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.)
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