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Leonsis: Caps need better discipline, not better defense

(By Richard A. Lipski for TWP)

Last winter, as the Caps swept through the Southeast Division on the way to the most points in the NHL, there was an extended debate about whether their "style" would work in the playoffs, and whether an offensive juggernaut like that was built for the spring. The Caps were steadfast in insisting that they'd be just fine.

"Our goal is to prove everybody wrong," Bruce Boudreau said entering the playoffs, "to prove that what we do and the character we have and the way we play is the best way, and by far the most entertaining way."

Well, however you break down that series against Montreal and the final three games, the Caps lost the chance to prove that point, leading at least one prominent member of the team to sound a new message. Maybe you've seen this quote from Brooks Laich to Chris Stevenson:

"Maybe we're better if we score 20 goals less and give up 20 less," he said. "We have to be better defensively. We've been flashy and played for the fans. We have to be more soldier-like.

"When good teams play with the lead, they take you out of the game. They don't let you off the floor. We had teams down and we let up. (Changing) is not going to happen right off the bat, but by February or March, you have to know how to play the right way. The last two months of the regular season, you really have to have your identity down and know how to play to win in the playoffs."

This seems like an interesting debate, and it came up during Ted Leonsis's lengthy and terrific appearance on Japers Rink Radio over the weekend. Leonsis was asked about the flashy-vs.-soldier-like dichotomy, about a team that's thrilled in the regular season and come up short in the postseason.

"How do you balance what seems to be a different style that's required in the playoffs versus the kind of identity that a lot of core members of this team have adopted in recent seasons?" he was asked.

His answer seems worth quoting at length.

"I really think that's a very superficial analysis, and I take really great exception to that," the owner said. "We want to win. And the last time I looked, the way you win is you score more goals than the other team. And we have a team right now that's built around the new NHL, and we roll four lines. We have a team that scores a lot of goals, and we should never apologize for that.

"Our failure in the playoffs didn't come because we're a flashy team, or we have handsome players. Ironically, when you look at what our big failure was in the playoffs, it was our power play, right? It's ironic. It wasn't [that] we were soft on defense. We went, what, 1 or 2 for 35 or whatever the stat was on our power play.

"And so playoffs are obviously different than the regular season. Things get tighter, things get tougher, goaltending really becomes a big differentiator. I don't think we have yet to play a playoff series where one of our goaltenders have stolen a series, where we can look and say the reason we moved on was our goaltender was better than their goaltender.

"So I look at special teams play as really what let us down most in the last playoffs. I do think that our guys understand that the difference between regular season and playoffs is pronounced, and the officiating is different, and the magnification of mental mistakes is great, and that's where we have to work.

"I think back to the [Sunday] Monday Night Football game, Dallas and the Redskins. At the end of the first period, a boneheaded play leads to a touchdown. Redskins win. I look at Mike Green's penalty at the end of the first period, where we're on a power play and then they score and they go up 1-0 in Game 7. Those are mental mistakes, and that's what I believe we need to be better at.

"At the big crucial time, where games are won and lost, they're not won and lost on talent, they're lost on discipline, and so that's where I'm hoping maturity and kind of the coaces drilling in that you don't need to try and be the hero in the playoff game, there's no need for it, it's better to make the safe play, that's better for your teammates. So I think mental discipline is something that comes with maturity, and I'm hoping we step it up."

This is a debate that isn't going away. And each step of the way, I'll be there to transcribe radio interviews about it.

By Dan Steinberg  | September 20, 2010; 1:18 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Next: Sam Huff and the overtime rules


Presumably he means the Sunday Night Football game at the end of the first half.

Posted by: Cosmo06 | September 20, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

This is going to be a really weird regular season for the Caps. Barring an absurd amount of injuries, Washington will make the playoffs. So the entire season will be like some kind of extended training camp for the playoffs.

Montreal proved that it matters not at all how high in the standing you finish. If anything, they made a case for the idea that the later in the season that you qualify for the post-season, the fewer meaningless games you play at the end, thus keeping your competitive-edge heading into the first round.

The Caps had clinched everything they could possibly achieve in the Conference with about a month to go. They faced Montreal, who needed an overtime shootout in the last game of the season to qualify for the playoffs. Maybe that was a factor -- maybe it wasn't. But it certainly lends credence to the idea that the only value the regular season has is to qualify for the post-season.

So I look for Coach Boudreaux to play "Mad Scientist" all through this season as he mixes and matches his lines and strategies trying to find combinations that might work better come April. And if all that experimenting keeps the Caps from playing as well as last season, and makes them have to claw their way into the playoffs, well -- who knows? -- maybe that will be the best result of all.

Kevin Olson
Manassas, VA

Posted by: noslok | September 20, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Gimme a break. Ted Leonsis doesn't know diddly about hockey and should limit himself to putting beer holders on urinals at Verizon. I mean, why should ANYONE care what he thinks about a hockey topic? He's never played. Never coached. Never been a general manager. His opinion is as meaningless as mine or yours, Steinberg.

Posted by: poguesmahone | September 20, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Steinberg: I again point to you being a suck up to Leonsis with your editorializing on his "terrifice" appearance on Japers Rink. How can anyone take you seriously when you are so obviously in the tank for the guy?

Posted by: poguesmahone | September 20, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Pogues, "Terrific" was meant more for my friends at Japers Rink Radio, who landed a pretty high-profile guest and kept things interesting for 40 minutes of podcasting. I was just trying to throw some love their way.

Posted by: DanSteinberg1 | September 20, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Dan, the love is MUCH appreciated.


Posted by: freakinandpeakin | September 20, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Steinberg: fair enough. I read it that you were complimenting Leonsis. My problem with him is that he is a complete blowhard. Those comments of his that you refer to pretty much prove the point.

Posted by: poguesmahone | September 21, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

poguesmahone- he owns the team therefore his opinion matters, regardless of his hockey IQ.

Posted by: CelticFCbhoys | September 21, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

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