In a surprising turn, the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks have fallen behind 3-1 in the best-of-7 Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings. Game 5 is Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
L.A. has won three straight games against Chicago and one thing that is abundantly clear is that perimeter skill players have not been getting any fruits in the conference finals. If you're willing to pay the price to make a play, you'll be able to get points and contribute. If you don't, you won't. It's that simple.
Look at some of the incredible world-class players on Chicago. I've seen Marian Hossa take it strong and take it to the net, but he's been snake-bitten a bit lately. Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and some of the other stars on the Blackhawks are faced with a dilemma. It's adapt or go home. They were faced with that dilemma last year against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final and they chose to adapt. They were then able to thrive and win the Stanley Cup.
This deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you're not getting a lot of the same looks you were getting in the regular season. The price of scoring goals in the playoffs goes up exponentially and increases with every round.
Some of Chicago's struggles are because of what L.A. is doing. The Kings are a power/skill team. They force you to pay a price to make every play. You have to earn everything you get against that team. When you're a power/skill team, you don't necessarily have to exert as much energy to do those things. You force the opposition to exert more energy to do things. In this series, Chicago hasn't made that adjustment yet.
Marian Gaborik paid that price when he scored in Game 4. He was the first forward on the forecheck and he delivered the hit. Then he came back to the front of the net. Anze Kopitar was the second forward on the forecheck and delivered the hit to separate his man from the puck, regain puck possession and then send the puck to the front of the net, where Gaborik scored before getting leveled by Brent Seabrook. That's a great example of how Los Angeles is willing to pay the price.
I've seen Dino Ciccarelli do it, I've seen Kirk Muller do it, I've seen Dave Andreychuk do it, I've seen Zach Parise do it. I was fortunate enough to play with all those guys, and they were willing to pay the price. Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews are willing to do it for Chicago, but their other players just aren't doing it consistently.
I have all the respect in the world for Coach Trotz. You look at the way he handles people and treats his staff and players, especially with the Nashville Predators. They did a great job of developing players. They had to because they couldn't spend all the dollars. I think he's done a great job and Joel Ward knows him from his time in Nashville.
He's never had this kind of offensive personnel. He can help Washington with their 5-on-5 game. So I like the move and I think it's a great hire. It's a good fit for him.
To me, this is a crossroads for Alex Ovechkin. He's had amazing individual success and just had another 50-goal season. He flat-lined at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but rebounded by winning gold in Belarus at the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
Ovechkin gets a lot of ice time and he's been identified as the face of the franchise. At this time, it's necessary for him to make some adjustments.
The onus is also on the organization to bring in someone who can jam Ovechkin up while supporting him. Someone who can say, "Let's go." Look at Mario Lemieux when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He eventually had teammates like Bryan Trottier, Joe Mullen and Ron Francis. The same thing happened with Steve Yzerman when he played with the Detroit Red Wings. They surrounded him with Hall of Fame players who could get his attention and push him.
The Capitals need to either empower some existing players with the team or bring in that leadership. They don't have to be star players, although it obviously helps more if they are a star.
For now, bringing in Barry Trotz is a step in the right direction.
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