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An Ovy-Centric Look At The Capitals Chernobyl



Finger pointing and blame. 

It rarely happens immediately or directly after monumental sports failures, instead, it slowly leaks into the tone of the dressing room dissidents as time distances them from the actual collapse.

The first player eliminated in round two to win the Conn Smythe, Jaro Halak.

To their credit, the Capitals endured the interviews following the loss and said the right things.  Really, what are you supposed to say?  You give credit to your opponent, express disbelief at your failure, and try to make some sense of what happened, just moments after it occurred.

“Mrs. Smith, You just found out your husbands leaving you for a younger woman, what went wrong in your marriage?”

But somebody’s to blame.  And we’ll find out who they chose to pin it on with their off season summer moves.  Which starts today.

Hey, maybe they’ll trade for Carey Price.

The Montreal Canadiens – they of the lowest point total in the playoffs (88, 33 less than the high-flying Caps), Kiebler elf forwards, and mid-season goalie controversies – deserve some freakin’ respect for what they just accomplished.  Congrats, fellas.

They played smothering team defense, blocked the shit out of a kabillion shots, and scored just enough goals to win (my favourite point about Marc-Andre Bergeron’s offensive role was a retweet by Bob McKenzie of a Mike Mckenna tweet: “MA Bergeron is like a field goal kicker. Waits on bench til needed (PP). Does his biz, back on bench.”  LOVE that tweet.)

Before I carry on with my look back at the series (and game seven), I’ll get it out of the way: I was wrong (last year I picked the Caps to win in “three” games too – AKA an easy sweep – and they won that one in seven. Yikes).  And further credit-giving: for an upset to happen, you need great goaltending – Halak was obviously the biggest reason this happened. 

Now, what to take from this Capitals loss….

Man down! Team down! City... down!

Washington is the first team I can ever remember watching that’s worse when they try harder. 

In regular season contests where they don’t care to put themselves out too much, they let the puck do the work.  They dish to whichever uber-talented linemate is the most open, and they seem to be entertaining themselves like a cat with string by playing keep-away from their opponent.

This was a totally different Capitals team.  When they needed offense, a huge red flag was the way they switched to “don’t worry, I got this” mode.  To not be able to identify and rectify this problem is a look at the lack of leadership coming from inside that dressing room, which is on both Boudreau and Ovechkin.  If your captain is the first guy opting out of the team’s tic-tac-toe-n-go style that got you this far when the going gets tough, you can’t expect your other young gunners to do anything different than the same thing. 

Ovy is their leader, there’s no doubt about it.  Like it or not.  So when he leads the wrong way – by switching to blinders-on one-man-mode – you’re on the path to a disaster FEMA couldn’t clean up (so, um, your standard disaster, then).

If any good came of this, it’s that the Crosby/Ovechkin debate is over, for at least the next year.  It’s early in Ovechkin’s career, and he can fix this the way Kobe Bryant realized there’s an easier way to win than taking it all on himself.  Ovy may have scored as many round one goals as Sidney (5), but Crosby made every person in a Penguin’s sweater better, tacking NINE assists on to that total. 

I’m a little nervous about how this is going to affect the Great Eight, one of the games most charismatic stars, and a guy who’s clearly getting increasingly agitated with reporters and fans.  There’s been hints of child-star-growing-up style acting out over this season.  God help us if he gets angry and decides to play more physical next year.

All I know is, the Canadiens have no captain, which in this series was better than having one lead them in the wrong direction.

Couple other non-Ovy based thoughts:

*Poor NBC and Versus today.  You know they’re totally blue-balled by the Washington/Pittsburgh series that could have been.  It seemed inevitable.  They were so close.  And then…. c***blocked by Montreal.

Boudreau: "Should I say something? I wanna say something. No, I better not say anything."

*Number 8-seeds beat number 1-seeds in the NHL so often I’m starting to wonder if this is a good thing for the NHL.  Don’t get me wrong - upsets are awesome.  But it halfway voids my interest in the regular season.  2-seed, 4-seed, 6-seed, whatever, just get in.  The best teams are still the best teams regardless where they finish, and this year they came into the playoffs as an Eastern Conference 4-seed, and a Western Conference 5-seed.

Can you imagine when the Sharks and Capitals are going at it for the Presidents Trophy next year (Sharks won’t be, but whatever) how little you’ll care?  I need a job here, so I’ll pretend it’s “an epic finish for the one seed” or whatever hyperbole I’ll write, but whatever.  JUST MAKE PLAYOFFS!

*I’ve mentioned before, the best coach I’ve ever had was Davis Payne, for his ability to make in-game adjustments.  I’ve lost a playoff series with a different coach because we “weren’t worried about them” and stuck to a “our game plan”, which was, incidentally, horrible.  Boudreau…. did you just maybe kinda possibly get (badly) out-coached?

*And last, the obligatory Semin comment:  He’s a 40-goal guy who played like a complete bag of marshmallows in playoffs.  How has that regular-season-stud-stuff panned out for San Jose?  The Capitals NEED a goalie, the way Philly has been good enough to contend for a Cup but has refused to acknowledge their goaltending deficiency for the past decade.  Bye-bye Semin, hello legitimate starting goalie.  Make that trade.  This team has more than enough offense to win.  You should be able to get a legit starter for less than what you pay Semin, so put that towards re-signing Backstrom.


And just like that, on to round two, my friends of the blog.  Awesome stuff. 

I went 5-3 in round one predictions, which is a well-below-average performance.  I’ll try to get series previews up ASAP, and I’ll try not to embarrass myself this time!


38 Responses to “An Ovy-Centric Look At The Capitals Chernobyl”
  1. mikeB says:

    I said it in the Live-Blog thread, but I’m going to say it again.
    You predicted 3 Caps wins, and thats what there was. You were somewhat right.

    All sorts of stats-heads picked the Habs to win the series. I don’t know how all the fancy numbers work, but I can link to the blogs.

    For some people this was not unprecedented. I on the other hand did not get this one right. But it sure helps the hockey pool.

  2. jtbourne says:

    I’m kind of a “stats don’t mean much in a sport of wills” guy, but thanks for the link, I’ll check it out. And you’re right, that was a typo. I mean Caps for three wins. I think.

  3. mikeB says:

    I read them and didn’t really understand them since they used metrics and things that I had never heard of.

    In no way can you say that Washington ever had more will to win the series then MTL did.

  4. jtbourne says:

    Who would?

  5. T Jones says:

    Boudreau got badly out coached, how you let ovi stay on his off wing on the PP the whole series is beyond me. Ovi was obviously struggling with gills reach and shot blocking ability so why keep him there, move him some were any were to get him away from gill. Mix that with the fact that the whole team tried to do it all on there own instead of actually letting the puck do the work and you have a recipe for disaster.

  6. Nadeau says:

    Montreal 100% willed that series win, HALAK and Gill where unbelievable Calamari is on fire and I bet the Flames where wishing that mr Jokinen and Bouwmeester never even entered the scene in calgary after watching the performance he put on!!! Now that I coach hockey rather than play I analyze the games in a completely different light and look for subtle little things teams do or try to get the edge and I have to say the face off play that worked out in to Calamaris second goal in game 6 was pretty nifty did anyone else catch that????

  7. kitten fister says:

    I can’t believe Boudreau had stone hands Chimera out in the final minutes down a goal. Brrrrrrrrutal

  8. nightfly says:

    In defense of the stats – they don’t determine the future of course, but usually, will + talent = tangible results. People understand this, and so when a supremely talented side loses, we “do the math” and come up with “will = 0.”

    Well, that’s not always fair. In the top league (and especially in the playoffs) the margin of talent isn’t that great. One out-of-scale performance such as Halak’s can flip the series. The guy just stopped 131 out of 134 shots in three must-win games. Awesome, and full credit, but that .978 (!!!1!!one!) is not sustainable over the whole playoffs. They’re going to have to score some goals sometime.

    In a case like this, where the numbers seem to be at odds with the tangible results (the standings), the debating begins. Montreal finished 33 points worse, BUT… Washington had more Bettman Points (especially SO wins), shakier goaltending, the Habs got a lot of valuable guys back as the season went on… etc. The actual margin up until then was considerably narrower by the time the puck was dropped. And even then – Halak needed to channel some combination of Dryden/Plante/Vezina/Batman to win it.

  9. Doug says:

    Every coach across North America is pointing to the Habs’ win and saying, “See, simple defense wins in the playoffs. Now cut out all that fancy crap and dump the puck!”

  10. Sctdog says:

    Last three goals by the caps were from the edge of the crease, other 150 shots from much further, sense a trend? No net presence, too many fly byes. Simple plays like setting up a winger high or low in the slot for a tip attempt just was not part of their game. Wash wanted to score on the rush or set up a slapper from the hash marks out, not adjustment was made. More Steckel or Walker less Semin as odd as that sounds would have helped.

  11. Alanna says:

    Sucks for the Caps that they lost, but congrats to Mike Greene for his Selke nomination. Wait…what?

  12. Alanna says:

    How in the hell to I manage to misspell every player’s name? That should be GREEN!

  13. nightfly says:

    But to nod to the old-schoolers, yes, Boudreau got his clipboard handed to him. And OV8… poor guy. All year everyone tells him that the great ones take over, and then when he tries, he’s told he didn’t involve his team enough!

    Well, that’s also on Boudreau. He’s the one who has to get his guys on the same page, and let the whole team work as a unit.

    When I used to coach youth roller hockey, we always started the first practice the same way: everyone lined up on the goal line, and I told the kids, “Go get the puck and come back,” and I fired it to the other end of the rink. When they got back, I’d ask who won, and they’d talk about who came back with the puck or who reached it first. My answer was always the same – “THE PUCK WON.” That was what made it to the far end of the rink before anyone even made it out of the zone.

    MORAL – Nobody is faster than the puck. The other team will catch up to you – but not your passes.

  14. jtbourne says:

    Nightfly – I see the value in stats. But still, I couldn’t find a soul predicting Montreal would win, but those (very) few that did are pretty easy to find right now. Anyone claiming Montreal is the better team (or that they said so all along), is probably not passing any polygraph sit downs.

    This mini-rant excludes those guys who called it with stats (as per the above link). Kudos to them for finding logic…. I especially like that Montreal was gaining ground on Washington towards the end of the season. But for every guy like that, there’s ten that predict 100 unlikely things, are wrong 99 times (“well yeah, the better team was supposed to win”), and carry that one time they were right around like they won the Cup.

    Doug – I know righ? What a victory for crappy hockey!

    Alana – Green for the Selke… HILARIOUS. I’m stealing that on Twitter right now.

  15. airborne moose says:

    In the picture it looks like Boudreau is saying something like “you know, ovi, just because our Capitol sweaters are red, doesnt mean your still in the olympics…..”

  16. Travis says:

    Cant spell Ovechkin without a C, H, O, K, or E… Last two game 7s and the showing for Russia in the Olympics…. Almost A-Rodesque before last year. Nailed it on the head JB about ending the Sid/Ovy argument for awhile…

  17. SpaceBar says:

    F***in A to the Semin trade.
    I mean any type of legitamate goaltending would have won that series and Semin blew it big time.
    At the same time, the 40-something goals Semin put up definitely had a big hand in the first place season clinch.
    But as you implied, trading the presidents trophy for a 30 saves goalie and a renewed backstrom deal is elementary. Haha.

  18. Char says:

    Tim Thomas for Alex Semin. Oh, wait, the Bruins are getting Taylor Hall. Never mind. ;-)

  19. Aces Arbitrage says:

    Guess the Capitols were to busy trying to beat Gretzkys wing record and choked.

  20. Seawolf Fan says:

    Hooray for fellow Alaskan Scotty Gomez and his Canadians – If they win it all I know he will bring the Cup back to Anchorage for the thrid time!!

    Now let them take care of Crosby and his Pens!!


  21. mikeB says:

    Sure a Semin trade might have helped, it never would have happened. The only reason he is in the NHL right now is because he is playing in Washington. If he got moved he pack his bags and go back to Russia.

    Green for Selke is funny.

    Ov-rated is another one of my favourites.

  22. nightfly says:

    JB – hey, I thought the Caps would win in six! I’m terrible. =)

  23. Jbrown says:

    What are your thoughts on the disallowed Caps goal?

  24. jtbourne says:

    They changed a bit when I read a tweet from the goalie I mentioned earlier, Mike Mckenna (AHL goalie, Lowell Devils). He basically said the tender had his opportunity to make the save taken away, so easy call.

    I thought the complete opposite at first, that is “brutal call”. From what I could tell, the guy trying to screen the goalie didn’t attempt to interfere with him, barely physically touched him (which came as a result of contact from trying to take the ice the defenseman had), and the tender was standing and reacting to the shot (not the hit) as the puck flew by him.

    Mckenna is probably right – he was somewhat inhibited, but in a playoff game, in that situation, every player has be expected to battle through a couple minor inconviniences. I don’t think it’s a brutal call anymore, but it probably still should have stood up.

  25. Simone says:

    Hey, 5-3 for round one is great!
    I went 3-5, totally missed in the East and only got three right in the West.

    Oh, well…as long as we don’t wind up with a repeat of last year’s Pens and Wings for the Cup, I’ll be happy.

  26. KForbes says:

    I’ve been tossing this idea around in my head a bit and now is as good as any to see what others think:
    The value of the letters on the sweaters to designate Captains and Alternates. What do the letters really mean anymore?

    Like has the role of ‘Captain’, at least the guy appointed Captain wearing the C on most teams become more symbolic rather than a recognition of leadership? You always hear just as much about guys who maybe aren’t even recognized as one of the Captains being vocal in the dressing room or a leader. So does the letter really hold that much power anymore?

    It seems like everyone can talk to the officials these days to argue a call, which back in the day was the on-ice responsibilities of the players wearing the letters.

    You have teams like Montreal without a Captain and other teams like Buffalo and Minnesota experimenting with rotating captaincy in the past (where it was used as more of an “atta boy” as opposed to any recognition of leadership).

    On the other hand, you have guys like Marleau who just seem to crumble under the weight of the captaincy. Clearly, I agree with your comment on Ovechkin. Regardless of his own skills to motivate others, lead by example or inspire the lineup, he’s the best player on that team and as Ovechkin goes, so does the Capitals. The same might be said for Ottawa (Alfredsson) and Columbus (Nash) for example. This is an entirely different story in a place like St. Louis (Eric Brewer) and Edmonton (Moreau).

    All the teams seem to approach the idea of who should be captain and what that role means differently, so does that make the letters on the sweater lose meaning overall?

  27. Travis says:

    Any chance you’ll pick the Pens in three?

  28. john p says:

    Hershey bears going back to finals and winning Caulder Cup Again, Reading Royals winning Kelly Cup, and Pens the Stanley, PA Rocks!!!

  29. Firestorm says:

    That’s a great story about Laich. Thanks for posting, Alana.

  30. Alanna says:

    Guys, there are two N’s in my…oh, got it. Never mind.

  31. Dominik says:

    Justin, not to go all “oh hey, can you talk Islanders history plz?” on you, but this seems relevant at the moment: Ever get any insight from your father or others about the late ’70s Islanders getting over the hump? Because teams like the Sharks and Capitals — at least as perceived in hockey media — remind me of that scenario (not saying they will eventually win a Cup, but certainly the opportunity is there with the right adjustments).

    Naturally I think their 19 consecutive playoff series wins was the greatest achievement since indoor plumbing, but it’s almost forgotten how much the late-’70s 100-point-per-season Islanders got the “choke” label before 1980, then swapped that in for the “dynasty” label. From team that “can’t get it done when it matters” to one of the greatest teams ever. Obviously there is more to it that isn’t always clear, and it’s common to cite the Goring trade and end the conversation, but man: There have to be TONS of variables, some of which include “the right luck and different approach in 1980 onward, the wrong luck before that.”

    And just so as not to force this topic to be Isles-specific: *Something* changed for the Oilers in 1984 (Gretzky talked about that), for the Penguins in 1991, for the Wings in 1995-97 … great teams learn and evolve; so the “choke” label always strikes me as something haters use while they still can, before it becomes moot.

  32. Firestorm says:

    As an NYI fan in those late70s/early 80s years, I point to the brawl with the Bruins in 80s playoffs as a turning point. The previous three years, there was no question the Isles had the talent to win in the regular season but couldn’t get in done in the playoffs. The losses to the ’78 Leafs (when they beat up Bossy) and ’79 Rangers looked like the Isles didn’t have the jam to get it done in the playoffs.

    To the point of JB’s USA Today column on the moments that create a “team”, I think when the Isles stood up the Bruins, it was clear they were willing to do whatever it takes to win in the playoffs.

  33. Dominik says:

    @Firestorm Thanks. That’s interesting — there are so many differences with the game today (one being, the late-70s Isles’ concentration of talent isn’t very feasible for a long stretch anymore), but those “come together” moments must be different. At least playoffs-wise, we just aren’t going to see a brawl or series of fights like that.

    I guess in the Caps’ case, I think a lot was strategic failure or failure to adjust, but certainly a willingness to fight into traffic and get shots from in close was lacking. They were supposed to add that with Knuble joining Laich, but there were still important guys who did not follow the example. In time, maybe; Datsyuk was supposedly a “playoff choke” once…

  34. Jason,

    I’m reading this blog late, but I’m glad I found it (assist: Blades of Funny). Anyways, great write up. Couldn’t have said it any better. Looking forward to more of your blogs. MORE!!!

  35. So… BoF got to me. Got to me so badly I called you Jason instead of Justin. I blame Bof…


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