A Visit to Camp Midseason

Posted January 13, 2012

Photo by Alena Schwarz

Well howdy there, friends. Didn’t see you just now. Come pull up a campstool and let me spin you a yarn about a hockey team trying to find itself.

I’m new here myself. I used to write over at a place called Box Seats, until the good folks at the Washington Post took it on a trip to the blog farm out in the country. I grew up in PG County, the west side of Greenbelt in particular, and I moved out to the Baltimore area close to ten years ago, although I still work in the County. Started following the Caps when I was just a kid, even though, as we all know, there weren’t any Caps fans before 2005. I love the 1989-90 Caps like Leafs fans love the ’93 Leafs.

So we’ve got this Caps team here, and I think it’s a team that’s still trying to find itself. It looks like a team that doesn’t know what it wants to be. I can look at the Boston Bruins, and see what kind of team they want to be (the team that kicks sand in your face at the beach and steals your girlfriend), and I can look at the Columbus Blue Jackets and see what kind of team they want to be (the team that comes in to collect pay checks and use pictures of Steve Mason for dart practice). The Pittsburgh Penguins, when healthy, are a team that relies on a heavy forecheck, and limiting opponents possession as much as practicable (no one moves the puck out of their own zone with more alacrity than they do).

The Caps are stuck in neutral, and I think it’s due to the fact that they’ve been through so many systemic changes recently. It’s close to just a year ago that they switched from an offense-first, run and gun system to a more conservative, defense-oriented system, and they mostly made it work, with all credit to Bruce Boudreau. But then they crumbled in the playoffs, and a torturous slide in the regular season got Boudreau shipped off to Anaheim. Now they’re trying to turn themselves into a hybrid of the trappiest trappers since John, along with a man-to-man system of defensive assignments in lieu of the old zone scheme.

Hockey players are used to this, it’s true. They’ve all played different systems for different coaches at various points in their careers, but it has to be tough to go through so many changes in so short a time, does it not? It reminds me (and please, please forgive me for bringing the local football team into this, even if by proxy) of poor Jason Campbell, who at one point it seemed was getting a different offensive coordinator and a different scheme to learn every single year. Expectations and roles that change so much have to leave at least a bit of a “why should I learn this, it’ll just change in a few months anyway” attitude, not to mention, certain players who fit one system all of a sudden find themselves unable to fit another (see Schultz, Jeff).

Something has to bring this team together. You can look at Boston last year and see a team that really came together when they had a penalty and fight-filled game with the Dallas Stars, and how they rallied around the memory of the poor sainted Nathan Horton against the Canucks. Ditto the Penguins and rallying about Dan Bylsma in the wake of the Era. Perhaps it happened already with the egg they laid in Buffalo just after Christmas? Since then they’ve won five of seven, with their only two losses coming out West, where they never, ever win anyway. At any rate, it better happen soon, or they’ll be as doomed as what happens when you’re out on the ol’ dusty trail, and you try to caulk your wagon to get over the river instead of using the ferry.