For the second year in a row, the Presidents Trophy winners were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round as the Washington Capitals were uprooted by the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens in 7 games. Last season the San Jose Sharks were upset by the Anaheim Ducks in 6 games. A huge difference in this series was that the Capitals held a 3-1 series lead heading home for a clinching game five. Never in NHL history had a #8 team down 3-1 come back to win a playoff series against a #1 seed. So what happened? Even Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said that he would have bet his house that his team wouldn’t have lost three games in a row and only scoring 3 goals total over that span. Columbus Blue Jackets forward RJ Umberger was probably so proud of himself after the comments he made in the regular season about a defensive team that doesn’t turn the puck over will beat the Caps in the playoffs. The Canadiens limited their turnovers and Washington did not have many odd man rushes in the series. Jaroslav Halak still made an incredible amount of saves as he faced 292 shots in the series, but the Habs turned themselves into shot blocking machines which clearly frustrated the Capitals’ skill players.
The Montreal defense, particularly Josh Gorges, did a great job in limiting the amount of space for Alex Ovechkin when he had the puck but it was almost as if this Capitals team did not watch video between games. They did not seem to make any adjustments to their style of play in the last 3 games of the series. Where was Bruce Boudreau on this one? 235 lbs Alex Ovechkin versus 202 lbs Josh Gorges - How do you take advantage of the 30+ pound advantage OV has when coming down 1 on 1 with Jorges? Try to dangle then curl to the middle and take a shot? No. Chip the puck past him and out-muscle the defender. If OV started doing that he would have accomplished three things:
1. If Jorges beats him to the puck, Ovechkin can deliver punishing body checks that lead to turnovers.
2. Jorges takes penalties trying to interfere with Ovechkin getting to the loose puck.
3. Ovechkin creates more space for himself because Jorges has to respect OV’s new option
No adjustments were made; Ovechkin kept coming down the left wing and trying to take the puck to the middle of the ice for a shot.
You definitely have to give credit to the Canadiens and Jacque Martin. If the Caps are to learn anything from this loss it should be that the Canadiens evolved themselves into a team that did what they had to do in order to win. Their skill players came through when they needed goals but they were not trying to over achieve the way we saw Alex Semin and Mike Green do. Semin never seemed to get it going throughout the whole series. There were times when he registered a lot of shots on net but peeling off the wing and sending a wrist shot toward the top corner from 60 feet out is not going to get you goals against a hot goaltender like Halak. And Mike Green did not seem to make any impact from the blueline like we saw in the regular season managing only 3 assists in the series and losing physical battles in the defensive zone.
As I write this, I realize it comes down to coaching. Maybe these players are not coachable or Boudreau doesn’t coach enough? They honestly play hockey like it’s a very skilled drop-in game. Case in point Montreal’s second goal, the Canadiens flipped the puck out like they’ve been doing late in the 3rd periods of each game, John Carlson was standing still on the blueline when the puck went over his head and down the ice, Mike Green, the weak-side D, came over and played the body on Maxim Lapierre to cancel him out, but then Dominic Moore was wide open to take the puck to the net. Where was the support? The closest player to Moore when he scored was the right wing, Mike Knuble. First of all, Carlson should have filled the middle lane when coming back into the zone except he hung around on the strong-side boards waiting for a pass and not moving his feet. So if Carlson wasn’t there, then the center (Niklas Backstrom) should have been to close off the lane. This was one of the many examples where simple hockey would have kept the puck out of the net.
What’s done is done and life goes on for the Caps. It will be interesting to see what kinds of moves are made in the off season for this team. They seem to be in search of a true #1 goaltender. Turco perhaps?
Stay tuned for another first-hand game report out of San Jose tonight. I will be in attendance as the Sharks kickoff round 2 against the Detroit Red Wings.