Well, its been about 5 days since the 2009-2010 Washington Capitals had their season tragically cut short in a Game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. I’ve had time to reflect on the loss, read some interesting opinions as well as interviews from players as well as GMGM, and I’ve managed to calm down and add some perspective. It has become apparent truly how improbably Montreal’s victory was, and how just the slightest sliver of luck could have drastically altered this series for the Capitals. While there’s little we can do anymore but look toward the future, to next season…. here is my analysis of what went wrong for the powerhouse Washington Capitals….
Quite simply, a horrible case of bad luck.
In this series with the Montreal Canadiens, the Washington Capitals scored only 1 goal for each of the last three games. Quite ironic for the league’s best offensive team, but it was also incredibly improbable. How improbable? Well, according to Mike Vogel, author of the blog Dump ‘n Chase, the last time the Washington Capitals went 3 consecutive games with only 1 goal each game, was in 2003. Back in 2003, Alexander Ovechkin was not yet a part of the Capitals organization, and the team was lead by such talents as Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig. In fact, the only person on both that team as well as the current roster was Boyd Gordon. Since then, the Caps have gone a full 479 NHL games without such an occurrence…. until the Caps – Habs playoff series. That is, without a doubt, plain bad luck.
Also, the Capitals powerplay went something like 1-for-33 this entire series. That is simply never likely to happen. A powerplay that has hummed along at about 25% for a few years now…. to suddenly drop to a 3% conversion rate is unthinkable. Somehow this occurred, but most of the time, it would not.
I believe that one of the reasons that Washington Capitals lost their first round series was horrible bad luck at the worst possible time. These things happen…. and, sadly, there is little one can do about it. Sometimes everything is clicking, and the puck seems to effortlessly go into the net – such was the Capitals’ play during their record 14-game win streak. Other times…. try as you might, the puck simply doesn’t go in. Too bad.
Jaroslav Halak would not budge.
It seemed that, throughout the series, individual players did not have much of an effect in the final outcome. I cannot pinpoint a single Montreal defenseman that shut down the Caps; and, argue as you might, you cannot pinpoint the Capitals’ offensive woes to a single player. In my view, the only individual who, without a doubt had an impact in the final outcome of this series was Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Jaroslav Halak was simply outstanding in Games 5-7 in this series. In those games, he faced a combined 134 shots (44.6 shots per game), and incredibly, managed to stop 131 of them, good for a .978 save percentage. That is sensational, and is rare to see over a number of games. Somehow Halak did it, and I give him credit for him. Yes, the Canadiens blocked about as many shots as they allowed to the Caps, and yes, the Capitals could have perhaps shot better…. but still, you cannot diminish the impact that Jaroslav Halak had on this series.
The Capitals couldn’t adjust.
My last reason for the loss was that the Capitals just could not adjust to the Canadiens’ system of play. Montreal clearly choked the sides of the ice along the boards, which was usually where the Capitals would enter with the puck. At the slightest sign of offense, Jaroslav Halak would drop down and block the bottom of the net. Even though these were clear parts of Montreal’s game, the Capitals kept on entering on the sides, and kept on shooting down low on Halak. In Game 2, where the Capitals managed to get 6 goals on Halak, most all of the goals were scored by taking the puck down the middle and shooting to the top shelf on Halak…. and he didn’t have a chance. One would figure that this style of play would have continued for the Caps in later games, but for some reason it did not. Would have an adjustment in play have saved the Caps this series? Perhaps. But there’s no use in crying over spilled milk.
Coming up next: What should we do now?