The Coach’s Challenge

With every Washington Capitals losing streak, calls for Bruce Boudreau’s head can be heard as loud as The Goat’s in-game chants. This is no suprise, as every coach in any sport would face the same scrutiny in failing to accompish the task he was hired to do. It seems, however, that the calls for Boudreau’s head can be heard louder, and more frequent, now that the Caps are at the wrong end of a 6-game losing streak. Over the past week I’ve heard it all: fire him because he’s an AHL-at-best coach, send him packing because he’s a flashy offense-only bench boss, hand him a pink slip since he spends more time acting in commercials than running a professional sports franchise.

But I say that this is the time we need BB the most.

Bruce Boudreau is a heck of a likeable guy.· I don’t think he’s a failure after one 6-game streak by any stretch.· To keep things in perspective, the Capitals are still leading the Southeast Division and would be the #2 seed if the playoffs started today.· Looking back at his NHL coaching record, Boudreau breathed life into the Caps when he took over the reins on Thanksgiving 2007 and has brought a much better attitude and approach to the team.· He has won division titles every year, a playoff series in 2009, and a Presidents’ Trophy, not to mention an individual award in 2008.

The Jack Adams Award is awarded to the coach who contributed the most to his team’s success.

Boudreau has made a lot of good calls behind the bench.· He’s also made more than a few questionable ones, but not necessarily bad calls, just ones that didn’t pan out, like any number of coaches have done.··He has many strengths as a coach, and he is very smart.· He has weaknesses, too.· He doesn’t have the respect of the officials yet.· He also doesn’t run a tight ship, which has its advantages and disadvantages.· There were times in the last few years where Alex Semin or even Alex Ovechkin ought to have been benched, but he wouldn’t do it.· If I had a player taking 1:30 even strength shifts or 3 offensive zone penalties in the same game, I’d bench him, I don’t care what number he wears on his back.·

Boudreau has already had strike one, losing to the Habs in the first round last year.· Make no mistake, the Habs matched up very well against the Caps and they were very underrated.· They would have ranked much higher had they not had the injury concerns, and they also showed they were the real deal by beating the Pens and by storming out of the gate this year, even without Jaroslav Halak.· That’s not the point, though:· the Caps lost in the first round, and in large part because Boudreau couldn’t adjust.· Same offense, same powerplay, same goalie, even though he kept losing.· He also scratched his best #2 center for two losses, Brendan Morrison, and also didn’t put Jose Theodore back in after Varlamov lost a string of games, et cetera.· Hindsight is 20/20, but some of that should have been obvious even then.·

I don’t know that I call this losing streak strike two, its a little unfair with the injuries, the new players, the HBO cameras in the locker room, and the flu going around.· I also predicted before the season began that the Caps would win fewer games and lose fewer in OT because of the rookie/growing pains factor.· As much as I like Mathieu Perreault, he’s 23 and a rookie, not a savior.· He’s good, and good enough to play #2 on the Caps right now, just not as good as he’s going to be next year, or in two or three years. The same goes for Marcus Johansson, he’s just a rookie, and the same goes for Varly, Neuvy, Carlson, and Alzner.· There will be nights where the difference between winning and losing (“adding up all those inches”) will be a rookie mistake.· Even a lot of the veterans are young.· I think this streak has the chance to be a learning experience for everyone involved, I just hope they learn it before the streak gets any longer.· If it does get longer, Boudreau will be on the hot seat after strike two.

I am not in favor of firing coaches just for the sake of it.· If a coach is let go, two criteria must be met:· #1, the coach is incapable of doing his job any more, meaning he’s lost the players (Bruce Cassidy, Ron Wilson), he’s lost his mind (Jim “Jelly-Donut” Schoenfeld), or he can’t adjust his system to beat his opponents (Glen Hanlon).· The other factor is there must be someone better, and there aren’t many better than Boudreau, certainly not many who are available, i.e., I wouldn’t want Ken Hitchcock, even if he’s got a ring.· Bob Hartley is a step up in terms of player relations from Hitchcock, but just one.· He’s a successful coach with a successful system and can win in the playoffs, (just not with the Atlanta Thrashers), but it’s also telling that he hasn’t coached in four years.· The only other guys I’d be interested in seeing behind the Caps bench are Mark French (but not for a while) and Dale Hunter.· I was actually thinking about Dale back in 2007 before we got Boudreau, he’s one of the all-time great players in Caps history and in Nordiques history, and I think his suspensions will keep him out of the Hall-of-Fame, but he’s one heck of a junior coach because he knows what it takes to win in the NHL, and he knows old-time hockey.·

Boudreau won’t be behind the Caps bench forever, the day will come when another coach will be behind the Washington bench; even Scotty Bowman changed teams a few times and eventually retired.· Unless the situation gets drastically worse, that day won’t be soon.· I think Bruce has the chance to make this team his own, finally, now that the players are so frustrated by their inability to make things happen all on their own any more they might actually start truly buying into the system.· Heck, we might even see Ovechkin crash the net once in a while, kinda like he did last week when he drew a penalty.