Thursday, April 16, 2009

If I Were Bruce Boudreau ...

I'm not Bruce. He's a great coach. I have all the faith in the world in him and believe he will turn this thing around. But, if I were Bruce, here is what I would do:

1) Bench Michael Nylander - Right now the Caps need to play fast and physical, not skate around in circles waiting to make the perfect pass. When they are on their game, going 100 miles an hour, getting the puck in deep, hitting and forechecking hard, they are really tough to beat. NONE of that is Nylander. He often halts their momentum and makes the blind passes that turn into the giveaways that lead to odd-man rushes and expose guys like Jeff Schultz and Jose Theodore.

For the past month the Caps have been able to play on cruise control effectively against inferior competition. That's the pace that Nylander likes and allows him to put up numbers. The only time he showed any energy this year was when Keith Aucoin was playing his butt off down the stretch and making a case to send Nylander to the playoff scratch list. A nice segue to my second point...

2) Play Keith Aucoin - This guy brought energy every night the last month of the season. There were games when Boudreau used him on the power play to create traffic and work the corners because the team was listless. Aucoin really made a case for himself to be included on the playoff roster, and right now he's the kind of player they need in the lineup. It's time to roll up the sleeves and go to work, not to put on the figure skates and make pretty moves and passes. The Caps created very litte traffic in front of the net last night and just didn't maintain playoff-level energy f0r the entire game. Again, after a month of cruising, it's hard to just flip that switch and go. I thought they were physical for the first 10 minutes and made a statement, but didn't make the full 60-minute commitment you need in the playoffs. Ovechkin and Laich bring that every night, so adding another guy who does to go on a third line makes sense.

Keep in mind that Chris Clark has been cleared to play as well, so if you don't want to steal Aucoin from Hershey, dressing the captain would have to be a huge emotional lift. You think he might be ready to play? After missing last year's stretch run and playoffs and most of this season, I think the Caps' most popular player in the locker room would take the team to another level of intensity almost by himself. Either Aucoin or Clark is a better option than "Circles."

3) Bench Jeff Schultz - I defintely am not a Jeff Schultz hater. Bruce's assesment that he is sound positionally and generally makes good decisions is fair enough. But, with the Caps playing more wide open down the stretch, committing more neutral zone turnovers and not backchecking as ferociously as normal, Schultz has been exposed as someone who is too immobile to keep up when the game becomes more wide open. So, until the Caps forwards start taking care of the puck and getting back on defense more consistently, Schultz is just not a good fit. Brian Pothier deserves a chance, and if he doesn't work out you have to turn to Karl Alzner. Alzner is probably the Caps' third-best defenseman right now anyway, so why not put your best team on the ice? I'd be happy with both Alzner and Pothier in the lineup.

4) Shorten the leash on Theodore - For better or worse, he has to the guy. There's no choice, and to not show confidence in him after just one loss would send the wrong message to him and the team. What happens if Varlamov gives up two goals on three shots as a replacement? Then you've got two goalies with no confidence. Remember how Jim Schoenfield ruined Jim Carey by yanking him in and out of the lineup vs. the Penguins in the playoffs years ago? Bruce can't afford to mess up a great team by playing mind games with the goalies. However, if Theodore gives up two early tallies Saturday, you have to give him the hook and hope Varlamov comes in with nothing to lose, performs well and builds the confidence to start the next game. We're not asking for Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden. All the Caps need is for their goalie to make one or two big saves per game and they will be in good shape. Theodore made zero key saves last night.

It's definitely not panic time, but this is not mid-season, either. Nylander's play has been the same for as long as he's been a Capital. Last night was not unusual, so removing him is hardly a knee-jerk reaction. Schultz has been exposed for weeks, and you've eased Pothier back into the lineup. Alzner showed he is a NHL-caliber defenseman for a good part of the season. Again, playing him makes sense. And Theodore has been inconsistent all year. If he is hot Saturday then by all mans go with him, but sticking with him too long could put the Caps in a very difficult hole to climb out of.

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