Thu Apr 29 11:05am EDT
"The coach should ask himself this: Video-game stats and all, can an up-tempo, Disney-on-ice, offensive juggernaut really win in the postseason? Or are the Caps merely that run-and-gun NBA team -- pick an era with Phoenix, Dallas or Golden State -- that gets clamped down by tougher, more physical teams when it matters?" - Mike Wise, Washington Post, after the Capitals' Game 7 loss to Montreal
Both were openly questioning the core philosophy of the Washington Capitals franchise, the system of Coach Bruce Boudreau and a brand of hockey that has captured the imagination of local fans but has earned a 1-3 record in Game 7s over the last three postseasons.
Are they right? Are the Capitals fundamentally set up to fail in the playoffs? Their coach, as expected, disagrees.
To reset what Umberger told Puck-Rakers after the Capitals defeated an already-eliminated Blue Jackets team earlier this month:
"I don't think any team in the West would be overmatched by them," Umberger said. "They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes.
"A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot."
After the Montreal Canadiens' historic upset of the Capitals in seven games, completed Wednesday night before an aghast red-clad house in D.C., this is probably going to sound like gospel from The Prophet Umberger. But he wasn't completely accurate.
Where he's right: The Capitals were beaten by a good defensive team that took care of the puck like a lioness protecting her cub.
Where he's wrong: The Capitals didn't float away in their own zone, and they carried the play rather than getting pinned back on defense. And Montreal didn't keep them off the power play; they just owned them mentally and physically once the Capitals were up a man or two.
But overall, were Umberger and critics who agreed with him correct?
After waiting through a dozen questions at Boudreau's postgame press conference, I asked him: Does this loss, in any way, validate criticisms that the Capitals' style of play can't win in the postseason?
"[Exhales] We gave up two goals. That's defensive. We gave up 15 shots and 22 shots. What style of play are we talking about? All offense? It was not all offense. We played very good defensively. Gave up three goals last game, two goals this game, two goals the game before. We gave up seven goals and averaged less than 20 shots a game against. If you take it 5-on-5, take it a step further, they had three power play goals out of those seven goals.
"No, it doesn't validate anything. I think the way we play is the way we were built. And if we had to make all these guys into checkers and play a trap game, I think it would have been a pretty boring team to watch and we wouldn't have been anywhere near as successful as we were."
That Boudreau was able to quote those numbers so spontaneously reminded me of debating a Capitals fan about the defensive deficiencies of players like Mike Green and Alex Semin, in which they cite stats like a savant to counteract observational evidence. Guess it's mandatory when the criticism is that consistent, and when it's gotten to the point where a coaching change in D.C. is being debated.
I thought he defended the system well in the context of the Canadiens series, but this line really piqued my interest:
"I think the way we play is the way we were built."
This team is built with Alex Semin floating around on the second line without there being a second-line center to anchor that group and take the heat off the top line in the playoffs. No Geno Malkin. No Patrice Bergeron. No Jeff Carter. No Valtteri Filppula. No Joe Pavelski. No Ryan Kesler. Stop me when you detect the trend here.
This team is built without a single defenseman who played as well as Josh Gorges and Hal Gill did in shutting down Ovechkin and limiting the Washington power play to 1-for-33 in the series. It was said after the game in the press room, and I agree: Gorges in 2010 is Braydon Coburn in 2008 against the Capitals; this was his graduation.
This team is built with a core of homegrown players and some acquisitions from outside the organization that lack the competitive fire and playoff acumen of the Montreal players who made the difference in this series: Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri, for starters. Capitals fans have been trying to sell me Tomas Fleischmann for years; in Game 7, he was off the shelf. That's the team's seventh-leading scorer in the regular season.
So to combine Umbergarian and Boudreauian logic: If the Capitals "play the wrong way," and the way they play is the way they're built, then can it be said they're built the wrong way, General Manager George McPhee?