Can the Capitals dodge the neutral zone trap?

bruce boudreau.jpgGoing into tonight’s Montreal Canadiens-Washington Capitals contest, my basic question has been “How – in the world – do people expect the Canadiens to stick with the Capitals?” Mike Chen of From the Rink might turn that question on its head, though, as he discussed what it takes to break through a neutral zone trap.

Last night was the perfect example of how a less-talented team took away the breakout of a skilled team, and the skilled team failed to adjust except for small bursts here and there. Without any speed upon hitting the blueline, the Sharks arrived at the puck too late to really do any lingering damage.

We’ll most certainly see this style of play again, and it might be sooner rather than later when the Washington Capitals open up their series against the Jacques Martin-led Montreal Canadiens. I’ll be watching that one with a lot of curiosity, not only to see how the defensive-minded Martin tries to shut-down the high-powered Washington offense, but also to see how the Caps will adjust should the scenario repeat itself.

I pondered throwing out some numbers regarding how the Capitals dealt with the trap during the regular season, but to be honest, those statistics won’t mean that much going forward. Why? Because passing lanes go from Roseanne-wide to Ally McBeal skinny in the playoffs. Because shot blocking responsibilities go from a few players with wacky shin pads to a near league-wide mandate.

Nope, instead, breaking the trap will come down mostly to the Capitals’ talented European players and the zone breaking tactics employed by coach Bruce “Gabby” Boudreau. I couldn’t help but think that the playoffs (not just this series, since the Canadians are – in my opinion – wildly outclassed) will be a great test of an intriguing statement former Caps winger Viktor Kozlov made to Elliotte Friedman.

Had an interesting conversation with Viktor Kozlov about Bruce Boudreau. Kozlov said Boudreau is a genius at attacking and defending the neutral zone.

Reason number 1,874 that I love the playoffs is that we get some real answers – bad bounces and luck be damned. Capitals players, front office and even fans have been playing the victim/disrespect card repeatedly this season but now the Caps have their chance to prove that The Big Bad Media and The Dirty Underground Bloggers did them wrong. I can’t wait to find out if Washington can convert their staggering regular season success to playoff glory.

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    B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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    Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

    Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

    Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

    Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.

     

     

    Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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    Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

    The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

    Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

    “The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”

    Panthers didn’t want to trade Crouse, but Bolland contract was ‘strangling’ them

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    Interesting note here from Florida head coach Tom Rowe who, last night, watched former Panther prospect Lawson Crouse play in Florida for the first time since being traded to Arizona.

    Crouse was the price the Panthers had to pay to unload Dave Bolland‘s contract on the Coyotes last summer. Rowe wasn’t involved with the Bolland signing, but was involved in dumping the contract — he was Florida’s assistant GM at the time the deal went down.

    His take, from the Miami Herald:

    Florida traded Crouse to the Coyotes last summer as part of a salary cap dump; Arizona took on the final three years and $16.5-million of Dave Bolland’s contract in exchange for a top prospect — in this case, Crouse.

    “We got criticized for giving up on a great young prospect but we had to,” Rowe said. “That contract was strangling us, cap-wise. …

    “When we traded him, our scouts were furious. I’m not going to lie. But we had to do something and that was trade Lawson. I’m sure, to this day, he’s still sour about it.”

    Crouse, who Florida took 11th overall at the 2015 draft, has five goals and 11 points through 64 games this year, averaging 11:50 TOI per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they do need to be taken in context — Crouse is only 19 years old, and the 10th-youngest player to play in the NHL this season.

    Bolland, meanwhile, hasn’t played since December of 2015, due to a variety of back and ankle injuries. His time in Florida was largely forgettable — after scoring the $27.5 million pact, he played just 78 games in a Panthers uniform, scoring 28 points.  It’s widely regarded as the worst deal GM Dale Tallon has made during his time with the organization.

    Shortly after taking on his contract, Coyotes GM John Chayka said Bolland wouldn’t be healthy for the “foreseeable future.” The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal, at $5.5 million annually.

     

    Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

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    Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

    That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

    Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

    “If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

    For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

    Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”