It was their first meeting after a gruesome 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Dec. 12.
"We had a day off after that game," said Brooks Laich, after the Capitals won the Winter Classic.
"I remember thinking we were going to get a visit from the GM when we got back." Instead, they got a message from head coach Bruce Boudreau. Something along the lines of: "Guys, we're going to play the trap." It is the first time in his coaching career Boudreau's used it. - Elliotte Friedman, January 3, 2011
Tuesday night will be the Caps' 82nd game since Bruce Boudreau officially ditched his run-and-gun offense for a version of the much-maligned trap - one regular season's worth of games that has included a strong finish to 2010-11, Boudreau trying (and failing) to install an effective hybrid system at the outset of 2011-12, and ultimately a coaching change to a bench boss who has implemented a 1-2-2 trap himself.
The change has, predictably, resulted in fewer goals-against (throw out the Boudreau portion of 2011-12 and the Caps are yielding a miserly 2.19 goals against in 59 games), as well as fewer goals-for (the Caps were averaging three goals per game prior to the change, though that scoring had dried up a bit in the immediate past, and have potted 2.67 per game since).
And while nearly everyone on the team has seen his offensive numbers suffer to some extent as a result of the change, the shift in philosophy, system and approach has hit Alexander Semin particularly hard. In 81 regular season games since the Caps abandonded Boudreau's aggressive offensive scheme, Semin has 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in 61 games (and it's not as if he's just been snake-bitten - he's shootin. In terms of pure production, that's essentially last season's Jason Blake, Colin Wilson, Tyler Bozak or, interestingly enough, Alex Kovalev. In terms of points per game, there's another handful of 2010-11 comparables, none of whom would be considered on the same planet as Semin in terms of skill... or salary.
By comparison, over the same stretch Alex Ovechkin has 30 goals and 71 points in 78 games and Nicklas Backstrom has managed 18 goals and 64 points (but is fully-recovered from last year's thumb injury and producing at a point-per-game clip this season). By further comparison, Jason Chimera has a nearly identical-to-Semin 17 goals and 16 assists in 80 games over the same span.
As Dale Hunter continues to mold the Caps into the team he thinks he can win with, it's to be expected that there would be a decent amount of hammering square pegs into round holes along the way. And with some players, that might even work (though Hunter might be wise to be somewhat flexible in his system demands as well). But with Alexander Semin, we've seen a full season's worth of what could be favorably-to-him described as "stifled creativity," with no end in sight. At this point, even his most ardent supporters would have to agree that Alex Semin the hockey player and the way the Washington Capitals now play hockey are horribly mismatched. And it doesn't appear as if either is going to change any time soon.