Alex Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau

New system, same results? Caps new defense-first approach under scrutiny if they lose

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From the moment Bruce Boudreau took over the Capitals they were a team that exemplified the excitement that NHL hockey could be all about. They were free wheeling, run-and-gun hockey and with Alex Ovechkin leading the way and scoring upwards of 50 goals per season, that brand of hockey reinvigorated Washington, D.C. The Caps were winning games, winning big, and winning in a way that drove the fans wild.

After seasons of coming up short in the playoffs and fans eager for the team to go deep but the Caps seeming unable to get over the hump in the postseason playing firewagon hockey, coach Bruce Boudreau made a change this season to switch things up to a more defensively responsible approach. Now with the Caps down 2-0 heading into Tampa Bay for Game 3, some are wondering what good it was for the team to make a change up like that only to end up with the same results.

With Boudreau’s tactical abilities being put under the microscope with the team being in such a hole, John Keeley of On Frozen Blog points out the area of the Capitals’ game that’s their undoing so far in these playoffs.

Behind the bench, there is the obvious subplot related to Bruce Boudreau. All seemed reasonably well for Gabby a week ago, but when his club was gifted a lengthy break with which to rest and repair, they came out of it unable to meet the underdog’s challenge. That story is growing old here. Boudreau’s beaten an under-manned John Tortorella set of Ranger clubs twice in the postseason over the course of four springs . . . and no one else. Losing to the rookie, Guy Boucher? At some point (potentially soon) Capitals’ fans are going to ask: where is our Bylsma, our Tortorella, our Babcock, our . . . Boucher?

The team’s power play futility is a flashpoint in this discussion of tactical leadership. Its cumulative results last postseason and this are beyond nightmarish and nauseating: four for sixty. That’s four goals . . . in 60 opportunities. Tampa would bank in 9 or 10 off our dmen with 60 extra man opportunities. The power play personnel is a mish-mash of a mess, their attack ethos uncertain. Confusion and hesitancy reign supreme. The team had all of last week to work on it and get it fixed. Instead, it’s regressed. The head coach has to get it fixed, pronto. The Capitals will either achieve a competent power play this series or they will lose it. Tampa took out the Pens by achieving a glaring special teams discrepancy.

The Caps’ inability to generate anything on the power play isn’t on the same level of failure as the Bruins, but they’re setting the bar lower and lower with each game. These Caps could use a boost and a change in strategy on the man advantage. They could also stand to see some other players standing out and playing to their potential.

One such guy is Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom was a sensation last year, but with the Caps transition to more defensive hockey he’s looked lost this season and he’s disappeared completely in the playoffs. Through seven playoff games, Backstrom has zero goals and just two assists. It’s not that he’s been bad, he’s been non-existent and a non-threat both against the Rangers and more so against the Lightning.

The focus on offense is always going to be on Ovechkin regardless of what happens. He’s the captain and that’s all part of the territory, but he’s got to get help elsewhere on the ice. Mike Knuble’s rapid return to action was a boost but they need their top playmaking center to play to the best of his abilities and he’s not doing that. If the Caps don’t get it figured out tonight, they’re staring a summer of hard questions right in the face and there’s a lot of answers that won’t be readily available. After all, if they’re not winning it all when their offense is given free will to do as they please and they’re not winning when they’re buckling things down defensively as a playoff team is supposed to, then what’s next? Those answers could end up pretty grim.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.

Brooks Laich wants another crack at NHL (with or without Leafs)

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29:  Brooks Laich #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a puck drop against the Tampa Bay Lightning during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 29, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Brooks Laich wants another shot at playing in the NHL. As he told The Atlantic TO (sub required), if that means being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs, then so be it.

“You don’t win a Stanley Cup playing in the American Hockey League,” Laich said. “If the Leafs don’t have a plan for me with them, I would like to pursue a Stanley Cup somewhere else.”

Interesting.

Laich’s biased take: he has plenty more to give at the highest level.

Hmm, that … seems a little crazy. Few players see their best days at age 33 and beyond.

But what about his work with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies? Maybe he’s killing it there.

Well, if he is, his contributions aren’t showing in the simple counting stats. In 22 games this season, Laich has one goal and six points. He isn’t even firing a shot on goal per game (just 17 in those 22 contests).

Now, Laich wouldn’t sell you on his scoring skills. Face-offs might not be much of a calling card, either.

So … it’s easier to understand why he’s struggling to get a foothold in his career. Laich isn’t much of a scorer, isn’t dominant on the draw and isn’t someone who’s shown a history of dramatically tilting the ice in his team’s favor.

Does that mean he can’t be a fourth-line center, or failing that, at least a depth forward? Laich could conceivably be helpful to some team, even if it’s difficult to imagine anyone giving up anything but a minor asset for him.

And, yes, it’s crazy to imagine him exceeding anything he did with the Washington Capitals.

Avalanche say ankle injury ends Nikita Zadorov’s season

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche congratulates Matt Duchene #9 after his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Pepsi Center on December 14, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As if the Colorado Avalanche needed another miserable element to 2016-17: Nikita Zadorov suffered a season-ending injury during the same practice that Erik Johnson returned.

Zadorov injured his ankle after being tangled up with Mikko Rantanen during a Monday practice, according to the Denver Post.

Update: The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports that it’s a fractured ankle. Yikes.

Zadorov, 21, is a big defenseman with the pedigree that would inspire teams to imagine better things in the future (16th pick in 2013 by Buffalo). So far, that potential hasn’t really manifested itself in production, whether you judge a player by points, plus/minus or possession numbers.

He may be able to put it together at some point – again, he’s young – so perhaps he’ll remember this as a low point before he turns things around.

At the moment, it’s just another grim part of a bleak time for the Avs.