Discussion Of “The Blueprint Game” And The Corresponding Capitals Downturn

You might ask yourself, what’s the value in pinpointing a specific game or set of games that might accurately represent a demarcation point or a change in trajectory of a team’s performance. If a team is struggling, the reasoning and potential remedies typically lie within, right? That’s certainly true, but identifying reasoning for downturns (or upturns) is also an exercise in looking at how opposing teams have shifted their strategies against you, and how you have prepared and responded to those changes.

Much of this is obvious, but less understood. Teams study you, develop strategies, and pass that knowledge (passively) on to the next team on your schedule. The next team looks at what is working against you, and likely adds to the formula.

The difference between good and bad coaching includes the ability to adapt to what strategies are being employed against you, often within a game, a period or even a shift. The good and great coaches can identify opposing schemes, prepare counter schemes, all on the fly and within a game, period or shift.

The Blueprint Game

So back to our beloved Capitals and their mid-season downturn. There was a fair amount of debate around just this topic following a pair of losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets back in early December. The first loss was eventually dubbed “The Blueprint Game” by a number of folks in the hockey community.

“The Blueprint Game” occurred on December 9th. The Blue Jackets handed the Capitals a decisive 5-2 loss at Capital One Arena. There wasn’t much made of the Jackets victory, other than the fact that the Capitals were steamrolling along, racking up impressive victories prior to the loss.

However, a number of analysts had pointed out a few defensive and neutral zone wrinkles employed by John Tortarella and the Jackets that seemed to capitalize on the Capitals new aggressive style of play.

The following Sunday the Capitals were blanked by the Blue Jackets 3-0 in Columbus, the fourth straight loss to John Tortorella and the Jackets, leaving additional fans and analysts surmising that the Jackets had indeed figured out a formula (optimal strategies) for playing against the Capitals new aggressive schemes. However, more importantly, did the rest of the league begin subscribing to “The Blueprint”?

Prior to the December 9th game the Capitals were a league’s best 22-4-5 (49 points)

Since the so called “Blueprint Game”, the Capitals have amassed a rather pedestrian 14-11 record, good enough for 19th best record in the league since that date.

More Context, Please

Now these two data points in no way validate the concept or reality of the existence of a “Blueprint Game”, but they do provide analysts with a baseline, or starting point for follow-up analysis and additional video review (adding additional context).

NoVa Caps’ Justin Trudel provided additional context (additional brush strokes to the painting, if you will) yesterday in his piece “A Tale of Two Teams”. I encourage you to have a look if you haven’t already done so (here.)

For more on the Capitals new aggressive schemes employed at the beginning of this season, check out “The Capitals New Aggressive Schemes” and “MacLellan’s Biggest Balancing Act”.


The debate of the existence of a specific “Blueprint Game” will likely continue. The fact that successful counter-strategies have been constructed and employed against the Capitals is really no surprise. That’s a coaches job. The big question remaining is how are the Capitals coaches adapting to these new strategies, and are they doing so in an successful and timely manor.

We will continue to add brushstrokes to this particular painting in the coming days and weeks ahead.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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5 Responses to Discussion Of “The Blueprint Game” And The Corresponding Capitals Downturn

  1. Ryan says:

    Great stuff Jon! I’m looking forward to the articles that continue from this. Systems Hockey – This is where you can make a mediocre team great or a great team mediocre. I don’t see enough talk about the type of game the caps are playing throughout the community. It’s all getting dumbed down to individual efforts, which maybe there is some meaning behind, but it’s simply not the bigger picture.

    I’ve noticed in the recent losses there seems to be this giant hole opening up from the caps defending blue line to the red line, when they’re trying to move the puck up ice. Passes are getting picked like crazy in that empty space. Early on in the season, the support systems seemed a little tighter then this right now, which made up for a junk pass or gave an easy out when someone was in trouble. I haven’t seen much of that close support system as of late.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Thanks Ryan, and good observation regarding current blueline play. I think you are focused on the key area of the ice, where teams are attempting to breakdown the Capitals attack. 👍👊

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ll say it once again here replace coach Reirden!

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Is there a minimum post-season achievement you want to see for Reirden to stay? Conference finals? Two rounds? I’m curious what will be acceptable by everyone this season.

      • Grant says:

        If they were played to compete?
        Maybe making it through the first round would have been enough. Maybe the conference finals.
        Maybe a first round exit would have been good enough in a 6 game series.
        Who knows.
        But, they haven’t been played to compete.
        Reiden continues to be out coached and seems confused as every game unfolds, as he implements the same failed plan as he did the game before.
        What a waste of a team like this.
        …as bad as the Oates experiment.

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