Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And We're Back: Tampa Series Preview/Recap

So I've learned that you have to stay motivated to write on these here blogospheres. It was no problem when I was mad, when I had something to rail against and about, but once the boys in red started winning and put away their season's most troublesome opponent in five games, I found it hard to write anything that I felt wasn't being written by every other professional and non-professional hockey writer in the country. So I opted not to. But now the Caps are down 2-0, and I am pissed. Annnnnnnnnd we're back:

The Capitals got things done in the Rangers series. They converted on the powerplay, got offensive support from their third liners, superb penalty killing team-wide, and great goaltending from Neuvirth. Perhaps most importantly, but least publicized, the lines stayed almost constant throughout the series, at least until Knuble was injured.
Oh hai there, puck. Sorry, I can't let you in tonight.
Then Tampa Bay came to town and Boudreau panicked. The lines were a-jumble. Eric Fehr scored a goal in his second game, and was kept on the third line. The top line has only kept Ovechkin as a constant, with Chimera and Laich filling in for Knuble at times, and Johnasson filling in for Backstrom last game. Marco Sturm played on the second line for six straight games before being demoted to the fourth line in Round 2 Game 2, despite having only two assists through those six games. That may not sound too bad because they were tight series, but each of his standard linemates, Arnott and Semin, had several more points and were involved in some of the most pivotal plays of the first series.

Johansson by far benefited the most from Boudreau's panic and odd ideas on which players should get his praise and which get to kiss his fat ice cream filled behind. Normally playing center on the third line, he has seen some of the top minutes on the team. In addition to his even strength duties, MoJo gets top minutes on both the powerplay and the penalty kill. In fact, in the first game against the Lightning, the only player to get more shorthanded time than Johansson was Scott Hannan. Here's the thing: Johansson is a rookie. Not even a top-tier rookie. He was at no point during the season anywhere near Calder Cup conversations, did not show up on the scoresheet with astounding frequency, and did not have ANY experience playing North American style hockey prior to his NHL career. While he has shown up in clutch moments over the past two months, is this really the player the team needs to throw so much of their burden upon? Is he really a clutch, go-to player, or is that just the result of the minutes in which Boudreau is playing him? What is this world where this rookie is getting more crucial minutes than Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Arnott, Eric Fehr, and Mike Knuble?

Of course these losses cannot be blamed on Johansson, and I do not mean to insinuate as such. I bring him up as an example of Boudreau's miscues. Here is a coach with some of the top players in the league on both offense and defense, an oh-so-very deep depth chart, and a well of great Hershey Bears players to call upon in an emergency. Yet instead of keeping lines that are tried and true and tend to show up in successful games, and relying on his veteran players, Boudreau goes for the unconventional in hopes of finding some magical combination that will score 100 goals and allow none. (See my first post of April and this similar article from a more respected Caps blogger)

Tonight, it seems he is sticking with Neuvirth in net, a decision I do not completely agree with but really cannot fault, either. Of further note is that Johansson is playing second line center (a position at which he was a near-failure for the majority of the season) with Arnott getting demoted to the third line. This is the kind of crap that gets a team to lose. We saw it against Montreal last year at the end of the series; players getting mixed up on assignments and looking lost and uncomfortable with the constantly shifting duties and linemates. Arnott has been an absolute stud on the second line with Semin and Laich. It is an insult to lessen his duties in the playoffs. Arnott was brought in for three reasons: to fill in the 2C void, to provide leadership, and for his vast playoff experience. Granted, these lines and more will change during the course of the game, but it is all in vain. Those who follow the team know which lines work, which players work, and are all baffled by what we
Well at least he sees the puck
see on the ice. Sturm is still in the lineup, but playing a role he is not suited for. If he is not going to see time on the second or third lines because of his play, then he should sit. Just because Hendricks makes less money does not mean he deserves a spot in the press box. Boudreau is showing why he is losing the respect of fans across the country and the trust and support of Washington's faithful, and if (when?) the Caps lose this series, not many tears will be shed when (if?) he loses his job.

After all that, here is my preview for tonight: Caps lose, 5-2. Roloson is hot, and Neuvirth is reverting to the style of play that made me wish he was trade bait, with every shot not deflected in by a teammate seemingly going in over his left shoulder. Neuvirth still continues with his failure to close off the post, especially the top corners of the net, as a result of his low stance. The Lightning seem to have caught on to this, and have capitalized on the opening. One need only look at Game 2 to see the fruits of this knowledge, with both the powerplay goal and the OT game-winner ending in the same spot of the net, but from two completely different spots of the ice. The other goal, of course, came off a bad bounce off Mike Green's skate, but even that was the result of the Bolts getting pucks to the front of the net and aiming for that top right shelf - the pass in front of the net was meant to end with a shot on that right side of the net.

The Caps' powerplay has become inept once again, going 0-11 in the first two games despite (surprise!) countless different line combos. The lines are constantly changing, but luckily the team has gone to lines we've seen before...in December. The Bolts are at home, and even though they are again missing Gagne and Kubina, that didn't stop them from making the Capitals look almost second-rate at the phone booth. Your three stars for the night: (3) Hedman (2) Lecavalier (1) Stamkos

Does Bruce Boudreau have to smack a bitch?

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