When you hire a coach like Dale Hunter, you do it for a reason. You’re hoping the team takes on a little bit of their coach’s personality – gritty, smart, and simple. You hire him because you think that there’s enough offensive talent on your roster, so you should score enough goals to win even if you play his solid defensive system.
So when I watch a goal like this – a Capitals team already down 4-0 to the 15th place team in the East – I can’t help but believe things aren’t quite taking with Hunter and the Caps, for whatever reason. This is not what they were after.
Here’s the Hurricanes fifth goal, in which the Capitals three forwards swoop and loop around like discarded shopping bags in the wind, and the defensemen combine to make zero good plays despite having solid possession multiple times. The Canes badly outwork Washington.
This goal is an atrocity.
First, take a gander.
Guh. Where to start. This is the first time I’ve done a Systems Analyst with one of those “I would bag-skate the shit out of those guys if it were my team” coach’s knots in my gut.
The Hurricanes were about to work a cycle, but the puck hit the ref’s skate, which kicked the puck out to Dennis Wideman in front of the Capitals net. Carolina forward Jerome Samson got hosed by the bad kick, and had to jam on the brakes behind the net. He’s caught deep.
Jiri Tlusty and Eric Staal were a part of the attempted cycle too, so when the puck kicks into the middle, they’re a long way from the action, pinned to the boards. This has the makings of a pretty good rush attempt for the Caps if they were to kick it into gear, but it’s pretty clear that the Capitals are at the end of a long shift (if they aren’t then MAN would this be some special shift), and just want to get the puck in Carolina’s zone and get off the ice.
Wideman does the right thing and moves his feet (albeit not that quickly) up ice, and looks to start the breakout. Three problems follow.
1) Jason Chimera is a little too high, in that he’s voluntarily eliminated his own offensive gap by putting himself right on top of the D. If he does get the pass, he can’t get any speed going without getting poke-checked (assuming the D were backing off). He’s put himself in traffic.
2) Chimera also doesn’t look up-ice so much as once, trusting (not sure why) that he has a lot of time. Part of the reason he may have been so trusting is…
3) …Dennis Wideman is passing him the puck. And he wouldn’t give him a suicide pass, right?
If that’s Nicklas Kronwall or Dion Phaneuf, they’re more likely to leave the puck and absolute truck Chimera.
Wideman was not at a loss for options there, the best of which would’ve been to just straight skate it. Credit where credit is due, McBain makes a nice pinch, but this is a turnover on the d-side of your own blueline, which coaches HATE. The love to draw this…
….and say those are your turnover free areas. Chip it out, chip it in. CAREFUL WITH THE PUCK HERE.
Anyway – Knuble wasn’t exactly providing support low through the middle for Chimera, so in our next frame, we have this:
Stops and starts were not on the agenda this shift, as Knuble goes to take a lap, and four Hurricanes press inside the Washington zone.
McBain takes semi-possession (above) and tries to bat it back down deep in the Caps zone, but in the process bats it to Wideman. As you can see below, Wideman is about to have his second chance at clearing the zone – he could grab this and take it back behind the net, lean on his stick and put a little oomf on a clear, something…
But instead gives it a half-hearted thwack.
In the frame below, you can see: Knuble has almost completed his loop, Hamrlik has backed wayyyy off, and Tlusty is a millisecond from catching the puck. #15 Jeff Halpern is, er…a player in Blades of Steel, I think.
Samson is going to try to sneak behind Wideman here, and seeing that, Tlusty immediately puts the puck down and tries to get the puck through to him.
Honestly, I’ve been so focused on how the guys directly in the play are messing up that I haven’t even taken the proper amount of time yet to criticize the forwards. I want to do a Billy from Family Circus (worst cartoon of all-time) line that plots Jeff Halpern’s shift so far. He’s just figure skating in broad, beautiful loops.
Anyway, Tlusty makes a bad pass, and literally puts the puck right on Roman Hamrlik’s tape. Nice. A third crack at this, and this time the puck is sitting flat and moving slow.
So let’s not fool around – fire it hard off the glass! Slapbomb it for an icing! Make a direct pass!
Oo, up the gut on the ice. Interesting choice.
Oh boy. A direct pass to a teammate, dude. That’s on me. I should’ve been more specific.
As you see, Hamrlik makes a baffling pass to…Spacek, who has time, space and his head up. Because the forwards have literally been no help this shift, this situation looks like this: Hamrlik has Staal, Wideman has Samson, and it’s going to be a screened All-Star-Game-style hardest shot from Spacek through Tlusty. He’s gonna skate into this one.
Staal slides back a couple steps and Hamrlik is really pumped for his front row view of this shot, and let’s Staal drift. Then…. it happens.
The fake-slapper-pass to Staal is completed, and Neuvirth doesn’t immediately see it because of the screen.
And, sliding over opened up a couple holes, one of which Eric Staal finds for his second of the game:
In conclusion, that was a trainwreck. Just about nothing was done right defensively, and it all happened in a span of 10 seconds (which is a long time for five-players to nap in hockey).
Points to take away from this: you have to be careful with the puck in your own zone. Even if that means not making the pretty play, it has to get out, especially given multiple opportunities.
Forwards, stops and starts on turnovers are a must. Because everyone chose to loop around here, they almost never influenced the play.
And last, that looked like a complete lack of pride all around on Washington. Maybe they were dead tired, but from my perspective, it looked like five guys who just wanted to hear the game’s final buzzer.