Oh Barry. You never cease to amaze me.
Just when you thought he has pulled off some of the best coaching he has ever done for the Capitals with his first round series win over Columbus and his incorporation to Michal Kempny into the lineup, he has went belly up and, once again, potentially ruined a chance for Washington to take a real stranglehold of a second round series. Now he not only faces the potential to make this series much more stressful, but once again, he has given the Pittsburgh Penguins full confidence for them to wipe the floor out of Washington the rest of the way.
This is how every Barry Trotz season has gone over the past three years. He has been such a massive upgrade over Adam Oates on account of the pedigree and tactical nous he has that not only does he bring himself but his assistant coaches bring as well. There’s a reason other NHL teams have been wanting to interview Lane Lambert and Todd Rierden for head coaching positions. Don’t ever forget that Oates allowed Calle Johansen, a former TV analyst that never coached in any professional league in his life to coach the defensemen, because, you know, he was a former Capitals defenseman. As a result, all of Washington’s Plan A tactics are some of the best you’ll find in the NHL. But it’s the plan B tactics that time and again befuddle Trotz and it is what has time and again made him make the dumbest roster decisions yet. The sad truth is, those plan B tactics don’t ever see the light of day until the postseason arrives, so everyone that follows Trotz gets thrown off the scent every regular season and think that he’s always great.
But all those that are so pro-Trotz time and again don’t understand how costly those weaknesses are. As long as Alex Ovechkin is around, and owner Ted Leonsis has mentioned this objective as such, it is Washington’s sole duty to do whatever it takes to win the Stanley Cup. If it means removing a head coach that gives you ANY form of doubt or weakness whatsoever, so be it. Until then, all those in the “Leave Barry Alone” camp might as well be eating those nutritious member berries. The side effects are definitively real (warning, the video below is a bit NSFW).
Don’t ever forget how costly healthy scratching Nate Schmidt for Mike Weber was. Don’t ever forget how costly healthy scratching Dmitry Orlov and giving Brooks Orpik top four pairing minutes against a too fast 2016 Penguins team was. Don’t ever forget how playing with seven defensemen because you felt soooooooooooo obligated to play a clearly-not-so-healthy Karl Alzner and an always-old Brooks Orpik without ever implementing it all season was. Don’t ever forget healthy scratching Brett Connolly instead of, say, Jay Beagle or Tom Wilson, for the sake of playing with said 7D was. Now, don’t ever forget how damaging top-line Devante Smith-Pelly was.
In the most predictable way imaginable, Washington’s top line got absolutely shelled by Pittsburgh’s top line all night long. As a result, Michal Kempny, Ovechkin, Smith-Pelly and Evgeny Kuznetsov were all on the ice for 21 of Pittsburgh’s 39 even strength shot attempts while Ovechkin did not record a single shot on goal all game. In fact, Smith-Pelly was on the ice for only six Washington shot attempts. It was dark!
While the game was a genuinely dull affair by way of shot attempts (a combined 93.7 score-adjusted attempts per hour at even strength!!!), it was the one key factor all night that gave the Penguins the edge in Game 4. Now Washington does return home for Game 5 and Good Barry Trotz will try to once again have his go-to “checking” second line out on the ice against Sydney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Patric “Public Enemy #1” Hornqvist. That has been the smart way to go as Nicklas Backstrom has been seeing 53.1% puck possession all series. Good Barry Trotz can actually be present on that matter for a change. But this still doesn’t answer the question about how to solve the top line. After all, it may not help that they’ll have to go against Evgeni Malkin’s line instead. It really is a matter of picking poisons.
Surely, the question in return to this is what would be the better alternative to top line DSP. Personally, I would have had T.J. Oshie on a top line with Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom and go power-for-power the rest of the series. Next, I’d go for a young second line with Chandler Stephenson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Shane Gersich. The third line then stays as Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller, and Brett Connolly because that has been the best line of the entire series based on puck possession followed by DSP, Jay Beagle, and some warm body not named Alex Chiasson on the fourth line. In fact, I would consider playing the third line more often to see if that could do a job shutting down Crosby or Malkin if there is some distrust in putting out any of the top two forward lines. What was asked by Isabelle Kushudyan is not a bad question, but if you want to, at minimum, create parity when going toe-to-toe with Mike Sullivan for the first time in your entire career, you have to get creative here.
And that’s what’s not only shameful about Trotz, but for the extreme majority of NHL head coaches. Honestly, it’s why I time and again find this sport to be so maddeningly in the stone ages when it comes to its jargon, its “values” and its culture. What has made Sullivan go from a disgrace in Boston to a two-time Stanley Cup Champion in Pittsburgh has been his eternal willingness to try new lines and actually playing kids and letting them learn lessons on the ice. Such an attitude sounds so simple, especially in the now 13 years of the salary cap being implemented in the NHL, that you would think it would be common sense by now. Instead, you have teams still not hiring enough new people and new ideas en masse. Instead, you have retread coaches and executives infiltrating the sport for all eternity (how’s it going Ken Hitchcock?). Now that we’re in year three of Pittsburgh possibly making it to another Conference Finals appearance, maybe the rest of the league deserves to have the Penguins and their fans bombast it to complete annoyance as to how the sport should be run, officiated, and played.