Finding anything that went right for the Capitals in their dramatically failed attempt to attain any shred of playoff respectability is a steep challenge.
Their goaltending was impressive in the first round, with young Michal Neuvirth shutting out the Rangers once, and allowing only one goal on two other occasions during Washington’s five-game series win. He followed that up with 15 goals during Tampa Bay’s second round sweep for a paltry and pedestrian GAA of 3.75, and a save percentage of 0.867.
Alex Ovechkin (five goals and 10 points) and Alex Semin (four goals and six points) did their part offensively, but Nicklas Backstrom’s spiral continued, as he played nine playoff games and finished with only two assists. After four straight seasons of playoff failure, and three ending in soul crushing Game 7 defeats, the push for change is quickly getting momentum.
But it won’t come behind the bench. At least not in the opinion of GM George McPhee.
As the Capitals went through their annual early May ritual of exchanging hockey sticks for golf clubs, the inevitable question about head coach Bruce Boudreau’s future was asked. And on the receiving end of that question was McPhee, who parried the media’s jab with a stiff right hook, supporting his round, red-faced coach.
From Caps Insider:
“I expect him to be back, yeah,” McPhee said on breakup day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “He’s a good coach.”
“Someone said he’s not a good playoff coach,” McPhee added. “There’s no difference between a playoff coach and regular season coach. Either you’re a good coach or you’re not. He’s a good coach.”
Herein lies the perils of coaching beyond mid-April, and the assumption that success in any one regular season automatically generates championship aspirations. Boudreau is not alone in his playoff failings, and routinely we see teams that cruise through the regular season hitting the links far too early. Just last season the Capitals were one of three teams that finished in the top three of their conference to get bounced prior to the third round, with the Canucks and Devils also wearing the dunce cap.
So sure, at times we’re far too quite to assign that choker label, and far too slow to remove it when accomplishments warrant respect. The Sharks advanced to the Eastern Conference Final last year, and are one win away from doing the same this spring. But yet the memory of their regular season division wins over the previous two years that ended in quick playoff exits still lingers.
The problem for Boudreau and his aspirations of continued NHL employment is that his regular season success has been so overwhelming, and his playoff failures so intensely crushing, that eventually a change of course becomes the only logical option.
Some wise man once said that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. While largely using the same octane over defence strategy, Boudreau has won four straight Southeast Division titles with a combined regular season record of 189-79-39, but he’s 17-20 in the playoffs. Insanity indeed.
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is aware of the team’s shortcomings. He’s so aware that he neatly listed them all in a blog post this morning.
Their role players outplayed our role players.
Their highest paid players outplayed our highest paid players.
In fact, their role players outplayed our highest paid players.
Their goaltending was better.
Their special teams were better.
They adhered to their coaches’ system better than we adhered to our coaches’ system.
The wheels fell off for us. No doubt about that.
There are plenty of doubts about the future leadership of your team too, Ted. For now, McPhee’s word stands, but we may soon find out that it was a hollow endorsement.