How big a deal is losing two games at home to open a 7-game series?
That is the question that will divide Capitals fans, analysts, writers, coaches, executives, and players today.
Is it the end of the world? Is it time to start thinking about golf? Or, is it a surmountable challenge, something from which you can pick yourself up?
Where do you sit? Where does Bruce Boudreau? What about Ovi, Nick Backstrom, and Michal Neuvirth? I don’t have the answers, but I have some guesses.
For the fans at least, the second intermission of Game 4 of the New York Rangers series was the first “do or die” moment.” If you took to Twitter during that 15 minute intermission, you would’ve seen comments like this (names withheld to protect the unfaithful).
- “Turning the game off. If the Capitals don’t care, why should I?”
- “Season over, GMGM, Bruce should be fired.”
- “This is the worst performance of any hockey team I have ever seen.”
Keep in mind, if the Caps went on to lose that game (which they didn’t, in a 4-3 overtime comeback thriller), the series would’ve been even at 2-2. Even! That is how low the threshold for defeat and disappointment is for some of this franchise’s fans. Imagine where their minds are this morning. I’m a little afraid to look.
Things are rightfully more dire today, sitting in a 0-2 hole against a red-hot Tampa team. Heading down to Florida, Tuesday’s Game 3 is very much “do-or-die” for Washington. It’s not technically decisive in terms of winning, but everyone in the organization, fans included, needs 3 good periods of hockey. Should Washington fall to 0-3 in the series, advancing is not impossible, but it is very improbable, given how good Dwayne Roloson and the Tampa penalty kill has been.
The two games this weekend featured stretches where the Capitals looked like the team at their best, creating chance after scoring chance and coming oh so close to converting. Both games also featured a bug that has bitten the Caps of late: sloppy line changes. In fact, the game-winning goal last night was the direct result of a slow defensive line change, leading to the 2-on-1 that iced it for Vinny LeCavalier and his Bolts.
All of these factors, coupled with unnecessary penalties (ahem, Mike Green), tough breaks (Green again), and sullen looks on the bench, hint at a team that is closer to the beach than to the Conference Finals. Who needs to make a decision on Tuesday night where they’d rather be? Obviously, the whole organization needs to pull itself up by the bootstraps make this a series, but there are some key individuals who need put it on line if we are to see hockey next weekend.
Nicklas Backstrom showed a glimpse of his old self on Sunday night, creating the Capitals first goal. Good, but not enough. Not for a player with Backstrom’s talent. The Super Swede has been nearly invisible at times compared to his countryman Marcus Johannson, despite Backstrom’s experience and current ability level. Even if the playmaking isn’t happening for Backstrom, he has to make himself known on the ice with defense and winning faceoffs. Backstrom has only won 47% of his draws in the playoffs. At times he is one of the best centers in the game, but that’s not the title he needs to earn in Game 3. He needs to earn the “A” on his chest, and grind his way back into being a factor.
Carlzner, the tandem of young defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner, are a combined -5 for the playoffs and have eaten more ice time than any other Caps d-pairing. Carlson especially has looked worn-out and tentative at the close of an otherwise-successful rookie campaign. With Dennis Wideman out and Mike Green still finding his rhythm, for better or worse this is the pair that is expected to shut down the opponent’s number one line. They haven’t been noticeably bad, but against Tampa, they haven’t been exceptionally good, either. The entire Caps defensive corps could use an infusion of the fire that they displayed in the early goings of the Ranger series.
Bruce Boudreau may have to Michal Neuvirth is going to be sat down at some point. It’s not going to be necessarily fair, but if things don’t change in Game 3, it could likely happen in Game 4. Both of these guys need to suck it up when and if the time comes. As a coach, Boudreau doesn’t want to shake Neuvy’s confidence after such a strong showing, but in that same role, he has the responsibility to give the team the best chance to win, which might mean shaking things up and giving proven playoff dynamo Semyon Varlamov the nod. Really though, the issue in these last two losses has rarely been goaltending, and both netminders need to have the mental toughness to power through a change in the crease if it happens.
Alex Ovechkin has been great in the playoffs. A captain can’t just be great though, he has to inspire the group around him to be great. Ditto for Knuble, Arnott, and Chimera. If there are any Capitals not skating hard off on line changes, not finishing checks, and not protecting the net, these guys need to be the ones to get the boys on board. Mental focus, now 89 games into the season, is at a premium.
It is also gut-check time for You, the fan. Are you ready to slip into a hockey-free summer haze, or are you going to stay emotionally invested? If you’re in the latter camp, and I can’t completely blame you if you’re not, this goes out to you:
Everybody gets knocked down
Everybody gets knocked down
How quick are you gonna get up?
Just how are you gonna get up?