked Mike Vogel why Hanlon wouldn't put OV and Nyls together. Here was his response:

"Deuce,
Well, they tried it last night. I am one who believes if it’s going to work and work well in the long run that 8 and 92 are going to need some practice time together. Anyone who has watched Nylander play has to know that he is not the easiest guy in the world to play with. As to why they hadn’t tried it before, two reasons. One, they truly believe that the best chemistry combos are with 8 and 25 and 92 and 28. And second, I think they believe the resulting line combos make the team a bit weaker defensively."

Fair enough. But when Semin went down, it should have been obvious to Hanlon that he needed to play his best players together. That has only just started to happen. And I, for one, don't think Nylander would be that hard to play with. Just go to the net and put your stick on the ice -- he'll get the puck to you in great scoring position.

Back to the PP. So the two PP idea didn't work out. The first line didn't work the puck well down low -- in part because of the Caps' D-men's total inability to put a puck anywhere in the vicinity of the net (Pothier). Because nobody feared a big blast nice and low and on net from the point, they cheated down on Ovechkin, knowing he was the only real threat on the "first" power play (I know, you're saying "What? They weren't afraid of Kozlov?) So, about eight games too late, Hanlon adjusted by putting OV on the point. Not a terrible decision -- now teams have to cheat out high, opening space for the other guys to work down low. He also moved Nylander to the first PP. The only problem -- now there's no finisher to bury Nylander's nice thread-the-needle passes.

The Deuces's solution -- Nylander, Clark, and Ovechkin down low -- this allows Clark and OV to win loose pucks, and Nylander to control the play and look for any opening to split the box and hit OV for a one-timer. Poti and Green up high. And Tom, for crying-out-loud, shoot the frikkin' puck every once in a while. Don't get cute -- just crush it. You're supposed to have a bomb from up there, make teams fear it. If not, we'll just call up Godfrey. At least three times last night I watched Poti pass up a good shot opportunity from the point because it wasn't perfect. Who cares? Put it on net, and Clark and OV will do the rest.

So there you have it, the solution to all our power play woes, and the ticket out of Lottery City. Maybe.

And, oh yeah, here are Original Six's words of wisdom on last night's game: "The season is not over however I think that it may be time to look at hiring a new coach that will light a fire under some player’s butts. I love Glen Hanlon but it is now obvious that he cannot motivate these players. Is Mike Keenan still alive?"

Ouch.

4 comments:

Bernie Wolfe Fan said...

Guys,
I've said this before. It is not the fault of Glen Hanlon. McPhee has had a decade and he and his experiments need to go. Pat Quinn or Bob Hartley as HC and John Muckler as GM. I'm willing to bet my entire winter firewood pile the Caps would be contenders if we started the season with any of those personnel. They are available, but Leonsis does not have that thought process. Until he does, the Caps will always have early draft.

MulletMan said...

I am not a fan of having AO on the point on the PP. If you watch the warmups, you will notice that AO takes his one-timers from the faceoff dots and hit's top shelf almost all the time. Now, move that back another 15ft and you have your one-timers hitting your own players in front of the net in the head. IMO AO should be on the quarter/half board with Nylander on the other side for cross ice feeds.

Bernie Wolfe Fan said...

Mullet,
I concur. When Ovie scores the one-timers, he is always within or very close to the confines of the circle. When was the last time he scored from point, the 2 on 1 with Kozlov in game #2? Ovie needs to be in closer, especially since he can power through on the rebounds. Let Poti or Pothier handle the point like they're position dictates.

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