Bruce Boudreau

The dirty “T” word: Capitals to further tweak their defensive trap

The shell shock that many NHL fans have from the “dead puck” era in the 90s and early 2000s is still evident. After all, just say to a fan that their favorite team that defends strongly plays a variation of the neutral zone trap and they’ll freak out like Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back” after he found out Darth Vader was his father. They might even quote Luke word for word, “No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!”

If fans would search their feelings they would know it to be true. Everyone traps somehow and such is the case for the newly defensive Washington Capitals. They unlocked the key to keeping opponents off the scoreboard and finding an effective way to trap teams helped do the trick. The downside for the Caps is that their adherence to playing defense turned the run-and-gun Capitals into a predictable offense and the number of goals dropped considerably.

With the new season approaching, Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com finds out that Bruce Boudreau is looking to tweak his trap a little more to help tighten things up for the Caps and Mike Knuble is eager to see how it plays out.

“We made some good progress with the new system we had after December, but I don’t think they were real happy with the way it ended and it won’t be the same now that we’re back,” Knuble said. “It’s going to be a hybrid. It was too conservative.”

While the Caps were one of the league’s tightest defensive teams last season, they were also one of its least productive, finishing 19th in goals per game at 2.67. Only three Capitals topped the 20-goal mark last season – Alex Ovechkin with a career-low 32, Alexander Semin with 28 and Knuble with 24 – and Knuble believes a more opportunistic offense should go a long way in getting the Caps deep into the playoffs.

“It will be interesting,” he said. “I think a lot of players are excited to see what the staff came up with. I’ve got to believe it will be more of a transition mode. Maybe we’ll switch back and forth, depending on the game. But I think we all left last season with the feeling  we didn’t score enough goals and the games were too low scoring than what we’re capable of.”

With how the Capitals are built now by adding tougher two-way forwards like Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward and smart two-way defenseman Roman Hamrlik, you could argue that they’ll either be a better team at transitioning from defense to offense or that they’re going all in with grinding games out.

With offensive weapons like Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, asking them to grind out goals is like trying to get a Ferrari to win a tractor pull. Better puck luck and more freedom around the ice for those guys to get shots will help them while guys like Knuble, Brouwer, and Ward crash the net for rebounds.

Defensively speaking, however, the Caps switching to a more hybrid kind of trap is one that should benefit them. Being able to turn on a dime and counterattack after forcing a turnover is something the Caps should be better at as they’ve got tremendous talent to do it and be great at it. Being able to do it as well as teams like Detroit and Vancouver can should be their ultimate goal. If it works out that way, Washington might just get their chance to show what they can do in the Stanley Cup finals.

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.