Three Tuesday thoughts
By Kareem El-Alaily
Mathieu Perreault: There are folks this week ready to anoint Mathieu Perreault as our permanent second-line center (2C). A two-point night against the Thrash plus some newfound chemistry with Alex Semin has definitely revved up the fanbase. But I’m not ready to pencil him in as our permanent 2C just yet. One single home game against Atlanta does not imitate what the Caps will face come playoff time. It’s one thing to do well matching up against Rich Peverley and Alex Burmistrov of the Thrashers, but the true test for Perreault is seeing how he does against teams deep at center: the Pittsburghs, Phillys, Tampas, Chicagos, Detroits, San Joses. Let’s see how Perreault does winning face-offs, generating offense, and playing sound defensively when he’s on the road and getting matched up against Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, or staring down Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin every shift. That’s the caliber of center he’ll face come playoff time.
I realize MP is a fan favorite and we all want him to do well. He’s a high-energy guy and also an underdog by virtue of his sixth round draft status and small(er) stature. We all love underdogs. On teams without realistic Stanley Cup aspirations he would be afforded a longer, more patient look at 2C. But the Caps can’t afford that patience. They need to build a team that is 100% ready to compete for a Cup by the March 2 trade deadline. I’d simply like to see how Perreault plays against the elite centers in the league before drawing a conclusion about his compatibility with this year’s Caps.
Bruce Boudreau: There is a rumbling of discontent within the fanbase around head coach Bruce Boudreau. Despite a 5-3 record a segment of the fanbase is justifiably unhappy with the continued power play struggles, a first line that hasn’t played up to its level, long shifts, only two regulation wins and continued defensive breakdowns.
In Bruce’s defense, he is a victim of his own regular season success. Fans expect the Caps to roll through games against weaker teams like they did the past two years and that hasn’t happened so far. He’s also dealing with key injuries to his back line and was not provided an adequate solution at 2C by Caps management.
On the other hand, Bruce has not demonstrated the ability to adjust to strategic adversity at the NHL level, as demonstrated by the team’s recent playoff failures. Bruce’s coaching strategy has been simple: throw out higher skilled guys and play shootout hockey, and the Caps will simply outscore you, line-matching and other in-game strategies be damned. It’s worked marvelously the past few regular seasons. The problem is that last April Montreal figured out how to compete against it: clog the middle, let the Caps play a perimeter game, and pay the price by blocking shots. Now, other teams are following the "Montreal Approach" and the Caps haven’t responded too well.
Boudreau needs to show that he can adjust his coaching style and strategy to counter the "Montreal Approach". But the season is still young and he has time to figure it out. While I am not one that feels that Bruce has earned tenure due to his 2008 miracle finish and 2010 President’s Trophy (as some segments in the fanbase feel), talk of his removal is premature. He deserves a shot to figure out how to counter the "Montreal Approach" and get the team on-track. If we go another 40 games playing in the half-daze we’ve witnessed so far with no answers, then and only then should the “Replace Bruce” discussion start in earnest. My guess is that it doesn’t come to that and that Gabby figures it out.
And if he doesn’t, let’s hope that George McPhee has a Plan B ready.
John Erskine: Tell me you didn’t get goose bumps when John Erskine came in and started pounding on Dustin Byfuglien after the latter ran Michael Neuvirth on Saturday night. I couldn’t give two hoots that it took time off of a power play in a regular season game early in the season. For a mere two minute penalty Erskine sent a message to a potential nemesis on a Southeast division team that our players are not targets. The New Schoolers might cringe at that but that’s just hockey. Opponents behave differently when they know there is a price to pay.
I don’t know what there is to say about Dave Steckel and Jason Chimera standing there like pylons when a 260-lb defenseman runs your goalie. Sure they were giving away 50 pounds but sometimes the hockey gods put you in the wrong place at the wrong time and you just have to take one for the team. Neither one was willing to pay the price.
Box Seats blogger
| October 26, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily | Tags: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily
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