When the Washington Capitals seemed to flip a switch last season and go from the high octane run-and-gun offensive juggernaut to a team that would lock you down defensively and win games 1-0 and 2-1, it was a startling shock for both Caps fans and teams around the NHL. After all, you go into a game that features offensive talents like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin you think you’ll be flying up and down the ice trading offensive chances.
Instead, the Caps were able to play a smothering kind of defense that limited opportunities and kept the score down on both sides of the ice as the Caps offense had to adjust to their new brand of hockey. As they head into their second season under the new system led by coach Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals have a few new pieces to play with. Guys like Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer bring more of the blue collar gamesmanship to the squad but Boudreau wants a little more.
Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post hears from Boudreau that while he likes the commitment to defense, he wants more goals and would love to have the best of both worlds.
“I’m hoping that we can be a hybrid,” Boudreau said. “There’s some parts we changed [last season] that I really loved. But when you’re playing like that, you have score a lot of goals dump-ins and you have to score a lot of goals off the forecheck because the quick-break isn’t there. I’d like to get back to being more of a quick-break team.”
Boudreau would not delve into the specifics of positioning and the responsibilities of individual players in the new system. But he also made it clear that he doesn’t want them to revert to the Caps of 2009-10, with forwards routinely gliding back, or camping out in the neutral zone while the puck is deep in Washington’s end, or more important, feeling that defensive-zone coverage isn’t in their job description.
“I’d like to be a quick-break team but not [have forwards] taking off, waiting at the blue line,” he said.
Getting that sort of attacking team can happen. Take a look at how teams like Vancouver, Chicago, and Detroit can stop on a dime and take a turnover and jet the other way to create offensive opportunities. Teams like that have been working their systems for many seasons, however, and their key components have been in place for years playing the same sort of hockey. If the Caps can get to that sort of level and become a quick strike team in the Eastern Conference with the weapons they have, it makes them all the more dangerous.
Pulling it off while still remaining committed to defense and not getting lost along the way will be the struggle for the Caps. The Caps have a lot of forward possibilities to play with in camp and juggling all these things are a tricky thing for a head coach to handle while also trying to do something new. Boudreau did well with it all last year, but if he can turn the Caps into a quick-strike defensive lockdown team, he might get that Stanley Cup that’s been eluding the Caps all these years.