Nobody Asked Me

But … it’s the little things. And it’s lots of little things. If the Caps can fix them, or even fix most of them, they can even the series Thursday night in Philly and regain home ice advantage in this best-of-seven set.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

They need to put the body on Danny Briere. The guy has four goals in three games, and I’ll bet he hasn’t been hit four times. I can’t remember any. Philly’s defense has made it uncomfortable for the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov. The Flyers have hit them frequently, and done a good job of taking away time and space. Two of Briere’s goals have come on the power play, but he got way too much room with which to work on the other two. 

The Caps need to do a better job of protecting Cristobal Huet. Maybe I’m too old school here, but if a team or some particular players are going to make a habit or a sport of running my goalie, or they think it’s their privilege to park at the top of the paint, then I’m gonna make them pay for that privilege. Huet should feel comfortable and confident out there, and the guys in front of him should be going out of their way to make sure he feels comfortable and confident. And that the likes of Briere and Scott Hartnell do not.

Get more traffic of their own. Flyers goaltender Martin Biron has had it too easy thus far. In the early minutes of Game 3, the Caps had two power play chances while the game was still 0-0. And yet Washington had no one in the front of the net during that stretch. What few shots the Caps were able to get through, Biron was able to see. And to stop. 

Shoot the puck. The Caps averaged 31 shots on goal per game during the regular season, tied for fifth in the league. The Flyers allowed an average of 31.8 shots on goal per game during the regular season, 27th in the league. I don’t remember the Flyers picking up Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom at the trade deadline. Somehow though, the Flyers are preventing shots from getting through. 

Which leads me to …

Get the shots on net. Through three games, the Caps have 70 shots on goal. Another 57 have been blocked before they could get to Biron. Forty-four more missed altogether. That’s 101 intended shots that never reached their mark. Biron has a shutout in this series, yet his save pct. is just .886 in the three games. If the Caps are able to get another 8-10 shots per game on goal, it could mean another goal or two per game. Especially if they combine this with some traffic in front.

Get a lead. The Caps haven’t had a lead since Game 1, and they’ve dug a two-goal hole for themselves in each of the last two games. Try playing with the lead. It’s more enjoyable.

That’s it. Simple stuff, little stuff, but very important stuff. Especially at this time of year. Washington certainly has not played its best hockey in this series, yet the Caps are just one solid 60-minute effort away from shrinking the series to a best-of-three. 

A few adjustments were made this morning at practice. Sergei Fedorov and Backstrom were flip-flopped as pivots on the top two lines, with Fedorov skating with Ovechkin and Kozlov in an all-Russian unit and Backstrom joining Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin. 

Also, the power play got a bit of a makeover. One unit has Laich stationed in front of the cage, Ovechkin in the high slot and Fedorov at center point. Mike Green and Backstrom man the half-walls. The other unit features Eric Fehr at the top of the paint, Kozlov in the slot, Green at center point and Tom Poti and Semin on the half-walls. I like the set-up, and like the idea of Ovechkin being closer to the net. Laich and Fehr are the right guys for their respective gigs, too.

I think the Caps can do it, and we’ll find out in about 24 hours. In the meantime, I’m here in Hershey for the off night in between Games 3 and 4, watching the Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 1 of their East Division semifinal series. No score midway through the second, and Mathieu Perreault has looked good to me as he makes his pro debut for the Bears.

Here are the Hershey lines:

Bourque-Wilson-Gordon

Morgan-Joudrey-Giroux

Flinn-Perreault-Pinizzotto

Robitaille-Beagle-Collymore

Boumedienne-Lepisto

Hunt-Sloan

Paiement-Syvret

Frederic Cassivi is in goal.

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19 Comments on “Nobody Asked Me”

  1. Matt Says:

    C’mon Caps! Get it tied and take it home.

  2. jason Says:

    i have been screaming at my tv for the longest time because we have had nobody parked in front of the net. if they mess with huet we need to do the same thing. we need to dump and chase, aggressively forecheck, and protect huet and we will be gravy.

  3. jason Says:

    also can brash please rip briere’s head off already? he was just injured, not that i wish pain on the man but one good hit should slow him down

  4. pepper Says:

    Mike,

    We saw the Caps struggle mightily early season under Hanlon getting so many shots blocked. Do you see any similar tendencies between those early season days and what has befallen the team in this series, that’s causing all of these shots to be blocked? Are they just collectively pressing and taking too many low-% shots?

  5. Joshua Says:

    Mike-
    I couldn’t have said it better about the lead thing. The caps having some great comeback third period games lately seem to have done just as much harm as it has good. All of a sudden the caps think they can come back any time and score three goals whenever they want to. They need to play with a lead, as you said and hold on to it. These fast paced goals that are answered half a minute later need to stop. That’s what always ticks me off when the play the pens. They score a goal to tie it or take the lead and then thirty seconds later there’s a breakaway and the goalie is caught WAY out of position and gets smoked like a cuban cigar! Which leads me to my next point. Sure Huet was great at the end of the season. Sure he had two shutouts in that stretch. Sure he had a lot to do with the Caps even BEING in the playoffs. But there are still other things we need to remember. Olie has more playoff experience, Olie has been to a Stanley Cup final before, Olie is a big guy, Olie is GODZILLA FOR PETE’S SAKE!!!!! Olie will fill the net and make Hartnell and Briere think twice about getting in his zone. Olie is still a great golie and there is a reason that he still plays for the caps. In the games that he played at the end of the season, he still did pretty well. Put him in the net for a couple of nights and the pucks stop getting past that red line, and the Caps will close out the series. Now when we have to play Pittsburg in the next round, is a good time to put Huet back in the net. Yeah Pittsburg has some physical guys but Olie has been there all along and has been a virtual whipping post for the Pens. There in his head. Permanently. Put Huet in and he will react better to their style of Play. Hey having two #1’s is not such a bad thing after all is it? the Pens are a much sleeker type of team. They remind me of the old Lemieux/Jagr/Lang/Francis gang. We just need to get Brash, Bradley, and Erskine in the faces of Syd and those guys. Hey if Ovie can be held off for a bit against Philly we can hold off Malkin the same way. We also need to exploit Marc-Andre Fleury’s inconsistencies, get him moving side to side and slam some of those pucks home instead of missing the net from 3 feet away. Ok I think I’ve said my peace.

  6. jason Says:

    thank you joshua…

    i think olie needs to be put in as well. they are both great, and huet had kept us in this series, but the flyers have him figured out. every odd man rush it seems they score. and that penalty shot was WEAK!!! i can not figure out why his stick was raised so far off the ice and being put in the opposite direction he was going. that is a juvenile mistake. all goalies know that when you are sliding, or separating legs at all for that matter, you close that giant hole with your stick.

  7. Mike L Says:

    Mike, you’re right, most of these problems are correctable. The first thing that needs to be done is to sic Boyd Gordon and/or Brooks Laich on Briere. All they have to do is shadow him. Go where he goes, skate with him. Don’t leave him, even in their end of the rink (the way Tikkanen used to do to opposing forwards). Just keep him shut off and make it 4 on 4 without him being able to participate. The Caps did this very effectively in 1998 vs. Ottawa when Tikkanen became Alexi Yashin’s shadow to the point where Yashin had to commit a penalty to get away from Esa. Of course, once the penalty ended, Esa was waiting at the door for him…

    As for getting shots on goal vs. blocks. The Caps all year have had more shots blocked than anyone, mostly because they take more shots than anyone. The Flyers are sagging back in towards the net and letting the pucks hit them (sometimes in very undesirable places…) If the Flyers are going down to block shots, that’s fine, occasionally fake a shot, or set it up so someone is at the side of the net, and make a pass instead of a shot.

    Finally, I suspect that part of the slump is that this is a learning experience…and I think the lessons have been learned. Remember, the Caps have not lost three in a row in regulation under Boudreau, and there is no reason to beleive they will do so here. I see the Caps coming out hard tonight, getting on the Flyers and taking the game to them, getting a lead, forcing the Flyers to take chances…leading to more goals. It wouldn’t surprise me tonight if the Caps win big and chase Biron…

  8. Stokley Rose Says:

    I agree with all that’s been said. I, too, was screaming at my TV about how they had no one parked in front of the net on those first period power plays…like they had learned nothing and made no adjustments between Games 2 and 3. It’s really not that hard to do but they seemed to get it as the game went on. If we had actually made the adjustments to start Game 3 (and someone decided not to pass the puck to a Flyer right in front of Huet), maybe we go into the second tied or better.

    But that being said, I was utterly shocked that the Caps were playing the same exact way in the 1st of last game that they played in Game 2 so I’m not counting on anything until I see it.

    LET’S GO CAPS…right to the front of the net!!

  9. MD Says:

    I too was shocked by the lack of any apparent adjustments between Game 2 & Game 3; hopefully that will change tonight. I still think Semin & Steckel have been playing the best/hardest thus far (but with giant kudos going out to Fedorov for his defensive contribution last game – – what a consummate professional) and if the rest of them can step it up we can win this series easily.

  10. Patrick Loewen Says:

    A totally unrelated question— Are we still paying a portion of Jagr’s salary?

  11. Oneal Says:

    Hey Mike – any reason why Bouchard didn’t play for Hershey? It seems like now that Perrault and Bouchard are on the same team there should be a way to get them on the ice together.

    Oneal

  12. Tom in FL Says:

    Patrick: I believe the Caps obligation to Jagr ended wih the end of the regular season. Jagr had an option for next year, but it didn’t kick in because he didn’t get 82 reg season points. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s a free agent come July 1st and the talk on TV was that he might be headed back to Russia for next year.

    We can take that $4M and add a few more bucks from being so far under the cap and get us that big, bruising defenseman.

  13. pepper Says:

    correct – the years of gift-giving to Jagr are finally over.

  14. Luc Bertrand Says:

    Mike, I entirely support your observations. This is for sure the Caps can do better. Actually, I expected the team experiment some down after so many weeks of hard work to keep on winning to grab the last playoff spot. After all, it has been a huge comeback after such a disappointing record under Bob Hanlon.

    We can see this is no surprise the Penguins preferred to give up the first place in Eastern Conference to face the Ottawa Sens instead of the Flyers. Philly has finished the season in strong fashion (7-3-1) and both Martin Biron and Daniel Brière were a big part of it.

    What makes me still feel confident is the fact that the Caps have ended the season with yet a better record (9-1-0), many of the wins came after a comeback, due to the solid performance of Huet and four well balanced lines.

    I agree with you Mike for your view of a defenseman’s work: it is to defend the area in front of the net so the goalie can make the saves. Personally, if I were a NHL blueliner (for sure with the size to do so!) my motto would be nobody can stand in front of my net on his skates. For sure, having defencemen capable to score goals or support the offense is highly desirable, but his primary duties are to keep the slot clear. Since it is always expected from the goalie to stop the first shot, leaving alone any opponent in the paying zone always give an extra opportunity to score with the rebound. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think most of the goals, especially in the playoffs, apart those scored by top snipers like Ovechkin or Crosby, are scored either on rebounds or while the goalie has his view blocked by somebody between him and the shooter (or deflector). Easy goals are seen in regular season, when teams are testing their new goaltenders or when their goalies can’t do better. In the playoffs, it is rare to see teams trying a goaltender and teams with bad goaltending never make the playoffs. In hockey, the offense runs the show but defense wins the games.

    The Caps have everything to go to the very end. I read Bruce Boudreau’s and players comments after last game and they all know what they do wrong. I am confident they will fix it tonight.

  15. jason Says:

    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!
    LETS GO CAPS!

  16. Patrick Loewen Says:

    Thanks Tom, It will be nice to finally get something back for money spent! We didn’t get our money’s worth when he was in our jersey, but it was even more sickening to watch him play for someone else on our tab! I hope we meet him in the next couple of weeks, to teach him what the word TEAM is!
    I think the saved cash should go towards locking up one, or more, of our FA’s ( Greeen, Huet, Cooke, Fedorov, etc)

  17. Patrick Loewen Says:

    CAPS FOREVER!!!

  18. Anthony Says:

    I could be wrong, but I thought that the Jagr money wasn’t affecting the salary cap?

    Also, you can want whatever you want, it doesn’t mean because we get the money you go to the defenseman store and go buy what you need.


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