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2/9/11-The Washington Capitals and the Mental Stability Required to Ease the Minds of the Many Frustrated by Offering Better Consistency

February 9, 2011


I am currently listening to the Washington Capitals Wednesday Report (minus Stretch). One of the reasons I make some typos and get stalled when blogging here is simply because I have too much to express. I will type quickly to keep points, but often, those points lead to others. As this is not my job (well I don’t get paid, so technically I’m a sucker who works for free), I do have to take care of other things. For now, I am also in the midst of running an edit of the latest video blog. I touch on some of the topics indicated in the subject of this post a little more in-depth in the VB. In short here though, I do agree that there is a major difference between the mental stability of last year’s CAPS versus this year’s CAPS. I have read and heard a pile of comments about the so-called “defensive system” but it isn’t called a “defensive system” in my world. As for the consistency, well, it’s not there and there isn’t much debate about that from any side I can imagine. One area that gets a bit of fan angst thrown its way is what many refer to as the “Neutral Zone Trap.” I pretty much feel that anything the Capitals do well during the regular season only prepares them for higher chances at ADAPTING better and more quickly to the possiblilities thrown at them from other teams in the playoffs. Sometimes, the neutral zone is where the game gets decided and sometimes it won’t the Washington Capitals who set the pace or the zone where the game decided either. I suppose we’ll all see what happens together.

Two things I try to reiterate often are 1) I rarely use numbers on this blog and 2) I generally see the game from the perspective of the goalie. Two things I will add to those statements today are 3) I do look at numbers – often and 4) Not all whose minds are on the net are conservative and prefer a game “system” that not “offensive” and I am one of those types. Here comes the big number five – Yup, I am on the side of the fence that believes, for reasons I would have to write a dissertation to get across in this format, that a MENTAL ATTITUDE COACH is a good idea for NHL teams, but specifically the Washington Capitals.

Many people have asked the question as to whether or not the CAPS need a sports psychologist. I have to say, the answer is “no”. The actuality is that the term “psychologist” really is not something that fits the sport itself. A mental attitude coach is a different animal in subtle, yet important ways. Mike Vogel was asked a question from a fan asking if the Capitals needed a sports psychologist. He didn’t really answer the question. He said he felt the guys needed a good run. I agree with no hesitation. My question is then, “how will get to the state of mental preparedness to get that run?”

As I have said many times, it’s complicated and while a head coach and his staff for any NHL team are the game plan folks, the majority of today’s NHL teams do not have an experienced human behaviorist on staff. Just as I will always be a “net minder” by nature, I am also a “mind minder” by nature as well. I’m not the only one, but I am becoming more and more AND MORE vocal and openly commenting on the subject. The reason there is URGENCY coming forth from me on the topic is about as simple as simple can be. I am a Washington Capitals fan who has been so since I was a child. That puts me at the 30+ year mark of dedicated and committed fandom. As such, it is horribly troubling and causing me more anxiety than any season ever before to have some idea as an outsider how to help get the guys more mentally prepared, as a team, which should then lead to more consistency, which should then lead to that “good run” they very much need to tip them over this particular season.

Head coaches who have played the sport and who are “player friendly” tend to be excellent coaches of the game itself. However, those same coaches are often times thinking more like a player, especially the kind of player they once were. Again, no time for a dissertation, but in extreme general and simple terms, many of the NHL coaches should be concerned more about strategy against other teams, the manner in which to utilize players, the locker room head who leads the team in practice and behind the bench. No matter how many assistant coaches available to any NHL team, there is ALWAYS something to be gained by having a behaviorist who understands the game, the pressures of the game, differences in cultures, age maturation variances and how other personal characteristics and off-ice life situations and habits can affect each player. The team suffers if even one player isn’t “all-in”. The players can then start a very tenuous spiral that can unravel even the best team due to frustration from individuals and extending outward to the team, which then extends to the media and the fans. This can then start feeding further decline, because the player psyche gets dinged by fan disappointment and frustration. How many coaches give a rat’s hairy stink-side about that sort of thing in the NHL. It’s a man’s man sport. You have to be a tough customer to play this game at the professional level.

I will have to cut this short. I can see the ups and downs going on during games when I watch the CAPS play. I can see the toll it takes on certain individual players. Let’s all take a step back from the game itself right now and mention that Alexander Ovechkin has just lost Nate Ewell. Which NHL coach thinks he should A) Just suck it up and play his game? B) Just hang tough until a suitable replacement is found and he’ll be okay c) Demand that someone do all the things the same way that Nate used to do them ASAP because Alex can’t be put off his game for any reason? D) not even give an s&$t about this question because it’s irrelevant and ridiculous?

Which one did you pick? Which is the right answer? Is there a right answer?

If the team must be stronger of play and the team is composed of Russian, Czech, Canadian, Swedish and American players (at least that’s the Capitals mix of countrymen to date) and they are of varying ages, from varying types of backgrounds, then how well do you think an NHL coach who spent his life playing and/or coaching the game was paying attention to the differences in behaviors as opposed to the differences in what a person with whom he’s played or who has played for him does mechanically on the ice to produce NUMBERS?

If you want numbers, you need humans. If you have humans, you have the psyche. If you want to win hockey games and feel good about a solid win, you need that psyche of all the humans involved to be set on the “mental tough” dial don’t you?

I’ve asked this question in varying formats several times before, but here it is again. How much time does a head coach and his typical coaching staff have in an average NHL season day? How much intuition can a head coach afford (or muster depending on the coach) at the expense of the practice, the leading, the strategy and all the game-time preparation heading into, during and immediately after a game? If the team dynamic can’t stay consistent, but there is a plethora of NUMERICAL evidence showing that they can be much better, and they can produce and they can be more consistent, then perhaps, ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE COULDN”T HURT?

I could go on and on, but I’ve got some further editing to do and there’s a Boston versus Montreal game underway. My main point for this post is simply that “no” a sports psychologist may not be the right way to look, but a person who takes the “psyche” of the organization and concentrates on getting the team “mentally prepared” for all the tough, hard, ups and downs that accompany the game, the NHL, the media, the fan disappointment and highly variable swings of passion and anger, the inner-disappointment of the player’s themselves and numerous other individual and orgainzational related human factors might just be the right thing to do for not only the Washington Capitals, but the other NHL organizations as well.

Does Bruce Boudreau know exactly which player responds to what button pushed? Does he know when in a player’s life and career those buttons become more or less effective? Maybe it should be the head coaches job to be wholly responsible for this in today’s NHL.

How many men would like to tell me to mind my own business right now?

Tough S&#@ guys, at least in the case of the Washington Capitals, until I see what I need to see on the ice (and trading players, firing head coaches and making sudden, marked changes only adds to the problem by the way), I will keep the subject cycling over and over and over. Much the like the cycling that lead to the San Jose soft goal on your YOUNG CZECH netminder.

GO CAPS!!! I hope everyone has had a good day off and it was a nice mini-break to recollect thoughts. SFTC did not choose a player to give the “Head-butt of the Goalie Mask” game mention for the Capitals 0-2 loss after meeting with the San Jose Sharks in DC last night and THEY KNOW WHY! There’s still plenty more season left to play. Panic is not just a word, it’s a destroyer of all things good. ROCK THE HOCKEY – ALL THE TIME – EVERYWHERE! – peace – mia – oh and if Matt Cooke doesn’t seriously hurt someone else (which he probably has already), he may be doing it to hurt himself. Perhaps those who aren’t looking into the “heart” of certain behaviors don’t get what I mean. Too bad – NHL players are humans too.


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