Sunday, September 5, 2010

Comparing the Red Wings' Model and the Capitals

This morning, I had an interesting idea.

The Capitals are starting to look like the Red Wings.

It seems weird--I mean, where is Datsyuk, where is Lidstrom, where is Babcock (sorry Boudreau)? The Capitals have zero "winning" experience at an NHL level outside of Mike Knuble, they don't have a Scandinavian-laden roster, but just looking at defensemen, I think the Capitals are moving towards Detroit.

Back towards the start of the millennium the Red Wings organization was coming to a crossroads of sorts. Steve Yzerman was approaching retirement, Russians like Sergei Fedorov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were approaching the ends of their Detroit careers, and veterans like Luc Robataille, Brendan Shanahan, and Brett Hull were reaching the end of the line in Detroit as well, especially after Detroit's 2002 Stanley Cup championship. Ken Holland and the Red Wings decided to cash their chips behind their defense corps, led by 2002 Norris and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. With their strong defense, and some diamonds it picked up late in the entry draft in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit continues to be a force.

How are the Capitals becoming like the Red Wings? Well, as I was fantasizing thinking about the sky-high collective potential of Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson, I realized that all of them pass well. A large part of Detroit's game plan is having mobile, puck-moving defensemen. Now, the Capitals might just have five different defensemen able to make an effective first pass (adding in Tom Poti). The Detroit method of playing defense, as it seems to me--cutting off the other team's attack in the neutral zone by beating them to the puck, then making a tape-to-tape pass, and regrouping for another attack--helps Detroit have staggering Corsi numbers year after year, and I think that with these five defensemen anchoring the blueline we could see more of that.

Of course, Detroit also found or developed many defensively-responsible forwards, and the Capitals, outside of Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble, Boyd Gordon, Alexander Semin, and Eric Fehr, have yet to find that.

Because Detroit's attack is anchored with the defensemen, they can afford to go power-versus-power, knowing that their superior defensive depth helps them gain the advantage over the other team's respective line. The Capitals can match most, if not all, teams with depth up front, and defensively they will always have personnel on ice who can aid in the attack and cut off the other team's attack. In previous years, power-versus-power line matching could prove disastrous for Washington because its top line could get hemmed in the defensive zone if, say, Tyler Sloan and John Erskine were on the ice. Now, with players who can effectively cut off the other team's attack before it starts and win races to loose pucks along the boards, power-versus-power, I believe, can beat anyone.

With a good second-line center, line-for-line the Capitals are stronger than any other team up front. The defense corps doesn't look like the type to allow cycling and zone time against. Power-versus-power, like Detroit uses, like San Jose switched to this season in making the Western Conference Finals and easily handling these very Red Wings, could be the change Boudreau can now make to take the Capitals deep into the playoffs.


  1. I don't know where this comparison to Detroit comes from. That's the same line McPhee used last season in justifying the lack of need for an enforcer. (A bad decision which he has no retreated from). Let's just stop comparing the team to a multiple Cup winning powerhouse. The Caps are wannabees until they actually win something.

  2. I'm not sure why you have an issue with this comparison. There are teams that have stronger D corps that Detroit every year. Detroit has kept Lidstrom and made the rest of their D corps capable of moving the puck every year. The Caps *might* have one year of that. Detroit has had 15+. I never said anything otherwise.