In the minutes and hours following the abrupt end of the Capitals’ season, players grasped for answers and couldn’t find them.
“I don’t really know what to say. We got swept,” Matt Bradley said.
Added Mike Knuble: “It is hard to say. … “I don’t know.”
But Bruce Boudreau and George McPhee came up with one possible explanation to explain the almost inexplicable sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning: defensive injuries. John Carlson suffered a hip pointer in Game 1, while Mike Green suffered a hip flexor in Game 2.
“If you’re looking for anything, I think that’s the biggest thing was our offensive defensemen from the back end were hurt,” Boudreau said. “When they can’t get the puck to the forwards, it makes it a little more difficult to score. I think if you were looking at an overall thing, that’s where we wish we would’ve been able to have healthy defensemen.”
Of course the Caps don’t think they lacked puck-moving defensemen on the roster – but two of them were already on the shelf. Tom Poti hadn’t played since Jan. 12 while battling a severe groin injury that could be career-threatening; Dennis Wideman hadn’t played since March 29 when he suffered a leg injury that turned out to be hematoma and compartment syndrome.
So when Carlson got hurt (he played through it despite being sore) and Green went out, the Caps didn’t have the guys to replace not only their offense but their ability to create offense for others. Karl Alzner is a shutdown defender, while Scott Hannan, John Erskine and Jeff Schultz fit the bigger defenseman mold.
“I thought we had sort of an imbalance on the blue line. What you really want to have are puck movers,” said McPhee, who inked Erskine to an extension through 2013 and Schultz through 2014. “They keep you out of trouble in your own end. They get the puck to your forwards to create more offense, to get more pucks on net.”
McPhee went as far as to call injuries to the Caps’ blue line the “difference in the series.” Part of the problem was playing Alzner and Carlson too much because of the problems with Wideman and Poti. Carlson’s soreness that plagued him throughout the final three games against Tampa Bay hampered his game, Alzner said, though the 21-year-old didn’t want to admit it.
And while the play of the rest of the defensemen seemed to slip with a heavier workload, Hannan wasn’t blaming that for losing.
“You can’t use things as excuses. Everybody’s played those type of minutes before; everybody’s done those type of things,” he said. “It’s never easy to have injuries, but every team has to deal with them. It’s the way you get through them.”