Photo credit: Elsa

A few days ago in a post entitled “How to Solve Tim Thomas in the Playoffs,” I pointed out that the Capitals have had a tough time scoring on Tim Thomas in the regular season. When they did score in regulation, there was an obvious pattern:

  • All 7 goals scored were within the “scoring-chance zone.”
  • 6 of the 7 goals were within 27 feet of the net.
  • 4 of the 7 tallies were what I’d call “dirty goals” — deflections or rebounds in front of the net.

Last night, according to NHL.com writer Corey Masisak, only one of the Capitals 17 shots came within 27 feet of the net. They had more than one shot on net in a 60-second span twice during the game — evidence that they were not getting to any rebounds.

If we take a look at the shot chart from Game 1 (illustrated by The Washington Post), there is a worrying pattern:

All of the Caps’ shots were from the perimeter, and all are from way out. These are routine stops for any NHL-level goaltender, and the kind that a Vezina/Conn Smythe winner like Tim Thomas can beat in his sleep.

The Caps fired a total of 26 unblocked shots towards Thomas from an average distance of 42 feet. Of those 26, just 17 hit their target. Here’s how it broke down: 10 wristshots, 9 snapshots, 5 slapshots, 1 backhand, and 1 tip-in. The closest shot on net Thomas saw all night was a wrister from Marcus Johansson early in the third period– from 27 feet out.

Chara checks Ovechkin. (Photo credit: Brian Babineau)

These numbers tell us that either the Capitals are not doing enough to get pucks deep and open up seams, the Bruins are doing an exceptional job crowding the Caps, or– most likely– some combination of both. Considering that Zdeno Chara shared 13:48 of Alex Ovechkin‘s 17:34 ice time, it’s safe to assume that physically stifling the Caps’ offense is a priority for Boston.

To counteract that, the Caps may need to play a more aggressive transitional game. In addition to tightening up their breakouts and their play on neutral ice, the Capitals should be playing exploitative hockey. That means storming the Bruins zone and loosening up the puck with stick checks and big hits. Since the conventional game isn’t working, this would be a good Plan B. Or at least it’ll be fun to watch.

In addition, the Caps should consider breaking up the Ovechkin-Laich-Brouwer trio. If the intention behind this line combination was to open up ice for Ovechkin to shoot, then based on the first game played the experiment must be seen as a failure. Ovechkin finished the game with a minus-11 Corsi score (the sum of all pucks fired at Boston’s net subtracted by the sum of all pucks fired at the Washington net). Meanwhile, Ovechkin’s shadow, Tyler Seguin, led his team in puck possession with a plus-13. That’s domination.

The Capitals need their captain scoring — or at the very least — driving play, but Boston was able to successfully neutralize him in Game 1. Trying out two scoring lines against Boston’s deep defense was a bold move, but it didn’t work. That’s why it may be time for Dale Hunter to put all his eggs in one basket: reunite the team’s best scorer, Alex Ovechkin (49 goals/season), their best playmaker, Nick Backstrom (.71 assists/game), and their best possession player, Alex Semin (54.8% scoring chances). They’ll face the toughest competition possible, but they will dictate the game and give the Caps the best chance to crash the net.

Putting #22 back in the lineup wouldn’t hurt either.

Additional reporting by Peter Hassett.

  • Jeremiah

    you don’t think putting perault with semin again is a good diea , i mean he is small but him and semin seemed to have some kind of chemistry  with chimera . that line seemed to be the best possession line the caps had fro the longest time while backstrom was out

  • Dave at District Sports Page

    Great analysis. I think the “Eggs in one basket” line would work better at home. Let’s give this another game.

  • Tim

    Laich needs to get bumped out of 1C. Put MP there, or at 2C. I still favor splitting Backs and Ovie, but Ovie needs an offensive center.

  • serpent

    Sasha, like Stamkos, usually pops up out of thin air and scores, like a hockey ghost. I think leaving him on a line away from a big target like Ovie or Nick lets him keep his invisibility factor.

  • http://twitter.com/DCRothman David Rothman

    Amen to that. Reunite 25-85-28 PLEASE Dale sir.

  • KareeLyn

    Great point.  He does weird, miraculous things when no one is paying attention.

  • Dez

    Absolutely need to break up OV – Laich line… If they’re going to double (quadruple team) OV that leaves a lot of open ice for another skill player.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692356341 Matt Mendelsohn

    I have left various forms of the comment I’m about to post so many times on the Washington Post web site that I’m starting to sound like a broken record. But I haven’t left it on RMNB yet, so her goes:

    The notion that a hockey team fighting for its life in the playoffs, one in desperate and immediate need of three things–grinding, size, and net crashing–would continually bench a beloved alternate captain with 1,040 NHL games worth of….wait for it…legendary grinding, size and net crashing, is beyond comprehension. I don’t know if Mike Knuble has the PIN to Dale Hunter’s ATM account or whether he knows where some secret bodies are buried, but Hunter’s clear dislike for Mike and his work ethic is going to backfire big time.

    As the first person to leave an anonymous comment on the Knuble Knights site a few months back saying “Free Mike Knuble,” I’m getting tired of defending him. But I keep hearing the same things over and over again: Mike is too old, too slow, too whatever. His best years are behind him, I read constantly. This is b.s. You don’t get to play 1,000 NHL games by being a sucky hockey player. Indeed, you get to play in 1,000 hockey games, something only 279 guys int he history of the league have accomplished, by being a pretty amazing hockey player. The notion that somehow Mike has forgotten how to play, or forgotten how to score, or forgotten how to put the puck in an empty net, is preposterous. Go to Kettler one day and watch how hard Mike practices.

    Mike has gotten no playing time this season and has scored only a handful of goals. Dale Hunter uses the latter to justify the former, while those of us who defend Mike do the opposite. It’s a moot point now, as the season is over. We’ll never know which was correct–that Mike deserved his diminished playing time or whether the diminished playing time resulted in lesser goal scoring. It’s too late.

    What’s not too late, though, is today. Right now. This team can do what scores of sports franchises have done over the past century, which is look to heir most seasoned veterans to pull them through a time of need. Or it can do what Dale Hunter seems to think is he way to go which is put a guy with Mike’s experience in the press box. When the Los Angeles Dodgers called Kirk Gibson to the plate, hobbling on one leg, it wasn’t because they thought he was washed up; it was because they knew what he could do. And the rest was history. And Mike ain’t nowhere near hobbled. CAn he beat a 19 year-old in a race? maybe not. But no one is asking him to be the fastest guy on the ice. We need him for other reasons.

    As I said, Game 1 showed many glaring weaknesses (and surprising strengths, like Holby): we were outsized, we were out-grinded, we had zero net crashing. And what are the three things Mike can do for us? Grind, muscle and net-crash. Not only is he a great net crasher but he’s one of the best of all time. So what the heck is he doing sitting on the bench?

    Dale Hunter has proven himself to be a stubborn, silent, uncommunicative coach, one who has gone as many as fifty games without actually conversing with one of his own players. (You know who.) Whatever happened between him and Mike (perhaps nothing) has to be put aside.   When you’re in rough seas in a hurricane, you don’t want a boat full of youngsters with talent. You hope that at least some of the guys driving the boat are grizzled vets.

    Enough with Free Mike Knuble. Just play him already, and not some token minutes. We need all of the intangible things that a player like Mike brings to the table at this point in his career. To focus on Mike’s speed and age is so absurd it’s practically laughable. There are teams out there–teams with their thinking mechanisms intact–that would die to have a guy with Mike’s experience helping them out in the playoffs right now. Only the Washington Capitals, with all of their Stanley Cups, would bench him at this point in the season. Oh, wait.

  • Guestz

    apparently you fix it by giving Backstrom the MOTHA FUCKIN PUCK! WOOOOOO!

    but yes, Free KaNoobs