"To me, error analysis is the sweet spot for improvement." - Donald Norman
I know how disappointing this loss can be for some of you guys (especially the fans who have been here from the beginning). The Capitals had their best regular season ever, setting many records and taking the President's Trophy for the first time in franchise history. Yet, as we all know (and maybe have been reminded of), the regular season means nothing come playoff time.
As fans and personal analysts, of course we have many reasons to put behind this upset. If the Capitals are smart, they will look over this series, see what they did wrong, and correct it. We all take the mistakes we make and try to learn from them, and I expect the Capitals will do the same.
So, from my perspective, what are a few things that we can learn?
We'll find out after the jump.
1) Offense can't win championships alone
The Capitals were an offensive juggernaut in the regular season. They scored 313 goals and had 7 players score 20 goals or more. Where was it in the playoffs? The power play for the Capitals only lit the lamp once, and players like Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, and Mike Green failed to show up. The team scored only 3 goals in the final 3 games of the series. It was expected that the monstrous offense of the Caps would carry them throughout the playoffs. It didn't.
If I'm George McPhee, I bring in stay-at-home defensemen to help bolster the blue line and to help the penalty kill. There were too many moments in this series where the Habs would get odd-man chances based on poor defense or badly timed plays. Lots of the Capitals defensemen, at times, seemed to go for the big hit instead of making the smart defensive play. The defense of the Capitals needs to be refined in order to effectively make a successful playoff run.
2) Too much of a finesse game isn't always a good thing
This team is known for its raw skill and technique as far as playing and scoring, with guys like Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, etc. Yet, one of the things I thought was missing was grit. Wasn't that why a guy like Scott Walker was brought in? It seems the Capitals wanted to rely on their skill game against Montreal, which eventually didn't work out. I thought a simpler, dump and chase style of hockey would have worked, and that a strong forecheck would help as well. There wasn't enough grit, only skill, and when guys try to take their skill and do too much, it doesn't help at all, like we saw in the series.
3) Bruce Boudreau needs to change the style and tempo of his system
It simply doesn't work sometimes. As stated in D'ohboy's awesome post (which I can't link for some reason, but it's in the Fanpost vault) his system is very high-tempo but is also high-risk. It relies too much on individual effort and skill, and when there's a mistake, there's no one to help cover it up. The Habs play a less-aggressive yet more-effective style in the "trap", and as mind-boggling and boring it is, it works, which I learned tonight. The Capitals have played one of the most exciting brands of hockey seen in quite some time, but if the difference between getting good ratings and winning the Stanley Cup is a changing of the system, it should be done.
I'd prefer to see a more balanced system that emphasizes equally on offense and defense. You just can't win focusing on one aspect of the game.
4) Make your shots count
This point could refer back to #3. One thing that most of us noticed was the amount of shots blocked in this series. Recall that in the 2nd round matchup in Pittsburgh last year that many shots were blocked as well. The number of shots recorded on a scoresheet is much different than what we see on the ice. The Canadiens, in total, blocked 182 shots in the course of the 7 game series. That's an average of 26 blocked shots per game.
Like I said, this could be due to the Habs' system, which rolls 3-4 defenseman in their own zone when the Capitals rush in. They crash around their goalie to make it more difficult to get shots off. It also prevents them from getting an easier shot off by creating less space and more pressure to get a good shot in from the point. Many of the Capitals tried to take shots this way, but these shots were blocked by the crashing defensemen of Les Habitants.
You'd think it'd be easier for the Caps to shoot when you've got lots of traffic, but it didn't. The Canadiens executed their shot-blocking plan and it was one of the reasons why they won the series - because the Capitals couldn't get enough quality shots.
5) The power play needs to be aggressive
I know, I know, best powerplay in the league...in the regular season. Just sayin'.
The team was horrible on the power play against the Habs, scoring only one power play goal. Montreal used the "crashing around the goalie" technique on their penalty kill, which seemed to confuse the Capitals even more. Washington had good puck movement, but to me, it was too slow. They seemed to look for the opportune shot, even when it wasn't there. They forced in bad passes and were just awful all series long.
Montreal, on the contrary, had faster puck movement and took better (and more) shots. They seemed much more aggressive on the power play than the Capitals did, and therefore had better opportunities. This isn't to say that aggressive power plays will always be successful, because at times it could be risky, but the Capitals just were less active overall.
I'd like to see the power play refined so that there's better, snappier puck movement and better shooting lanes. The Caps did a good thing in bringing in Mike Knuble to crash the net; they just need to get those good shots and deflections in to make it count. Against Montreal, I thought an active power play would have worked much better.
I know you guys might not agree with me on all these points, but this is based off of what I saw from the series. If you've got anything to say (hopefully you won't be all angry), just post them below.
We've got a good team in the Capitals. We've got a great young core. All we need is the right pieces to help them out.