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.
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.