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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.

By Box Seats blogger  | October 26, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  | Tags:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  
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I pretty much agree with everything this time around. Perrault looks good at center, but I think his longterm future might be on the wing (at least in this organization). The Caps have Kuznetsov and Eakin who most likely project to be better NHL centers. Maybe the Caps have themselves a Briere though.

Posted by: GFisher1 | October 26, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I'd personally lump MP with Martin St. Louis in terms of style as opposed to Dan Briere. There are four sub-5'8" NHL players that I can quickly think of off the top of my head: Briere, Theo Fleury, Brian Gionta and St. Louis. The first three had or have a nasty streak to them; St. Louis does not. MP doesn't have an edge to his game either, which will make it all the tougher for him to make it as an NHL center long-term. He's got to become St.Louis-level good to stick in the league. And you're St. Louis did, MP may have to eventually slide to the wing as the center position is simply too physically demanding.


Posted by: topshelf_22304 | October 26, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

If one wanted to sum up Bruce's career as a player, they could fairly say: "incredible offensive firepower, immeasurable potential, considerable problems with consistency, failure to show up at key moments. Lazy." Bruce himself said as much in HIS book about HIS playing days.

Now let's look at Bruce the coach: his system allows for incredible offense and his teams the last few years have shown immeasurable potential. At the same time, problems with consistency are epic.

During the 2008-2009 season, the team flat out took nights off. And as my 90 year old Born-in-Montreal, raised-on-hockey grandmother always said: "when you get into the habit of taking nights off, nights off find you when you don't want them." Ahem: Game 7 vs. Pittsburgh two playoffs ago.

During the 2009-2010 season, the team fell behind by two goals more times than was necessary. Many, many times they came back. But, back to grandma: "if they keep doing that in the playoffs, they'll get stung." Ahem: her home town Canadiens went up by two goals in 5 of the 7 games and won the series.

In the end, Ovechkin said the team just didn't score enough. Sorry Alex, it's the coaching.

Bruce, as player or coach, has, for decades, failed to get it done at the highest level. At key moments, BIG moments, Bruce has a problem showing up. His own book cautions today's players against the very things that typify today's (and 08/09's and 09/10's) Capitals.

And yet, as the writer points out, Bruce's failure to adjust (throughout his career) is an issue. In my mind, decades of data is sufficient.

Bruce is a nice guy. So was Glen Hanlon.

Posted by: capscapscaps2 | October 27, 2010 7:03 AM | Report abuse

@topshelf, @gfisher

excellent comments. Maybe a Briere - it's very tempting to think that, isn't it? He's an exuberant kid. One wonders whether he couldn't be slotted in with Ovie on the top line so that Backs can center Semin. (The Backstrom line becoming, then, the de facto "top line".)

As for BB's failures to adjust: I wonder if the way to defeat or wear down the "Montreal style" is to simply make the shot blockers block shots and pay the price. They get hit with enough slappers they won't be blocking shots all that much. There is not much a coach can do - Montreal matched up well with their quickness and there was much, much more pressure on the Caps than on them. This showed and the Caps started squeezing their sticks and making the kinds of nervous mistakes that led to crucial Mtl goals.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that Halak made a great adjustment during that series. The Caps took a 3-1 lead because they found a good deal of success going glove-side high on Halak (not sure which "hole" that is). Then, Halak started making one great glove save after another. The fact is the Caps DID outplay the Canadiens and had many, many more prime chances to score (along with their many not so good chances) and Halak made the saves he had not been making earlier. The Caps shooters did not adjust their own strategy and that little point has been overlooked.

Posted by: RedLitYogi | October 27, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Strong comments, on all three counts. I hope MP gets a fair shot to stick with team, and that teammates who stood around or watched fro mthe bench learned a lesson from Erskine. Thanks for the Post for recognizing that due to a paucity of regular staff qualified to write on hockey it has a need for new blood. But how about hiring a full-timer who can write hockey columns containing more than cliches, obvious points, and wisecracks?

Posted by: jhershb | October 27, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

MP, or any other player, doesn't need to be a point per game NHLer to be worth a roster spot. He could be a 50-70 point 2nd liner and energy guy and make a positive enough impact to worth a roster spot. Winning is always the bottom line and these arbitrary notions that X player must be a point per game player to be worth a roster spot because he is vertically challenged or whatever other reason don't make sense unless they are correlated to performance that leads to losing hockey.

The Caps aren't a quick team and they often seem to suffer lulls in their play where the energy level dips. MP, point per game player or not, can be a catalyst that addresses these issues. Like most other fans I'm hoping he gets a fair shot this year to stick.

I hope A.Gordon gets a look at the NHL level as well at some point this season. His numbers right now are similar to Laich's at the time of Laich's breakthrough final callup to the NHL from the AHL.

Posted by: born_rpm | October 27, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for making the point about Stecks and Chimera. The minute it happened I turned to my wife and asked why it was the third guy in who wanted to mix it up.

Now granted, it's easy for me to point fingers, since I'm not taking on a giant like Byfuglien while I sit on the couch in my basement and whine. Fair enough. But the awkward looks of "is somebody gonna do something about that?" from the Caps were pretty telling.

Posted by: bryc3 | October 27, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

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