ARLINGTON, Va. – Blue stitches across the bridge of his nose, a playoff goatee shaved clean, Alex Ovechkin stood with his arms crossed Thursday, once again answering questions about an early end to the season for his Washington Capitals.
It’s become an annual ritual. Except this time, Ovechkin was asked about his top-seeded team being swept—”Everybody in (the) organization is shocked,” he said—and about the possibility that coach Bruce Boudreau or certain teammates might not return.
“I don’t want to talk about the changing,” the two-time NHL MVP said, a day after the Capitals lost 5-3 in Game 4 at the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning. “We’re going to see what’s going to happen in the future. Again, anything can happen. It’s not my decision to change something, trade somebody, do something.”
Those sorts of decisions are the responsibilities of people such as owner Ted Leonsis and general manager George McPhee. And for his part, McPhee said he doesn’t anticipate significant changes—including when it comes to Boudreau.
“I expect him to be back. He’s a good coach,” McPhee said Thursday at the team’s practice facility, where players came in for exit interviews. “Someone said he’s not a ‘playoff coach.’ There’s no difference between a ‘playoff coach’ and a ‘regular-season coach.’ You’re either a good coach or you’re not. He’s a good coach.”
In each of Boudreau’s four seasons in charge, the Capitals won the Southeast Division title, then lost to a lower-seeded team in the first or second round of the playoffs. His post-season record is 17-20, which translates to a .459 winning percentage—far lower than his .679 (189-79-39) in the regular season, the highest among anyone who’s coached at least 250 games in the NHL, according to the Capitals.
Players defended Boudreau.
“We played real well in the first round, and we stuck to our game plan, and we strayed away from it and it was definitely not on his shoulders,” centre Jason Arnott said. “It’s the guys in the dressing that have to go out and play and execute the plan. The only thing he can do is put the plan together and keep us on track. It’s up to us to go out and do it.”
As to the possibility of switching coaches, McPhee said: “Does it really change things in most cases?”
Much of the conversation about the Capitals on talk radio in the Washington area Thursday revolved around Boudreau’s future, and he was asked whether he thinks that speculation is unfair.
“It’s not up to me to think. … Those questions—how can I answer them? And I can’t,” Boudreau said. “And I leave it up to somebody else or I’d go nuts.”
Addressing Capitals fans in a posting on his blog Thursday morning, Leonsis focused on his players’ shortcomings.
“Their role players outplayed our highest paid players,” Leonsis wrote. He said the Lightning “adhered to their coaches’ system better than we adhered to our coaches’ system. The wheels fell off for us. No doubt about that.”
Leonsis also wrote: “In times like these people are emotional; angry; and demand change. I understand. The best course of action for us though is to let a few days pass; be very analytic about what needs to be improved; articulate that plan; and then execute upon it.”
In their attempts to explain what went awry against Tampa Bay, both McPhee and Boudreau discussed at length various injuries to key players—particularly puck-moving defencemen—and what they described as a high level of parity in the NHL.
Defenceman Mike Green (hip flexor) missed Game 4, but defenceman John Carlson (hip pointer) and forward Mike Knuble (broken thumb) played hurt. Boudreau and McPhee said centre Nicklas Backstrom (zero goals in the post-season) wasn’t injured, as far as they know.
Looking forward, McPhee said he thinks he has a good team in place.
“I don’t see major changes. … We’ll see what the summer brings,” he said.
“What we’re doing here, I believe, is putting a good team on the ice every year and hopefully one of these years we win it. But we’re in the mix every year,” McPhee said. “And it could be worse: We could be missing the playoffs.”
NOTES: After finishing the regular season with career lows of 32 goals and 85 points, Ovechkin said he’ll consider changing his off-season regimen and switching back to a previous trainer. … Ovechkin said he will join Russia’s team in hockey’s world championships, and McPhee said that’s fine with him. … D Tom Poti (groin injury) didn’t play after Jan. 12, and McPhee said: “I think his career’s on the line, and it’s too bad. It’s a real concern.”
AP Sports Writer Joseph White contributed to this story.
Howard Fendrich can be reached at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich