WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Washington Capitals makes a save against Saku Koivu #11 of the Anaheim Ducks at the Verizon Center on December 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The run-and-gun Capitals aren't a thing of the past. They may just not show up each night anymore.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau changed philosophies before Wednesday night's game against Anaheim. He decided to match up lines with the Ducks -- partly because of the potent top line of Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan. But also partly because, well, when you're mired in the longest losing streak of your NHL coaching career and you're without one of the top snipers in the game, there's no better time to try something else.
So the Caps did to the Ducks what many teams do to them. They created a checking line that matched up against the Ducks' No. 1 trio. And while the final score -- a 2-1 OT loss -- didn't show it, Boudreau believes his team made strides in the right direction.
He was particularly impressed with the checking line he put together of Matt Bradley, Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich.
"They are veteran guys who have come through and done it for me before," Boudreau said. "If I gave them a job to do, they would come out and do it and do it very well."
"We don't get to play (together) often," Steckel said, " but when we do, it seems like we pick right back up where we left off. I thought we did that tonight, we felt good, we knew where each other were going to be and we didn't give them much."
The plan worked very well in the first period. The Caps outshot the Ducks 17-7 and managed to put a goal past netminder Jonas Hiller. Well, they actually put two past him, but the second was saved just before it crossed the goal line by Ryan Getzlaf.
Brooks Laich, who had already scored the first goal of the game on a backhand from the slot, nearly made it 2-0 after picking off an Andreas Lilja pass that was thrown blindly up the middle in his own zone. Laich quickly shot from the slot and under Hiller, but Getzlaf skated in behind him and poked it out of danger before it crossed the line.
Bad luck is the only kind of luck you have when you're on a losing streak. That was the theme of the night offensively. Not only did Laich's trickler not make it across the goal line, but Alex Ovechkin hit a crossbar after whistling a wrister past Hiller's ear on a partial breakaway.
To make matters worse, Hiller pulled off a save-of-the-year candidate on Nicklas Backstrom later in the game.
Mike Knuble and Backstrom entered the Ducks zone on a 2-on-1, which quickly became a 3-on-1 when Mike Green joined the play. Knuble went "tick," Green went "tack" back to him, and Knuble then set up Backstrom for the "toe." But "toe" turned into "doh" as Hiller somehow managed to swing his stick back behind him to get a piece of Backstrom's shot. The puck then hit the back of Hiller's leg and fell underneath him. No goal.
"Nine times out of 10 that'll go in," Knuble said.
Yep, it was that kind of night offensively. If one or two of those pucks go in, the sports writers are typing a different story -- one that may include a Caps' win.
But as it is, the losing streak continues. Getzlaf made sure of that with the OT winner -- a wrister from the left circle that went through Scott Hannan's legs and then past Semyon Varlamov to send the home fans home unhappy.
Boudreau, however, is looking at the silver lining, which includes playing a disciplined defensive game where players know their roles. A system where 2-1 wins will be just as sweet as high-scoring affairs.
"It gives us the ability to play both ways now," Boudreau said. "It's really nice to know you can change the way you play. It just enhances our playbook."
Is this the turning point for a team looking to make a long playoff run? No one's really sure at this point -- not even Boudreau, who admitted he's never had to do this during a season before.
The coach got a little philosophical -- and spiritual -- while talking about the changes taking place.
"Maybe God shined on us too much last year during the regular season," Boudreau pondered after the game. "Maybe this is a divine thing, changing the way we play."
Heady stuff, coach. But perhaps that is another sign -- a sign that this losing streak has gone on way too long.
"I hope so," he said. "I have to sleep soon."