- - Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In happier times, when his Washington Capitals team was leading this Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series 2-0 over the Carolina Hurricanes, Capitals coach Todd Reirden talked about how much fun it is coaching in the NHL postseason.

Specifically, he was asked how much enjoyment he gets out of the game-to-game strategies of a postseason series after Washington’s 4-3 overtime win in Game 2.

“It’s one of my favorite elements, and my staff enjoys having the same opponent to make in game adjustments,” Reirden said. “I think it was key to some of the success we had last year was our ability to make adjustments in series. Our players have used a number of different systematic adjustments to be able to be a difficult scout for opponents. We are prepared for that and we will be having a better game plan going into the next game.”

Like Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

The Capitals were punched in the mouth Monday night by the Hurricanes in a 5-0 loss to cut Washington’s lead in the series to 2-1. The beatdown was nearly as bad as Alex Ovechkin’s brutal beating of Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov.

Whatever fun Todd Reirden and has staff had before, it wasn’t as much fun as the Hurricanes had reducing the Capitals to the quivering Ghost of Playoff Teams Past. Carolina had 45 shots on goal, compared to 18 for the Capitals. The Hurricanes had 52 hits compared to just 34 for Washington.

Now the Capitals face the challenge Reirden and his players spoke of many times early in this postseason.

How will they respond Thursday night in Raleigh?

It’s been the prime topic of conversation in the locker room — how last year’s Stanley Cup championship team learned how to respond following a bad game — or in this case, a meltdown.

“To me it’s the response,” Reirden said Saturday night. “It’s the response of an experienced team. No panic. No panic.”

The team is experienced. The coach — in this case, Reirden as the head coach — is not.

When Reirden spoke of the success they had last year with making adjustments in series, a key decision maker in those adjustments in missing — Barry Trotz, the Stanley Cup winning coach who owner Ted Leonsis wouldn’t pay for bringing the franchise the only championship in its 44-year history.

Trotz appears to be making very successful adjustments in Long Island as the head coach of the New York Islanders.

Reirden is credited for many of last postseason’s defensive adjustments, but that was as an assistant. The iPad gets a little heavier when you are the head coach.

So when he says after their Game 2 win that they have to be “one step ahead” of the Carolina coaching staff when it comes to adjustments, and the result of that is a 5-0 loss where the only adjustment was how poorly the Capitals played — the natural “response” is concern. Not panic. But concern.

Concern was the operative word Monday night when in the first period Ovechkin pummeled 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov, who is in concussion protocol and out for at least Game 4 Thursday night. At the moment he went down, he looked liked he risked being out permanently.

This is the horrible culture of hockey that has deemed it totally appropriate for two men, in the middle of a hockey game, to drop their gloves and bash each other while the officials look on and everyone cheers. If Svechnikov were a boxer, he wouldn’t be allowed to step in the ring again for 90 days.

It was a startling scene, for two reasons — the brutality of the punches that knocked Svechnikov out and that they came from Ovechkin, who never engages in this kind of nonsense, while still being a physical player. The last fight Ovechkin had been in was in 2010.

It was so shocking that it appeared to stun his Capitals teammates, who were lifeless after the fight and Ovechkin’s five-minute major penalty resulting from the brawl.

Now the concern for everyone should be the response of both teams — will the Hurricanes retaliate and how will the Capitals answer?

The answer can’t be unleashing the fury of Tom Wilson, who is on double-secret probation by the league for his violence and fighting, starting off the season serving a 20-game suspension from a preseason hit (reduced later to 14 games, even though Wilson wound up serving 16 games of the punishment). Wilson can’t afford to go to war with the Hurricanes players.

These are not the game-to-game strategies and responses that Reirden hoped to enjoy this postseason.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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