Sunday’s overtime loss to Tampa Bay overshadowed what I thought was a prime example of Bruce Boudreau’s stellar coaching instincts. With almost two minutes left on the clock, he decided to pull Michal Neuvirth, doubtless feeling (though I cringe to think of it now) that a second loss at home would leave the Caps barely treading water, and should be avoided at all costs. With the extra man, the Caps did indeed score a goal, sending the game to overtime. And I like to think that, though we ended up losing, the fact that we were able to take it to overtime left us with a little bit of wind in our sails.
It’s not the first good instinct Boudreau has had, merely the most recent. Most notably, he took a team that reveled in scoring five or six goals a game, and turned it into an effective and refined defensive system. And he did it in less than a year.
Boudreau is also, I suspect, responsible for the Caps being the best come-from-behind team in the NHL this season. How many times have you watched the Caps come out noticeably sharper in the 3rd period and wished you could have been a fly on the wall in the dressing room to hear what Bruce had to say?
But I’m too quick to forget — we all did get to be flies on the wall watching Caps-Pens 24/7 on HBO earlier this year. Who knew the F-bomb was so potent? Frankly, I remember sitting there thinking “I don’t get it. Does this really work?”
Yes, it works. Boudreau gets through to these guys. Just this last game, he had obviously given them the word that the hard-around would be the best way to get the puck deep against a 1-3-1, and lo and behold, we saw it over and over, from every line. Boudreau may be “Gabby,” but the statements he makes (think bashing Madison Square Garden) are incredibly calculated. He’s a deliberate guy, and I’m here saying his decisions pay off. They work. He’s a good coach.
There are two reasons I’m saying this today. One is that the decision to pull the goalie was a great proof point — Boudreau had his finger on the pulse of the team, the game and the series. We lost the game, but we scored the goal.
The other reason I’m praising Boudreau today is that, if the Caps lose tonight and go down three-games-to-none in their series against Tampa Bay, I think folks may start calling for Bruce’s head. Thinking back to this season’s one long losing streak, I heard a lot of fans who were determined to have Boudreau ousted.
They may think he’s ineffective, but I see the effects of Boudreau’s coaching all over the ice, and I think he would make a great candidate for the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year, regardless of the outcome of this series.