Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wake Up With GTOG: The Caps have arrived where they always do

By Finesse

At GTOG, we don't measure the success of a Penguins' season based on how other teams do, whether it be the Caps, the Flyers, or any of the Pens' main rivals.  We're Pens fans -- that's the team we want to do well.

But we're also human beings, so we can't help but be a little happy (ok, elated) to see how the second round of the playoffs are playing out.  The Flyers?  Down 3-0 to the Bruins, and looking atrocious in the process.  And the Caps?  Ohhhh, the Caps.  As their blame deflecting owner said in February 2010, in his typical premature celebratory fashion, the Caps have arrived.  Just not where they thought they'd be.

"Timeout! I want my last two minutes as coach to last as long as possible."
For the infinite straight year, the Caps have flamed out of the playoffs.  And, as always, they have done it in a way that is most satisfying and entertaining for fans of the teams that don't like the Caps.  The Tampa Bay Lightning's sweep of the Caps wasn't necessarily dominant, but it was definitely decisive.  No reasonable observer can say that this was a four game aberration: the Lightning's 3 best players are better than the Caps' 3 best players, and it isn't even close.  The Lightning's role players are better than the Caps' role players, and it's not debatable because we aren't even sure that anyone but Ovechkin and Carlson actually played for the Caps.  Roloson is better than Neuvirth, and the Lightning D is superior to the Caps, even though the Caps should have been better in Game 4 because Mike Green wasn't playing.

Some thoughts...

- Any success that the Caps have had in the past 4 years is in spite of Bruce Boudreau.  Usually we are a blog that sees both sides of something and occasionally hedges our bets.  But not here.  Boudreau is a bad coach.  Sometimes you have to go with what you see with your own eyes, and HBO's 24/7 was a clear of a picture as you could get of an NHL coach.  He blames everyone but himself, including referees, bad luck, spoiled ice cream, and, with no hesitation whatsoever, his own players.  From an X's and O's perspective, Boudreau was lauded for turning the Caps into a strong defensive team in 2011, and there is no question that they were strong (they shut the Pens out twice).  But he could not get the Caps to do two things at once -- if they were strong defensively, they couldn't score.  If they were hot offensively, they were giving up goals left and right.  That's bad coaching.  Here's hoping he doesn't get fired.

Brain freeze! Brain freeze!
- Ovechkin is the only Capital who visibly cared while on the ice.  He produced points, but like we wrote yesterday, he hasn't elevated the level of his teammates.  (It's entirely possible that Alex Semin, Mike Green, and Nick Backstrom are beyond help, as they performed like George Costanza coming out of the swimming pool).  But it isn't just that.  The best leaders in the NHL are the steadiest -- they don't celebrate too much when something goes well, and they don't act like the world is ending when something goes wrong.  How does this apply to Ovechkin?

Think -- have you ever seen someone so happy to score a goal in the regular season?  He is constantly lauded for this passion, and while it's hard to say that's bad thing, I'm about to.  There is a difference between playoff games and regular season games.  If you score a goal in October to send a game against the Islanders to overtime, you haven't achieved anything.  Your fans, prompted by the not-relevant-since-1997 Tom Green, may act like they've won the Cup, but you, as the leader, need to be the one who puts it in perspective.  There are bigger fish to fry, so don't act like you've just caught Free Willy.

And have you ever seen a player so down when his team loses?  During their 8-game losing streak, Ovechkin and his mates acted like they were all in the process of a slow death.  Hello.  It was December.  Relax and get yourself together.

Essentially, if you let yourself and your team experience extreme peaks and valleys during the regular season, it's only going to be magnified 10-fold during the postseason.  And once you get in the valley, as the Caps are prone to do, it's that much harder to get out.  The Caps kept digging against Tampa, but the hole was only getting deeper.  It's not Ovechkin's job to dig them out -- it's his job to prevent them from getting so low in the first place.

- After the game, Boudreau called Ovechkin, "one of the two best players on the planet."  We haven't heard that concession from him before, but it's not accurate.  He's the second best.  Period.

- Boudreau praised Backstrom for trying really hard this series.  Unfortunately for the Caps, Backstrom isn't 5 and "this series" isn't vegetables.

- A word on Tampa -- they are legitimate Cup contenders.  They are well coached, have three outstanding players, have three extremely sold lines, a strong defense and defensive system, and a good goalie.  Guy Boucher may have a different philosophy from Bylsma, but he otherwise reminds me of Disco Dan.  The players are buying in, and it's working.  They are the hottest team in the league right now, and are no worse than a 50/50 shot at reaching the Finals.

- In our season recap podcast, we discussed that we thought the Pens would have been dismissed by the Caps in 5 games, at best.  We will never get a definitive answer, but there is no question that we overrated the Capitals.  Why do we keep doing that?!??!  We need to remember, no one has the capacity to underperform like the Caps.

- That's it for our discussion of the Capitals, at least until Ted posts his blog entry today.  Again, we aren't measuring the Pens against the Caps, like the Caps do with the Penguins.  We would have preferred that the Pens beat the Lightning then lost to the Caps because we want the Pens to advance as far as possible.  But make no mistake, we are glad they lost.

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