For all of the talk about the new NHL, with its speed and its goal-scoring, the reality is that the playoffs are very much the old NHL, with its hooking and its defense and its checking.
The Flyers and Bruins made it into the second round of the playoffs playing pre-lockout NHL hockey, with a lot of guys down low in the crease.
Last night, the Capitals were bounced for not playing it. Or to be more precise, they were bounced for not responding to the fact that the Canadiens were playing it.
The Caps couldn’t score in this series because Montreal played them tight, keeping the Caps to the outside and blocking lots of shots.
But the Capitals never got in the face of Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak (or Carey Price for that matter). They never had anyone down low, causing trouble and creating a distraction. And that allowed Halak to put together some beautiful games, in addition to some oddly awful ones.
The irony is that the Capitals have a player that could be a tremendous force in the crease. Unfortunately, Alex Ovechkin doesn’t have a down-low style game in his repertoire.
And that’s something Caps coach Bruce Boudreau needs to look into for next season.
It’s one thing to dominate the regular season, but surviving the playoffs is another thing entirely. The Penguins roll so much talent, they don’t really need that kind of game, but the Red Wings have dominated with a world of players who can work the puck from the crease.
It’s time for the Capitals to make Ovechkin into that kind of player.
Because if Ovechkin spent the series in front of Halak, Halak wouldn’t have spent so many games looking like the second coming of Patrick Roy.
I suspect the Capitals organization has looked at Pittsburgh as a model for how to build a successful NHL team. But the Penguins are constructed with so much game-changing talent, it’s almost impossible to re-create. Especially with a salary cap.
Instead, when the Caps look at what went wrong in the playoffs, I hope they’ll look to the Wings and try and rebuild the Capitals in the image of Detroit.
Ovechkin would look mighty good standing in front of some poor goalie, waiting to deflect shots from defenseman Mike Green.
It wouldn’t be pretty, but a few rounds of more grinding hockey could lead the Caps to the Stanley Cup.
And as we all know, the Stanley Cup is very pretty.