Thursday, May 3, 2012

Let's Have Some Common Sense

Rather than spout off endless tweets on the subjects, as I have been doing as of late, let me write a quick blog post about this: Jay Beagle is killing the Caps in these playoffs. Well, Dale Hunter's use of Beagle is killing the Caps in these playoffs. Jay Beagle, as many have written, is the feel-good story of this year's postseason. A hard-working kid who struggled to make even the fourth line, who got knocked out early on in the season, is now logging more time on ice than Alex Ovechkin. The Caps beat the Bruins and have held strong and even against the Rangers. But as the title of this post says, let's have some common sense here, people.

Jay Beagle is far and away NOT the reason the Caps are where they are at. Braden Holtby is the SOLE reason. That's it. He is this year's Jaroslav Halak. There is no other reason the Caps have won even a single, solitary game out of the past ten, let alone five of them. Hunter's use of Jay Beagle, on the other hand, is a major contributing factor to why the Caps lost last night, and why nine of the ten games have been one-goal games.

Beagle is absolutely not a player who will win you games. Anybody who tells you different, simply put, is an idiot. Even people who played with him will tell you as much when they're being honest. He is the kind of guy you put on the ice when you are playing not to lose. You know what is not a big story this year? How Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have their ice time limited when the Kings take a lead against the Canucks or Blues. You know why? BECAUSE IT DOESN'T HAPPEN. They score goals. They generate offense. Offense is how you get points, which are what actually win games, not defense. Defense helps because it prevents the other team from scoring, but a 1-0 loss is still a loss. Ask the Kings, they would know. Then they got Jeff Carter and started working on offense. The Caps need to take that lesson, as absolutely ludicrous sounding as it is to say that on a team with Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, Mike Knuble... well the list of offensively talented guys goes on and on with this team.

I'm not knocking on Beagle. He has played far above my expectations for him. He has absolutely locked down the 4th line center role for next year, and that is an accomplishment for him. That's still an NHL job requiring NHL talent. But a guy who set a career high in games played with 41 and points with FIVE is not someone who should be logging top-three minutes. In these playoffs, Beagle has been on the top line. Your top line is not who you say it is, it's who you play as such. But he is a fourth-line guy with barely fourth-line skills. His effort is not to be questioned, ever. His love of the game and desire to win is not to be questioned, ever. His hockey skills absolutely need to be, but apparently are not, ever. Tim Thomas is a two-time Vezina winner. Lundqvist, based on his Hart nomination alongside his Vezina nod, is a lock for this year's Vezina trophy. You need to play your offensive players against these guys. ESPECIALLY when you are the lower seed. If Mathieu Perreault is healthy, then he has to be in these playoffs. Mike Knuble should not be playing (literally) half as much as Beagle. Beagle, of 2 points and a +1, averaging 18:47 of TOI a game, with one more SOG than Karl Alzner.

Beagle's ice time is indicative of a much larger time management problem that the team has suffered under Dale Hunter. Marcus Johansson's ice time also fits in, as he has looked fairly overwhelmed and mistake-ridden, yet logs an average of 20:31 a night. Keith Aucoin continues to play, despite a team-worst 43.2% in faceoffs, a -1, and having just two assists. While it is nice that Beagle is playing, and we should all be proud of him, we should all be furious that he is getting so much ice time, not simply pushing the issue under the rug and saying "well as long as they're winning..." The more Beagle plays, the longer these games get drawn out. The less the Caps score. The less confident they feel about scoring. The more they hold their sticks too tight and clang off post after post after post. The more time they are playing one goal games and blowing two goal leads. The more time they are scrutinized about why Ovechkin isn't playing more.

If the Caps were playing the Senators, or Devils, or even the Flyers at this point, maybe it wouldn't matter as much. But going against two of the top defenses and goalies in the league, and completely shutting down the offense with one goal leads and sky-rocketing Jay Beagle's ice time is a strategy for losing. Lucky for the Caps, nobody told Holtby. But somebody needs to tell that to Hunter. The Caps need to play to win, play to score more than one or two goals in a game, play to use all of their talent rather than holding them back. Beagle needs to actually play fourth-line minutes, or else this team will lose. Winning with this strategy could very well be the worst thing for the team, because this is an organization that undervalues goalies. They undervalued the contribution that Halak had in beating the Caps, and they undervalue the contribution that Holtby has now in getting them this far. They are goalies who win DESPITE the play of their team and the play of the opposition, not because of it. Washington nearly matched the Rangers shot-for-shot last night. Imagine if Semin and Knuble had more TOI than Beagle did. Would it have even gone to triple OT? Would the Caps have scored that elusive second goal? Who knows? I'll tell you what, Beagle didn't help. It's very hard to score when you are the only player on the team who does not take a shot on goal.

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