Saturday, December 11, 2010

When Good Luck is Bad Luck

The 2007-2008 Washington Capitals were an elite Corsi team. So were the 2008-2009 Capitals. Both teams were above 54% in score close Fenwick. The 2009-2010 Capitals? Not so much, believe it or not. Here's my theory why.
I've touched on this before.

Complacency is something that seems to come up every now and then with the Capitals. Bruce Boudreau had the team do a bag skate the other day because of the Capitals' poor effort in the 5-0 loss in New Jersey, to fix the lack of effort.

But I think here, complacency extends further than that.

When you have a team like the 09-10 Capitals, who led the second place team in PDO (shooting% + save% at 5-on-5, league average is 100%, Caps were about 103%) by the same margin as the 2nd led the 14th, well, you know something was going on. They shot at 5-on-5 at a ridiculous percentage, and shot pretty well on the power play too. The goalies played well too--I've brought up several times that at even strength Jose Theodore was essentially Brodeur's peer in 09-10. Varlamov was better. Neuvirth wasn't quite as good, but still above league average. Combine ridiculous shooting and great goaltending, and you have a team that gets all the breaks, for which nothing seems to go wrong.

Bruce Boudreau sometimes remarks that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." When the Caps kept winning last year, he didn't have much incentive to fix it. Not that he didn't try, though. It was clear the Caps' PK and defense needed a bit of work, but even then, would the players have believed it? I believe it was someone in the Islanders organization who said that it's hard to convince the players that they played poorly if they post a win. I suspect some of the same was going on then.

Once we got to the Montreal series, the Capitals dominated in Corsi from Game 2 onward. You could argue that if they hadn't had this issue of getting all the breaks and having no incentive to play harder, that they would have come out stronger in Game 1 and swept the series. You could argue that they had no incentive to change their game to dump-and-chase and cycling after a regular season in which many, many goals were scored in transition, well, at least until it was too late. That's what I would argue, for sure.

Now, the Capitals are mired in a slump. Having lost four in a row (as of before the Colorado game), I'm happy. I'm not as happy as I was back during the early part of "the streak" last season, but I know that these issues--adversity in losing, cold streaks, injuries, inconsistent play, and lapses in focus--will require the team to give 110% to snap out of this funk. Or at least, they'll try. And that's valuable experience to have. The Chicago Blackhawks last season had some of the same issues--cold shooting, injuries, lapses in focus, and goaltending that allowed soft goals--in the Stanley Cup Finals. Yet, they powered through Philadelphia. They controlled the play. All season long they had to control the play to compensate for poor goaltending, and were the better off because of it. The Pittsburgh Penguins had to battle through inconsistent goaltending in 2009. The Flyers were ice cold until the first day of the playoffs in 2010. The Carolina Hurricanes lost their starting goalie in the first round of the 2006 playoffs.

Now, there's a great incentive for the Capitals to play hard. If the team can learn to play hard now, and remembers how to play hard come April, then there's a good chance it will be all the better off as a result. Well, except in terms of summer vacation.

Because that'll be short.

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