Did Ovechkin lose the series or did Boudreau?
Ben Schmidt is a frequent contributor to the comments sections here at Faceoff-Factor.
There is a lot of talk about Alex Ovechkin choking in the playoffs after the Capitals’ collapse against the Canadiens, but I think the finger should be pointed in a different direction. At least for now. I think the Capitals lost the series due to coaching.
What convinced me of this was a quote I read from coach Bruce Boudreau about the loss:
“They blocked 41 shots, which I’ve never seen,” Boudreau said, according to the Washington Post.
Well, he’s certainly never seen that from his own team, that’s for certain.
With their playoff lives on the line, the Capitals could only be bothered to block 11 shots. Watching the last period, a time when the Caps should have been absolutely desperate, I don’t even recall seeing a single Cap going down to the ice to block a shot. Contrast that with the Canadiens, or the Senators, or the Penguins.
In contrast to Boudreau, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin made the necessary adjustments to fit his opponent. His team buckled down defensively, and frustrated the Capitals, while taking advantage of the fact that the Capitals let them get into prime scoring territory.
It may seem strange to say that the Canadiens buckled down defensively when you look at the shot totals, but this is a case where the numbers alone do not tell the full story. Instead, take a look at this shot tracker from the Washington Post.
Take a look at the games the Caps lost versus the ones they won. Notice the difference in where the majority of the shots taken by the Caps came from – mostly perimeter shots. The Canadiens, on the other hand, got the bulk of their shots in the crease and in the slot. In the last three games, the quantity favored the Caps, but the quality favored the Habs.
Again, that speaks to coaching. When his players were being kept to the outside, Boudreau didn’t make the adjustments necessary. The Caps were getting trapped, and yet, they never seemed to establish a forecheck. They never seemed to grind it out. Instead, they pretty much tried to just enter the zone and shoot around a defender practically every single time.
As for Ovechkin’s leadership or his willingness to listen to a veteran like Mike Knuble – that can also fall on the coach. Boudreau basically backed Ovechkin’s, Semin’s and Green’s ways of doing things universally. How was Knuble alone supposed to counter that? If the coach doesn’t back up the veteran, then the veteran’s words surely will fall on deaf ears.
I think the real test of Ovechkin’s leadership will come if and when he gets a coach that insists on doing things his way — not Ovechkin’s way.
As a Penguins fan, I hope it doesn’t happen, but I actually shudder at the thought of the Capitals getting a guy like former Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who would institute discipline and defensive awareness. Assuming, of course, that Ovechkin wouldn’t be like Jagr and run him out of town.