Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Adjustments, or, why the Caps are losing this series 2-1

Well, Caps fans, it hasn't been a pretty series so far, has it? The Caps are getting outworked, outplayed, and outmuscled. They've had decent stretches of play, but nothing approaching a 60 minute strong effort. So what's going wrong with the team right now? Glad you asked.

First, the Caps defensive corps has been totally unwilling to engage the Flyers physically before, during, or after the whistle. Don't get me wrong, the defense has been great at skating up to Flyers players and giving them a good talking to after they run our goaltender on every shift. Unfortunately, the Flyers don't seem to be listening to our polite requests that they stop doing so. In particular, Milan Jurcina (who is capable of playing a nasty physical game) Shoane Morrison (who needs to learn how to do so in a hurry) and Tom Poti (who can play rough but doesn't want to take a penalty because he's counted on to play so many tough minutes) seem just fine with watching their goaltender get run over and then slowly skating over to the Flyers player performing the deed and giving him a little love tap. That just won't get it done.

In order to make them listen, the defensive corps needs to make a statement by burying the next forward who makes even glancing contact with Huet, no matter whether they get penalized for it or not. I'm not talking about a little slash across the leg. I'm talking a full force cross check in the small of the back in the gap between the shoulder pads and the pants. The Flyers have no problem stretching the rules regarding contact with the goaltenders to their absolute limits (and it appears the referees have no interest in enforcing them) so someone on the Caps needs to make it known that there will be a steep price to pay for such borderline dirty play. If they can't step up and defend their crease they might as well walk out during introductions wearing golfing outfits and carrying a set of clubs, because their season is over.

The Caps other main problem has been their top line, which had been their saving grace during the regular season. The fix for the top line is simple: move Kozlov off it. While rookie Nicklas Backstrom has bounced back from a rough first set of games to perform at a playoff level in game three, Viktor Kozlov has shrunk from just about every challenge in front of him. He doesn't play physical, he's easily intimidated, his puck possesion game has gone to hell, and if you watch him he's not even skating hard (well, in fairness to Viktor, he's never done that).

If the Caps want to get going, they need someone on the right side that's not going to cough up the puck every time an opposing player gets near them. Maybe Kozlov hasn't gotten the memo that there are no shootouts in the playoffs so he figures he's saving up for that. Whatever the reason, he's absolutely KILLING the flow of the first line. If Chris Clark isn't ready to go for game four, the Caps need to think about promoting Matt Cooke to the first line.

In short, the Caps defense needs to start playing like it's the playoffs and repaying the mugging our forwards are receiving in kind, and the Caps first line needs to cut its dead weight and get a player out on the right wing that wants to win more than they want to get through a game without getting touched.

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Update: Of course. Per Tarik, Bruce Boudreau has made a change to the first line, but not the one suggested above. Sergei Fedorov moves up to center the first line between The Russian Machine and The Russian Disappearing Act.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's been a fun series so far, but then, I'm a Flyers fan. But I lived in DC for a while and got to know Kolzig and Bondra (neighbors in the Crofton area), so I have a warm spot in my heart for the Caps.

But I gotta tell you, your post is spot on. They are playing like they're just happy to be there, while the Flyers are playing like they were the worst team in the league last year and have something to prove. Timonen and Thoresen are leaving it all on the ice (more than he wants to, almost, in Thoresen's case!), and they're getting production from the guys they're supposed to -- Briere, Prospal, Richards... If the Caps want to take the next step, they better start playing like nothing else matters. Until then, it'll be more of the same, and it'll be the Flyers who earn the right to get bounced in the next round!

Anonymous said...

No, it's just like I said in your other blog, you can't win championships depending on one guy, AO may be the best and may win a few games by himself, but he can't do it every night.... You had a good run, hang it up!

3 Grumpy Caps fans said...

Easy there, anonymous 2... it's a 2-1 series, not 3-0. There's still plenty of time for things to even out... provided the Caps start playing rough D and somebody either wakes Kozlov up or benches him.

the deuce said...

Wrong move, Bruce. Why can't you see that Kozlov is the one who needs to be benched. Toughness, grit, and a tremendous work ethic are what's required in the playoffs. Three things that Kozlov lacks completely.

dmg said...

You know, when your team has the goalie with the best save post-lockout save percentage (who posted a .936 save percentage for the team), the guy who led the league in goals by a defenseman, a guy who would be a 40 goal scorer if he were healthy and a guy with 1,100+ career playoff points, it isn't exactly fair to say the team is relying on one guy.

dmg said...

I'd have to disagree Deuce. While Kozlov can be put off his game with physical play, he was 4th on the team in points, 5th in goals and tied for 1st in +/-. I think that's too much to take out of the lineup. Especially since Fleischmann has been so inconsistent and gets pushed around so easily because of his size (~180)

the deuce said...

Oh, I'm not advocating a Flash/Kozlov swap. I just don't think Kozlov should be on the first line. And you can quote me regular season stats all you want. Look at Kozlov's playoff history. Some guys step it up in the playoffs, some guys shrink, and Kozlov is the very epitome of a shrinking violet. Not that I blame him. Everybody in the league knew that was his game, and we still signed him. I think he helped us get to the playoffs, he's just never gonna help you once you're in them.

3 Grumpy Caps fans said...

Just to back up the Deuce, Kozlov's playoff numbers:

17 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, -10, averaging less than two shots per game.

Not good.

Anonymous said...

DMG, I'm not claiming that the rest of your team is trash, I agree Mike Green is trememdous, but he's young and still needs a ton of development and Huet has been great, but you guys were on a roll because of AO.... When Pitt lost Sidney others stepped up and the team's statistics actually got better, you can't tell me that without AO this team could continue, maybe next year or the year after I don't know... We had Forseberg, probably one of the best if he wasn't hurt all the time, he won games that weren't there, but when he was off the ice, the Flyers were aweful.... History in the NHL shows that you can't win depending on one guy....

the deuce said...
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the deuce said...
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