Capitals: HBO's '24/7' shows what ails team isn't Coach Bruce Boudreau

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 11:51 PM

If you're standing next to me in the snow today, just duck, because what I'm about to say is going to rankle the red more than it will rock them:

Leave Gabby alone.

That's right. Let Coach Bruce "Bleepin' " Boudreau be.

This seven-game abyss the Washington Capitals have fallen into is hardly his fault.

No. There is a much bigger, wealthier target responsible for the current malaise in Ballston: HBO.

Yep. Ross Greenburg, Mr. Big Cheese at HBO Sports, and his big-city cable operation show up with their high-fallutin' cameras and their Higher Power-voiced narrator.

So, in drumming up interest for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Heinz Field between the bitter Eastern Conference rivals, they film the obvious angle and the combatants play along:

Three-time, Angelic Stanley Cup Champions from Steel City, all of whom presumably sit on Santa's lap and ask for world peace (while trying to court his blonde helpers) vs. . . . an Endorsement-Driven, Flamboyant Russian. Missing a tooth. Missing the net. Missing everything.

Oh, and his full-figured, St. Nick coach, whose first intermission speeches feature more F-bombs than a Mel Gibson voicemail.

This "24/7" Caps-Pens propaganda is so one-sided, Fox News and MSNBC even would have turned it down. Back in the day, TASS would have told the Kremlin, "Nyet, the people will not believe it. "

A quick recap:

Sidney Crosby flashes his winsome smile and all his mates get along while winning 12 games in a row and playing video games and reading Tolstoy on the team charter plane. They're so cute, those apple-cheeked Pens, you just want to take them all out for a double-scoop of mint-chocolate chip after each win, no?

Meanwhile, a dejected Alex Ovechkin slumps in his locker, his up-and-coming, grail-less franchise hitting the skids yet again - this time, months before the NHL postseason.

Dark. Brooding.

HBO even closed the shades in Ted Leonsis's office, making the congenial owner appear a tad diabolical in his interview.

They ominously mention the last time the Capitals lost five games in a row, Washington got rid of its coach, that Boudreau was starting where he began.

And that's where it went too far for me.

This team had not won a playoff series in nearly 10 years or a Presidents' Trophy ever before Gabby got here. They did not sell out nightly before Boudreau told Ovie, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green to fly up ice, fire big shots and ask questions later.

The idea that Boudreau's job should be in jeopardy at the moment is ludicrous. The Caps are still leading the soft Southeast Division. Even after Pittsburgh's incredible onslaught of victories, the Caps are still a mere four points behind the Penguins - two wins, that's it.

And if HBO is going to make such a huge deal over the rags-to-riches background of Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma, it better do Boudreau justice in the next couple of episodes.

When you spend as much time in hockey's minor leagues as the NHL's Crash Davis has, when you get a bit part in an iconic, irreverent film such as "Slap Shot," when Paul Newman actually used your room in the movie, you deserve a nice voice-over or two about your journey.

When a kid from Ontario wakes up one day and painfully realizes his career his over and he didn't get the most out of his talent as a player, like Boudreau did, and when that hockey lifer is suddenly entrusted with getting the most talented player in the world and his team over the hump, that's a Horatio Alger story in blades - not another former NHL player who has done a very organized job as a caretaker in Pittsburgh.

Boudreau's biggest knock, in my book, was falling too in love with the grinders who won him a Calder Cup in Hershey. But there are worse crimes as a coach than blind loyalty.

The toughest part of his job isn't the losing. It's realizing that the collective heart in that locker room may not be as big as the talent - that for all the Hart Trophies and goals the Great Eight accrues, he and some of his supremely talented teammates might still be too young and cocksure to realize what it takes to win at the NHL's highest level.

You want to point a finger, point it at Ovechkin. He is the best target in that locker room. He has had three goals in his past 17 games. Since the "C" was sewn on his jersey this past Jan. 5 after Chris Clark was traded, he hasn't exactly exuded the word, "Captain."

He doesn't have to slam his helmet into his cubicle or swear like a sailor. But he needs more quality and less quantity when it comes to shots on goal. He needs to muck it up in the crease like the laborers if need be, anything so he can find the net.

Unless the wheels completely come off - we're talking 11, 12 losses in a row - Boudreau gets at least until this postseason. If he can get that team to at least the Eastern Conference finals or beyond, he deserves to stay and finish the job.

HBO needs to stay and film that. If not, I will watch anyway. I will watch "Kevin My Postman vs. Bob My Dry Cleaner 24/7." It's riveting. It's real. It has me ready for more hockey.

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