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.