Your turn: What changes must the Capitals make this offseason?

May 05, 2011|By Matt Vensel

Alex Ovechkin and the young Capitals continued an old spring tradition Wednesday night by gliding out of the playoffs earlier than expected. This year, they put a new twist on postseason disappointment by getting swept by the Lightning in six days, but at least this means they get to dust off their golf clubs and their freshest dance club attire this weekend.

Sadly, Capitals fans have come to expect this from the team they love with reckless abandon -- it might be one of those S&M deals -- but this kind of failure is unacceptable considering the wealth of gifted players the Capitals have on their roster, including the NHL’s most electrifying player in Alex Ovechkin.

They Capitals always seem to run into a streaking squad (the Lightning this season) or an impenetrable goalie (Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak a year ago) in the playoffs. Forget all that talk. The Capitals, the top team in the East, should have been the streaking squad that steamrolled through the playoffs.

What is it going to take for them to reach that point? A roster overhaul? A coaching change? Stripping the ‘C’ from the scarlet sweater worn by Ovechkin, who no matter how many goals he scores in the postseason will wear the label of a playoff loser until the Capitals break through when it counts?

That’s the question I want Capitals fans to answer at the end of this post, but first, let’s break it down.

Capitals GM George McPhee did an amazing job of rebuilding this franchise heading into the lockout, and he has assembled an impressive collection of skill players who can dangle and snipe with the best of them. But that approach usually doesn’t work in the playoffs where teams stack five players in front of their net and Cup-crazed defenders are willing to dive face-first in front of one of Ovechkin’s slap shots. The Capitals have to add a few gritty, grimy young players who want to sacrifice their pearly-white chompers to win a hockey game. You can’t just play rent-a-vet at the trade deadline to fill that need. It doesn't always work like that.

Against the Lightning, who needed seven games to knock out the Penguins in the first round, it was the Capitals who looked flat and were outplayed in pretty much every phase of the game.

Does that fall on the players? Or on the team leaders? Or both?

Bruce Boudreau’s job security is a hot topic down in D.C. and rightfully so.  Boudreau has coached the Capitals to 195 regular-season wins over the past four years, but only two postseason series wins. Like him or not, he’s the obvious fall guy since he can’t seem to get one of the NHL’s top teams over the hump. It’s my opinion that the Capitals need a new voice in that locker room, one the players actually listen to.

Of course, some of the leadership burden falls on the shoulders of Ovechkin, who was named team captain in the middle of the 2009-10 season. Wearing the ‘C’ is something sacred in hockey, and it’s not easy for a young player to seize control of the locker room and lead men who are 15 years his senior. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews have pulled it off, leading their respective teams to the Stanley Cup the past two seasons. Ovechkin hasn’t yet, but that’s not to say that he can’t. Like a young quarterback such as Joe Flacco taking over an NFL huddle, everyone has their own learning curve.

I don’t think revoking Ovechkin’s captaincy is the right move -- nor is it a possibility -- but he needs to step up as a leader next season and get his teammates to play with the same intensity that he does.

Anyway, that’s just my two cents from watching this team on TV all season. Feel free to give me yours.

Your turn: What changes must the Capitals make this offseason?

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