AnalysisHockey Tactics

Capitals New Defensive System Could Cost Them

Everyone in the media has been quick to praise Bruce “Mr. Haagan-Dazs” Boudreau lately about his ability to get Ovechkin and company to buy into a more “defensive system.”  In case you missed the love fest, color analysts have been pouring over film of recent Capitals games to highlight how ridiculously skilled players like Backstrom and Ovie are no longer trying to outgun opponents, but are instead hanging back and plugging up the neutral zone in 1-2-2 and 2-3 formations.   

Don’t get me wrong, it certainly makes for an entertaining pre-game to have some talking head scribble blue highlighter across your screen to point out that a random Capital forward is collapsing in front of his net instead of looking for the home run pass.  Yet in all this “expert” analysis, the one thing everyone is failing to mention is that the Capitals are playing games that are much closer than they should be.

If you look back at their games over the past month or two, it was rare that they blew anyone out.  Many games were decided by just a goal, which is a far cry from seasons past.  Now I know a win is a win, but damn a lot of those games could have gone either way and that includes the three post-season games thus far against the Rangers.

If I’m Bruce Boudonuts, the last strategy I’d utilize is one that invites the Rangers to grind out a victory.  We are certainly capable of winning games of this nature.  My tactics wouldn’t be to hang back and play passive hockey.  I would be sending my players after the puck and daring the Rangers’ defensemen to make a move on us.

The Rangers defense, while solid, is still young, immobile, and lacks offensive flair in the OZ.  If you pressure them on the blueline, they can turn the puck over and cause breakaways in the other direction.  If for some reason you do get caught, it’s not like Dan Girardi is going to make you pay for it.

If you ask me, I’m more than happy to see Alexander Ovechkin, the greatest hockey player in the world, stationed further away from Henrik Lundqvist.

This series is close folks, closer than you think.  And if the Capitals keep hanging back and letting the Rangers come to them, we might actually be able to get by them altogether.

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  1. I should add that the Penguins abandoned this same strategy when Dan Bylsma took over. He said he didn’t want Crosby and Malkin playing conservative hockey.

    1. Worth noting that Tortorella’s system takes Gaborik out of his game as well, albeit in a different way.The “dump and forecheck,” instead of rushing into the zone, prevents Gaborik from sniping as effectively. The Caps still have their big guns skating hard into the zone once they win possession on the defensive end, for what its worth.

      By the way, did I just defend Gaborik? Damn, don’t like doing that…

      1. This is very true. The system does take away from Gaborik’s game, but it’s not like Gaborik has any skilled linemates to work with here.

  2. Very interesting post. Flashback to two seasons ago and the Caps were buzzing around the Rangers in the neutral and OZ’s. The Rangers had difficulty slowing Washington’s momentum and were fortunate to get out of a period tied and were badly outshot almost 2:1 at this point of the series (although we were up 2 games to 1 thanks to Hank). The bottom line is that the Capitals are the superior team and they are playing a style that is conducive to close games which favors the Rangers. If the Rangers had the type of offensive firepower that the Caps have I’d want Torts to use it to win the puck possession battle.

    I also think the Caps defensive game-plan doesn’t hurt them as much verse the Rangers as it would against a Montreal or Philadelphia because the Rangers don’t have the transition game weapons that many of the other playoff teams do.

  3. We do have the firepower. We choose not to rely on them by playing a d first system.

    Wowo. Prospal. Gabby. Stefan. Can score. You need to spring them. Bit can’t when they need to play d.

    It’s a two edged sword. I expec next season that the rangers open it up a bit.

    In the meantime. This is how we do it.

    And let’s be honest. This series all hinges on one player. Dubi. If he’s a monster consistently. We will go far.

  4. I’m not sure if its fair to call the Rangers D immobile (versus conservative). They really changed their game plan for game 3 and the D showed it could skate and pinch responsibly (for the most part). McDonagh is a very good skater as are Gilroy and Staal. I think Staal’s offensive game took a big step forward this year (and it was his shot that led to the rebound for Vinny’s goal in game 3). You can see he now is developing the confidence to lead rushes up ice and across the blue line. He’s already one of the premier shut down guys in the leage and I think he could turn into a solid 35-40 pt d-man as his offensive game matures.

    1. Immobile may have been a strong word, but other than McD, I don’t see any of these d-men really stepping up a being a puck rusher. Hopefully MDZ can do that next year. For now though, it’s interesting to see the Caps being a bit more paitient than usual.

  5. Dude, I couldn’t agree more with your brilliant analysis. In a previous post, Ryan Davenport contends that the Capitals may have to trade Fehr to a team in need of scoring depth. Well, all season long in MY mind, THE CAPITALS would be the very team in need of scoring depth since–other than Ovechkin (who scored 20 fewer goals than we’re accustomed to seeing from him this past season), this club has forgotten how to put the puck in the net. And please don’t bring up the inconsistent, out-to-lunch, good for nothing on defense,dumb- penalty-taking Alex Semin. One game he’ll look like a combination of Glenn Anderson,Denis Savard and Jarri Kurri and then the next eight games he’ll look like the Second Coming of Elmer Fudd. Fehr is a young power forward. Really good ones–so help me John LeClair–often take a few years before they grow into their bodies and their production begins to approximate their ability. Dustin Byflugien splits time between the blue line and power forward. Do you think they miss him right now?

    I hope Bruce Boudreau comes to his senses and starts running Eric out there again. But I’m not optimistic. After all, this is a coach who–for years–thought his team could shoot its way to the Stanley Cup. Once he came to his senses and began to insist that his forwards back check and pinch (or was it the fact that a team that scored 313 goals last year suddenly developed amnesia when it came down to scoring and therefore forced Bruce’s hand) he made the odd decision to send his most fundamentally sound (and effective) goaltender packing to Hershey (Braden Holtby–he of the .934 save percentage\12-2 record\two shutouts and a Player of the Week award). I’ve often thought Double B was an idiot who lucked into a team with an abundance of scoring punch (at least through the end of last year)–very much like Dennis Green back when he coached the Vikings’ high scoring–but fundamentally undisciplined and defensively challenged–teams back when they had Chris Carter, Robert Smith, Randy Moss, Jake Reed et al…

    Let’s see how far Bruce gets in this year’s playoffs. Another early exit and Caps fans may not have to worry about it anymore…

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