The NHL paused its 2019-20 season back on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As you may recall, just prior to the pause, many Capitals fans were calling for the Capitals to replace Todd Reirden, as the team continued a lengthy downward trend that started in December of 2019. The team remained in first place, but the trend said otherwise.
As a result of the delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the proverbial hot seat has cooled and fans have simmered down as attentions shifted to more important things. In fact, the pause may have even guaranteed Reirden another season as the Capitals bench boss.
Back to the Blueprint
As you may recall from our original article back on February 13, there was a fair amount of discussion surrounding a pair of losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets back in early December. The first loss would eventually be dubbed “The Blueprint Game” by a number of folks in the hockey analysis 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 at the time, other than the fact that the Capitals were steamrolling along, racking up an impressive number of victories prior to the loss.
However, a number of analysts pointed out a few defensive and neutral zone wrinkles employed by John Tortarella and the Jackets in the December 9th game 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, which was 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.
But more importantly, did the rest of the league begin subscribing to “The Blueprint”?
A Tale Of Two Seasons
Prior to the December 9th (blueprint) game, the Capitals were a league’s best 22-4-5 (49 points). After December 9th the Capitals went 19-16-3 (41 points) which was good enough for 22nd best record in the league.
Prior to December 9th, the Capitals lead the league in goals scored with 112 and were 11th in goals against with 86, for a goal differential of +26. After December 9th, the Capitals gave up 126 goals (the 6th most in the league) but were just 14th in goals scored with 124 for a goal differential of -2.
Additionally, prior to December 9th, the Capitals had the league’s 5th best power play at 24.5% efficiency. Since December 9th, the Capitals power play has been a dismal 15.6%, 28th ranked in the league.
Being out-couched is a game characteristic that’s difficult to accurately measure. However, “Blueprint game” or not, it’s hard to deny that the Capitals have been a different team since December, 2019.
NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen tried to put his finger on the current Capitals team in his weekly mailbag this week.
“The Capitals didn’t seem to have the chemistry they need to have to win the Stanley Cup again when the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Maybe it comes back. But they haven’t quite seemed to gel under coach Todd Reirden the way they did under Barry Trotz. It’s hard to pinpoint it because the roster is almost the same, but something seems to be missing. Maybe it’s simply that hunger to win, to prove the critics wrong. They did that in 2018. They didn’t come close to repeating last season, when they were knocked out by the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference First Round.”
A Postseason to Decide
The Capitals and head coach Todd Reirden are about to begin preparations for a postseason unlike any other NHL postseason. The team will be sequestered in an assigned hub city, confined to their protective bubble for the entire training camp and 2020 playoffs.
But which Capitals team will show up for this unique postseason? The team that set the world on fire to start the 2019-2020 season, or the team that has played so far in the year 2020?
Reirden is 89-46-16 (.642) in his first two regular seasons as head coach. That’s the league’s third best record over that time period. The Capitals have also won two metropolitan division titles in Reirden’s two years at the helm.
Additionally, you may recall that many were calling for Barry Trotz to be fired during the 2017-2018 season, and after losing the first two games to Columbus in the playoffs. That changed in the end.
The question following this season? If the Capitals are once again an early exit, does Todd Reirden return to coach the 2020-21 season? What is an acceptable run in the postseason?
Because the transition period between this season and next season will be different, and will be much much shorter, will there be time to make a change? It takes time to interview candidates, select a new coach, implement new assistant coaches and implement a new system. It may be that Reirden is the head coach for the 2020-2021 season, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 playoffs.
What’s your opinion?
By Jon Sorensen