Sad Caps (Photo: Rob Carr)
There’s a lot of conclusions you can draw from Wednesday’s night’s obliterating defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. One might look at that loss and decide that the lack of experience on Washington’s defense corps is untenable. Or maybe you could decide that the continued pairing of Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer is bad news. It’s conceivable that a studious person could calculate that the Capitals are on-pace for the most shots against in a season since 1987 and decide that something must change.
Those people, however, are all wrong. The true problem with the Capitals last night was just a lack of execution.
At least, that’s what we’ve been told.
I thought our execution last night was poor, bad passes, missed assignments things like that just things that we know we need to clean up and things we have the ability to clean up which is good.
It was probably just our execution. You obviously have to give [the Penguins] some credit; they played a very good hockey game.
Adam Oates, again:
The first thing I showed them was our execution, decisions with the puck — that when they scored a goal we weren’t ourselves and that’s something we should have conquered by now.
The decision making and execution with the puck needed to be better tonight than it was.
While many things went wrong for Washington in its 4-0 loss to the Penguins at Verizon Center – from a lack of execution at even strength, inability to consistently set up on the power play to inaccurate passes particularly in the defensive zone – Holtby also didn’t have his best outing.
The fair truth is that the Capitals really did make poor decisions last night. Watching Steve Oleksy and Alex Urbom flounder to make clean breakout passes was evidence enough of that. And the only thing the second line seemed able to execute competently was a dump and change.
But saying the team’s execution is poor has a very specific meaning. It means the Caps players are good, their deployments are good, their system is good, but– just this one time– those good players in their good deployments were unable to put that system into effect well.
To believe that the Capitals’ execution on Wednesday was A) poor, and B) the true cause of their defeat requires us to first believe these three tenets:
- The Capitals roster as of Wednesday night is the best available and capable of winning reliably.
- The Caps’ forward lines and defensive pairings give those players the best chance to score and prevent goals against.
- The system (i.e. the body of tactics the Capitals employ to assign defensive coverage, break up plays, move the puck out of their own zone and into the offensive zone, and generate shots) is good.
I can see why the team would want us to believe those three things are true. For a player to admit his execution was off is to take a modicum of personal blame while implicitly asserting that he is good. If a player said the systems are bad or his linemates hindered him would be bad sportsmanship; to say he himself isn’t good would be career suicide. Were a coach to say that the team’s problem was not execution, he would then be saying that his coaching decisions –or the players his general manager gave him– were not good enough to get the job done.
But blaming execution is a non-apology apology. If anyone was offended by the events that occurred, then I regret that.
It’s not the team’s job to list its failings to the media, and I don’t fault them for choosing to be contrite in the most self-serving manner possible. I simply hope that they are capable of honest self-evaluation in private. The team’s problems are not inscrutable and fugacious; they’re persistent and predictable. If they can identify and diagnose those problems– even if we the public are not privy to them– that’s the only way they will be able to solve them.
An incomplete list of those problems, in short:
- The Caps allow too many shots against and do not generate enough shots of their own.
- Together, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich constitute a black hole for puck possession.
- Together, Alex Urbom and Steve Oleksy are outmatched.
- Zone exits and entries are not clean or consistent.
- The team does not generate much offense in the first 15-20 minutes.
You can probably think of more. Many of these may be symptoms of some shared problem. If I were able to articulate that problem better, I’d probably be working for the team rather than writing about them.
There’s nothing on that list that is unsolvable, and the Capitals have a long time to figure it out. But a chorus of “our execution was poor” evokes from me a response contrary from the one intended. I worry more, not less.