I have recently read several articles and had discussions with several friends that centered around who is most responsible for the Washington Capitals potential success or failure this season.
Those articles and discussions centered on one man; Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin.
Though the arguments raised were compelling, I’ve come to the conclusion that the wrong person is being held responsible. One person and one person only is responsible for how far the Capitals go this season, and that man is Coach Bruce Boudreau.
Capitals fans and a portion of the media have been on Boudreau the last two seasons as the team has entered the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Eastern Conferences number one seed and failed to reach the Conference Finals on both occasions.
Questions have arose as to whether or not Boudreau is a playoff caliber coach as he seems to not be able to adjust to what the opponent is doing to stymie his offense, and some have even wondered how accountable he holds his star players.
Well, so far this season, Boudreau has attempted to answer the question of accountability as he has already scratched two of the Capitals top six forwards and has held out two of the teams’ five prized off-season acquisitions.
Marcus Johannson was not given a jersey for the season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes and Michael Neuvirth started in place of Tomas Vokoun as Boudreau did not feel either player’s preseason performance warranted an opening night start.
More recently, Alex Ovechkin was held out of the final minute of regulation of the Capitals game versus the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 1 with Washington trailing by a goal, and just this week Alexander Semin and Joel Ward were healthy scratches.
Semin had been whistled for minor penalties in seven straight games and Ward overslept and was late for a team meeting prior to Wednesday game against the visiting Winnipeg Jets.
Boudreau has also shortened the Capitals bench in the third period of several games so far this season only playing the lines that he felt were having the most success.
So, how well is this new philosophy working?
Johannson responded to his benching with five goals and six points in his first eight games and has 12 points in 19 games played. Vokoun recorded wins in his first six starts and a 1.83 goals against average in those games after not playing on opening night.
Semin scored a goal and finished with a plus/minus of plus-2 on Wednesday against the Jets. Ward gets his first chance to answer this afternoon against the visiting New York Rangers.
It would appear holding the players accountable has worked so far as each player has reacted with strong stretches of play after their benching.
Players such as Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble have been vocal about how important it is that each player be held responsible for their play and that they be rewarded with more ice time because of it.
Chimera currently leads the Capitals in goals with eight and his line with Brooks Laich and Ward has been the team’s best line through the first quarter of the season.
But, I do have one concern.
Though I think Boudreau has done a great job in attempting to chance the teams’ attitude, he has still fallen back on some of his old habits.
After consecutive losses to the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks to end October, Boudreau promptly changed three of the four forward lines and since Michael Neuvirth has healed from a foot injury he and Vokoun have played every other game.
If the Capitals are going to go beyond the second round of the playoffs this season, Boudreau is going to have to be more consistent in every facet of his job.
The best season the team has had in Boudreau’s tenure was the 2009-2010 season when they won the Presidents Trophy. One reason for that was for the majority of the season, Boudreau kept all four forward lines the same.
With the amount of talent and grit on this team now, there is no reason to consistently switch the forward lines. Chimera, Laich and Ward have been the most successful line this season and the main reason is is they have played together every game this season except for Wednesday when Ward was scratched.
One reason for Vokoun’s hot start was the fact that he got a sweater every night. His play has slipped recently and I suspect the main reason is because Boudreau has pulled him from several games and has only started him for consecutive games once this month.
A goalie of Vokoun’s caliber should get at least 10 consecutive starts before receiving a night off because it allows that goalie to get into a rhythm. Any goalie in the league will tell you that.
So, though I commend Boudreau for letting each player know there play and not their name will dictate their playing time, he is still showing some of the same weaknesses that some feel have cost the franchise the last two springs.
Only time will tell, but if Boudreau doesn’t find complete balance as a coach, headlines at the end of the season won’t be the one’s Boudreau wants.