Without Ovechkin’s Trust, Boudreau Has Nothing

Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau talks with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) in action against the New York Rangers at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. where the Washington Capitals defeated the New York Rangers 3-1 to win the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

It looks like Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau’s job is safe. At least until next season starts.

But Boudreau is going to have a tough job next year. There are basically two theories floating around about how the Capitals were swept by the Lightning:

  1. The Capitals were outplayed.
  2. The Capitals were outcoached.

Tarik El-Bashir says the Capitals were outplayed and lays the latest playoff failure on the players. But ultimately, isn’t Boudreau responsible for the performance of his players? Isn’t it his job to motivate them and get them prepared to play?

My theory is the Capitals were outcoached. Washington had tremendous regular season success playing a defensive system, and pretty much completely shut-down the New York Rangers in the first round by applying an even more stringent (and physical) defensive system.

The defensive system broke down against Tampa and the physical game never re-appeared. That in itself isn’t a problem, except it wasn’t replaced by a particularly offense-friendly attack either. Alex Ovechkin was never given the chance to cut loose and put the team on his shoulders.

There have been some rumblings about how Ovechkin didn’t do enough in the playoffs, but I think he was trying to be the good soldier and execute his coach’s plan. Ovechkin did everything asked of him and his team wound up getting swept out of the second round. What’s the incentive for Ovechkin to listen to Boudreau next season? Why should Ovechkin trust a coach who ran a system that probably stifled his every hockey instinct?

If the Capitals had gotten physical with Tampa, I don’t see how they could have lost this series. Despite its considerable offensive talent, Washington was built to grind. Guys like Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble, and Jason Chimera can all be tremendously challenging to play against. They were used with great success in the first round of the playoffs, but Boudreau didn’t return to that proven, winning formula against Tampa. Not even when the Capitals lost their first three games. It was a very curious move (although, to be fair, Knuble wasn’t always fully healthy and available).

Ovechkin said he was hurt most of this season, so Boudreau’s defensive tweaking was probably designed to hide Ovechkin’s injury while still allowing the Capitals to win games.

But against the Lightning, when the Capitals most needed to be coached, Boudreau went with no plan, rather than a defensive one or an offensive one.

I can’t believe players will have a great response to that kind of coaching performance next season.

Boudreau has a job next season but I wonder if he has the trust of his players. Perhaps more importantly, I wonder if he has the trust of his best player.

Maybe some key Washington players disappeared against Tampa, but what does it say about Boudreau that he couldn’t make them reappear?