We waded through all the bureaucracy and doublespeak to actually find a person in DC that knows how to properly answer questions. The Peerless Prognosticator from Japers' Rink was kind enough to join us for this installment of 3 Questions.
Not to perpetuate tonight's story line, but Barry Trotz is an important new piece to the Capitals, regardless of opponent. After Adam Oates tried his best to ruin everything, how has Trotz changed the team and how is that being reflected by the personnel on the ice?
Gravitas is sometimes an abused term, but it applies in the case of Barry Trotz. If you look at the last five coaches the Capitals hired - Bruce Cassidy in 2002, Glen Hanlon in 2003, Bruce Boudreau in 2007, Dale Hunter in 2011, and Adam Oates in 2012 - the total number of NHL games coached when they arrived in Washington: zero. Trotz coached 15 seasons and almost 1,200 regular season games with the Predators before coming to Washington.
That kind of experience as a bench boss no doubt taught Trotz how to manage a game, how to manage a practice, and how to manage players. It enabled him to develop processes with which he became comfortable and that gave him the ability to project a confidence to his players that he knows what he is doing. I don't think one can overestimate that. Players seem to be creatures of routine that, if they don't crave, at least appreciate order and direction from coaches. That is the "cultural change" as much as anything that the Capitals have needed over the last dozen years and finally seem to have in Barry Trotz' direction.
Braden Holtby has always been a little underrated, but now he's on pace to play until the End Times and is putting up sparkling numbers on a record-setting run. Many will likely point to Mitch Korn as the primary reason, but is Holtby just talented enough to emerge as a top goaltender in the league?
I think Mitch Korn and Braden Holtby is a match made in heaven. For Korn it might be the fact that Holtby was a new challenge, a newly quarried rock from which he could sculpture an elite goaltender. He was successful in Nashville in doing it, but with Pekka Rinne he had a finished product of sorts that was going to be in the Predators' net for some time to come.
Holtby is a player of considerable athletic skill who came to the Caps somewhat raw, in need of refinement. What he got was a bit of coaching chaos. Since Holtby was drafted in 2008, the Caps have had a parade of goaltending coaches: Dave Prior, Arturs Irbe, Prior (again), Olaf Kolzig, and even Adam Oates, who though he never played the position seemed to think he had expertise to impart to Holtby. The trouble was, the merry-go-round of coaches and the changing philosophy, culminating in having Holtby play a more passive game (quite contrary to his aggressive nature), rendered Holtby ineffective at worst and inconsistent at best last season.
I can't say for sure, because I'm not privy to the conversations the two might have, but I wonder if the quirky, prop-laden approach of Korn somehow didn't mesh with the intense nature of Holtby. Whatever the chemical magic has been, it certainly has been working well for Korn, Holtby, and the Caps.
Do the Caps have a chance to vex their playoff demons and move past the second round this year, or is it still too early to tell?
Teams that go deep and win Cups often have to face adversity early in the playoffs. This has been a conspicuous shortcoming of the Caps that long pre-dates the arrival of Alex Ovechkin with the Caps - they handle adversity very poorly, whether it is a scheduling quirk that puts them at a disadvantage (as when a concert in Pittsburgh forced the Caps to face the Penguins in back-to-back nights Games 4 and 5 in 2009 - the Caps lost both games and lost the series in seven), or an opponent gets a fluke goal, or a call is perceived to have been made in error by an official. In those situations the Caps have a disturbing history of folding up.
In this respect I'm heartened by what has gone on in the first half of the season under Barry Trotz. Through their first 43 games the Caps seem to be learning how to manage games better on the ice and seem less inclined to let adversity affect them. They currently lead the NHL in wins in games in which they score first and in wins in games which they take leads into the third period. That suggests to me a team that is less likely to be adversely affected by the odd occurrences that are part of the game that have bothered them so often in the past. Who the Caps match up against in the first or second round will have a lot of bearing on success. There are teams that will cause them problems. But this team seems to be learning to deal with adversity better, in a way that could enable them to shake it off and go where they have not gone since 1998.
BONUS: If the Capitals' season to this point was a song, what would it be and why? This is Music City, after all.
"I'm Tryin'," by Trace Adkins.
"But all I can do, is all I can do and I keep on tryin',
And all I can be is all I can be and I keep on tryin',
There's always a mountain in front of me,
Seems I'm always climbin' and fallin' and climbin',
But I keep on tryin'..."
"Tryin'" has been an intermittent thing with the Caps in recent years, trying to depend on skill more than grit. This year, they seem to have a much better balance and are tryin' hard to make it work.
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Thanks to The Peerless for his answers!