There were 18 individual Capitals out there instead of a team in Game 6. The Caps have got to play like a team, crash the net for rebounds, deflections and screens and stop making a decent goalie look like a god. Jaroslav Halak is not Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden, Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin need to tone it down. The Caps didn't exactly make it difficult for him, they let him see the shots, they let him get set for shots, didn't get second chances, and when they did, they put the puck into his leg pads or his chest. Alexander Semin 15 feet from the goal with nobody within 10 feet of him should be an automatic goal, and Semin shot it like his kid sister was in the goal and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. Yeah there were a few bounces that didn't do the Capitals' way, but it's funny you only seem to notice them when you're losing. Get traffic on Halak and make him uncomfortable, then tell me he looks like Patrick Roy.
I have been a sports coach in years past. I never got paid much to do it, and if I lost my job I'd still be able to feed myself, so I was never under any real pressure like a professional sports coach. I did have to make lineup choices, and I knew not everyone was going to be happy. Kids and their parents would wonder why they weren't playing, or why they got the assignment they did, but ultimately it was up to me to make those calls (and occasionally my superiors "helped"). I'm saying all of this because I know Bruce Boudreau has some tough decisions to make, but he's got to make them, because if he doesn't do things right for Game 7, it's all over.
If it were up to me, this is what I would do to the lineup.
Keep the top line of Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble together. It works, it scores against the Habs, don't mess with it.
Re-unite the Brooks Laich-David Steckel-Matt Bradley line and actually play the line. They play well together and we need a big, tough, and skilled energy line. If Laich views this as a demotion, maybe it'll light a fire under him. It can't hurt.
Stop putting checking centers in scoring center roles. As tough as Eric Belanger is, and as solid a defensive player as he is, and as good a faceoff man as he is, he is not a scoring line center, certainly not on this team. Stop trying to make him one.
Get Scott Walker into the lineup. That tough little SOB has got to be itching to play. Get him in on a line with Eric Belanger and Jason Chimera. I know it's tough to tell Belanger to play 3rd/4th line one game after playing 1st line, but that's what a coach has got to do, and he'll get over it if we win.
We have a gaping hole at second line center, and the only two players even reasonably qualified to fill it are Brendan Morrison and Mathieu Perreault. That's right, I'm talking about calling up a player from Hershey even though we've got 25 players on the roster. Boudreau doesn't like Morrison very much for some reason, but if you want some energy and creativity, call up Perreault. He's in the AHL playoffs right now and has 2 goals and 5 points in 7 games. Game 7 for your first NHL playoff game, and being French-Canadian and having said game against the Canadiens, and being 2nd line center, it's not going to be easy, but he's going to be amped up and you can bet he'll be flying if he gets a sweater. If you're going to scratch your most experienced player, you might as well go all out. I certainly hope he gets the job next year, too.
#85 Mathieu Perreault
Perreault played in two games against Montreal this season and the Caps were 1-1 in those games. He had an assist on an Eric Fehr goal and was +1 with 2 penalty minutes in the series in 13:12 of average ice time. For the season he played 21 NHL games with 4 goals and 9 points, a +4, and 6 PIM in 11:21 of average ice time.
The second line should be Eric Fehr-Mathieu Perreault-Alex Semin. Fehr is producing, Semin is not. Eric Fehr had the only goal of the game last night after giving Halak his only bump on the night: he cross-checked a defenseman into the goalie, which was good, even if he took a penalty doing it. The onyl problem was waiting so long to do it.
Perreault should help both players, and he goes to the net like a wasp for rebounds. If not Perreault, then Brendan Morrison should play, he's got the experience and creativity to play #2 center, even if he's not what he used to be.
If you really want the powerplay to work, why not go back to the thing that worked the best? When Ovechkin was out, Boudreau put Brendan Morrison on the point of the powerplay and the Caps scored at something like 46% with that set-up. It continues to puzzle me. Get Knuble and Laich out there at the same time to get rebounds, too. Montreal has a good penalty kill, but they're not that good.
Scratch Tomas Fleischmann (and stop playing him at center, for Franceschetti's sake), and yes, scratch Boyd Gordon. He lost the faceoff that led to the game-winning goal and then couldn't block the shot. Hero to zero's gotta be tough, but he's just not the right guy right now. We still like you, Boyd, and you'll play again, just not now. We still like you, too, Flash, we still like all you guys on the bench, but you're not going to help us get it done right now.
Does anyone else here think Jose Theodore should go back in? Because I do. Rookie Semyon Varlamov played great in a few games, but he's not getting the job done right now. Against a team that's hard to score against, you can't let in any easy goals because they're hard to get back. Give him a rest, switch it up.
#40 Semyon Varlamov
Can anyone here explain to me how the league's best +/- guy is a minus right now? Plodding Jeff Schultz is having issues, and it looks like he got hurt last game, not to mention that this is his first real playoff series. Get speedy Tyler Sloan in there, it's not like there's a huge size gap (6'6 vs. 6'4). I wouldn't mind seeing slick-skating Karl Alzner step into the lineup, either. He's the future on the blueline, he might as well get started now after we recalled him from Hershey. I know Tom Poti will be upset about only being able to watch Game 7, and only through one eye, to boot.
#27 Karl Alzner
The good news about Alzner is that the Capitals won 71.4% of their games when he was in the lineup and 63.9% of their games without him. Alzner played 2 games against Montreal this season and the Caps won both. He had an assist on an Eric Fehr goal and was -1 in the season series in 16:03 of average ice time. For the season he played 21 NHL games with 5 assists and, a -2, and 8 PIM in 16:24 of average ice time.
I'm glad I don't have to make all those decisions, but then, I'd be happy to make the paycheck. You've gotta think if Boudreau loses this game his tenure in DC could be much shorter than we all thought. He won't get fired, but it'll be strike 1. I'm not expecting miracles here, I just think we can beat the #8 team, and the road is paved with the #7 team up next if we can close out this series. Even if the Caps don't win the Stanley Cup, losing in the first round is unacceptable.