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10/19 – Washington Capitals and the Rally Mentality? Laich and I Might Have to “Have Words,” and I’m Accepting Donated Items so I can Break Them for Free

October 19, 2010


So far, both of the Saturday games played by the Capitals have been, shall I say, interesting. The first seasonal Saturday game for the CAPs two weekends ago, at home against the NJ Devils was a total beat-down. NJ’s netminder, Marty Brodeur, was having a rare off-night. Washington came out stronger and faster through most of each of the three periods as well. I know there has been a lot written about this subject already. I’m sure the way things become so irrelevant so hyper-quickly in the modern, super-speed, techno world, that nary a soul even remembers the last half of third period at this point. Ah yes, but here I am to remind all those (other than the actual team – they should ONLY BE LOOKING FORWARD to playing the Bruins tomorrow night, which is on Versus by-the-way), who have forgotten about the fighting and the fighting, and the fighting. That was quite the display of gloves to ice, then fists to faces.

I am not one of the many who believes hockey is too violent, or that fighting is not necessary or is primitive. I can say from that side of the fence though, that the first CAPS – Devils meeting of the 2010-2011 season degraded to something not of NHL caliber. The Devils were so far gone by the time all common sense left the game, it appeared that fighting was an unsuccesful, if not unconsious attempt, by the boys from NJ to not play that game any more. Alas, games don’t typically end faster using the “nothing left to do but start a fight” response when losing. There was no hope left whatsoever on the visiting team’s side. It was disappointing to see. The Capitals players did oblige with every taunt, so I can’t let them slide without their share of the responsibility in the fiesta of flying fists. Fighting has its place in the NHL, but it didn’t have its place in the first Saturday game of the season – at least from this fan’s perspective.

Now stepping into slightly more current events, I’ll get to last Saturday’s Capitals game on enemy ice in “Music City” against the Nashville Predators. The Washington team was missing Bradley, Green and worked with a reduced core. The Nashville crew had control of the game through at least two periods. It’s always nice to see your favorite team rally back in the last period to win the game in the five minutes of tie-breaking, sudden death play . Of course, once an NHL game hits OT, the 2 points get halved to 1, perhaps translating later in the season when that single point could dictate something as almighty important as a spot in the playoffs, or possibly as critical as which team the Capitals will face in the first round of the playoffs. 

I’ll stick with the “counting of the blessings” mantra to some extent, by saying I was very glad to see Semin, Flash and Laich (Ovechkin) get the win despite the Preds domination during the majority of regular game play, but I have to take the time to caution strongly against the “rally mentality“.  It was one of the admitted downfalls of Washignton when they hit the playoffs last season and thusly ended-up having a longer off-season than we all anticipated. As I have stated before, and as I will reiterate again, it is the sign of a good player to stand behind the bench boss, with, in Brooksie’s case, extreme prejudice. The issue in my mind, as much as I dislike countering a player’s loyalty, given that it builds a stronger team atmosphere and generally is a healthy way to instill a winning attitude, is in the fundamental argument that Laich has used to defend Boudreau.

Here’s Laich quoted sentiment about criticism at his current bench-based leader:

“Bruce doesn’t play the game. Bruce is the coach, he sets the game plan for us to execute. He’s not the guy that’s out there trying to score a goal or trying to make a pass or trying to make a hit. He does his best. He’s the most prepared guy you’ll ever meet, and I would bet every cent I’ve ever owned on that. You will never lose a hockey game [under Boudreau] because of under-preparation. He cares more about his players and about his team than any other coach in the National Hockey League. You can quote me on that.

“You’ll never find a guy who’s more emotional about hockey, more passionate about it. So any criticism towards him, I’d like to have words with the person that says that, because I think it’s totally unjustified. All the blame should fall on us as players, the people who play the game.”

I suppose if Brooks would like to “have words” with me for rebutting with the following, I’ll face the tall #21 firmly and with conviction:  He makes good points in that it is the players who need to buy into the coach’s game plan and execute the on-ice play. The discord I find with Laich’s verbal expressions stems from the definitive language. Brooks is on a team. That team includes the coach. Boudreau, therefore, cannot be held above reproach. A team needs to be so solid in its unity that a Stanley Cup is the entire collective’s one and only goal, and if “anything other than that is unacceptable,” according to Laich, then Gabby has to bear some criticism until the day comes when Laich and his hockey-passionate brethren get their skate around the ice with Lord Stanley’s finest prize held-up on high.

There’s a lot of chatter about Bruce Boudreau’s coaching abilities, and for the most part, I am as confident as Laich seems to be that Gabby does indeed care very deeply about his team and I find his emotional responses quite refreshing frankly. Boudreau says what he feels and he doesn’t spend time practicing conservative “coach talk” when he addresses the media. He’s paid some hefty dues to get an NHL head coach position and he should garner a great deal of respect for his accomplishments. BUT – at some point, even Brooksie will have to re-access his thoughts if the grand silver bowl is the ultimate pinnacle and Bruce can’t find a way to get the player’s to work in fixed unison with each other, would losing another chance at what he’s been chasing for 27 years be worth complete, blind devotion to one coach? I guess we’ll all find out together – or perhaps the Capitals will win the CUP this year and everyone can kiss Laich and Boudreau’s butt afterward. I know I’d be the first in line – as long as I can touch the cup. 🙂

The coaching is where the idea that “we’ve always been able to rally and come back in the third” was allowed to fester last season. It’s the coaching staff that should have changed that mentality. It’s the head coach who needed to see beyond preparation and video to the heart of what matters in the playoffs. ONE SINGLE GOAL AHEAD! All it takes to win a playoff game is ONE SINGLE goal. That goal can be as UGLY as a goal can be, but it needs to be. The Montreal Canadiens as a team knew that each and every single time they stepped on the ice to face Washington AND the Penguins and that’s EXACTLY why they beat both of those teams each playoff series. It was the head coach who put that into their heads and it was the coaching staff who maintained that mentality to keep them winning. In the minds of the Montreal Canadiens, there was NO SUCH THING AS RALLYING, there was only get a goal, then do whatever you have to do to keep the lead. The Canadiens didn’t need to work in the offensive zone once they put the puck in the net just ONCE – they simply needed to shut down the Capitals and that’s exactly what they did, didn’t they? In game 6 and 7 against Montreal last season, it was impossible for ANY Capital to play ANY type of game familiar to them, because their entire offensive zone was clogged with an opposing team on the single-minded mission of keeping the puck out the net to maintain a ONE GOAL LEAD. There were legs, skates, feet, bodies, bodies, bodies and more bodies in the way of the Capitals players. It didn’t even matter if the Habs were blocking the view of Jaraslov Halak, because any shot actually managed by the Capitals would be so poor, Halak had all the right ingredients for a pile of saves.

The “rally mentality” should not be something that becomes a Washington Capital’s standard this season. The “rally mentality” should be something that happens less and less often throughout the regular season. They know they are a great team. They know how to work with each other, for the most part, because they have been together for so long. They know where the PUCK IS GOING TO BE and they need to trust that intuitively, so that expending the energy on a “rally” in the third is not necessary. The “rally” is for teams who don’t have what takes to win the Stanley Cup. The Washington Capitals that I know, love and pretty much live and breathe until death do us part aren’t one of those teams. They ARE a Stanley Cup winning team. I think the Washington Capitals should start hitting the ice every period believing it’s the 3rd period. It’s ALWAYS the 3rd period. If you “rally” in the 1st guys, the other team has to catch-up. It’s on them – NOT you. ROCK YOUR 3RD PERIOD RALLY – EVERY PERIOD – GO CAPS!!

Now, since I am critical of the ice-hockey team I’m devoted to, almost blindly, and it’s head coach, I am not one to “throw stones” as though I am the penultimate model of perfection in some way. I too, am human and flawed, just the like everyone else. I certainly don’t have all the answers. Here’s some reality from my world to prove that I need to improve my perspective and my ability to handle certain challenges. Yup – I HAD A VERY, VERY BAD MORNING yesterday morning, and if reading this typed tirade isn’t enough, let’s just say I’m glad my Dad wasn’t alive to see me all fired-up (although he was King of “all fired-up), cursing the Universe in three different languages. I do not exaggerate when I mention that I wanted to “BREAK THINGS”. 

We’re all a work in progress, but progress is the key. I need to remember that I am very fortunate and blessed and the CAPS need to remove the word “RALLY” from their collective vocabularies.



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