Hi everyone, Ryan Lambert here. I’m writing guest posts for Puck Buddys until the Capitals are eliminated from the playoffs, which will be never. Get into it.
Very few people outside of the greater DC area likely expected that the Washington Capitals would be headed back to New York for Game 5 of this Eastern Conference semifinal with the series knotted at two games apiece, even if the lower seed did manage to win one of the games at Madison Square Garden early in the series.
But for some people, the reason for people to get upset isn’t that the No. 7 team in the East is beating the No. 1 team. It’s that the No. 7 team is beating the No. 1 team at its own game.
We were told throughout the season that the New York Rangers play an admirable style of hockey. Everyone buys in, everyone is tenacious and conscientious in the defensive zone , everyone sacrifices for the greater good. Would that the whole league played this way, then there would be the big things this game lacks today: Honesty, Accountability, Hard Work. (It would help, by the way, if we could get all non-Datsyuk Russians to go back to the KHL.)
But there is, it seems, a big difference between saying you want everyone to play this way and actually wanting it. Because you see, when the postseason rolled around, the Washington Capitals started playing the way the Rangers — and to a lesser extent, they themselves — did all season: namely, they block a billion shots and rely on third-line guys and minute-devouring D to grind out wins, instead of their star players.
It’s generally held that if you’re blocking a lot of shots, you’re conceding a lot of shot attempts, and that’s bad because it means you don’t have the puck. That’s why teams like the Islanders, Wild, and Candiens were first, second, and third in the league in blocked shots this season, respectively. But then the Rangers were fourth. San Jose was fifth. And Washington was sixth. (Though it’s important to concede that the Caps weren’t exactly world-beaters in the regular season, and probably would have had more blocks if not for Bruce Boudreau’s system in the first part of the year.)
And surprise! The Caps (244) and Rangers (232) led the postseason in blocked shots ahead of Game 5.
This is, to some Rangers fanboys in the media, not acceptable. Blocking shots AND winning games? An outrage if you’re not the Rangers. In fact, it slows the games to unacceptable, boring slogs that serve as a barrier to the casual fan and stiffen even the diehards against this implacable and interminable style of play. To wit:
Seven Washington forwards got more ice time than Leapin’ Alex Ovechkin (15:09) in the Caps’ Game 4, 3-2 victory on Saturday, bringing to mind the old joke about Dean Smith being the only coach able to stop Michael Jordan when they were together at UNC.
But that’s how the league has evolved in Year Seven of the post-lockout era in which the more gritty third-liners the better. The new-age rules were supposed to promote offense and open-ice but coaches have found the way to get ahead of that curve just as coaches always focus on obstructing rather than creating.
Ah, the sour-grapes criticism of a winning game plan: the last refuge of those afflicted with a terminal case of the boo-hoos. (And if you couldn’t tell that’s exactly what this is, note the use of “Leapin'” in front of Alex Ovechkin’s name.)
Brooks wasn’t writing these anti-shot-blocking screeds when the Rangers’ forwards and defense stopped some 30 percent of the shots their opponents attempted in the regular season — 1,338 blocks, 886 wide, 2,272 on goal (4,496 attempts total). Therefore, it’s reasonable for us to assume that he had no problem whatsoever with it.
And so that leads us to ask: Why does he have this problem now? And again, it’s because the Caps are doing it more effectively than the Rangers. What would Brooks have Dale Hunter do? Let Ovechkin run and gun like it was 2009 all over again, just because people don’t like the product? The product, for Caps fans, is winning, and it’s pretty great in that respect.
If anything, he should be flattered that his beloved Rangers have, ahem, “created” a style of play that is fabulously successful. Look at how far the Caps got by using it.