Photo: Chris Gordon. Guy on TweetDeck: Adam Vingan
The Washington Capitals had only a 38% win percentage on the road this season, so getting the W Thursday night is crucial; they just can’t depend on victory away from Verizon Center. But Monday’s home loss to the Bruins was an ugly affair, and the once well composed team fell to shambles. To win Game Four, the Caps are gonna have to dig deep.
I have compiled a series of modest steps the Capitals should take to make it happen. And then we threw in the secret weapon. (Okay, we’ll tell you: more posters.)
For Alex Ovechkin: Shots > Hits
On November 13th, Alex Ovechkin said his job is “to score goals, not make the hits.” But through three games this postseason, Ovechkin has leveled 17 hits and scored just one goal. Your boy Neil Greenberg crunched the numbers and confirmed what Boudreau said: the more Ovechkin hits, the less he scores.
Being physical is great, but the Ovi’s purpose should be obvious: SCOAR MOAR GOALS. This is a big stage for Ovi, so we’re looking for a another moment that gets people making this face:
Extracurriculars Gotta Go
The Boston Bruin know their game. Sure, they play physical between the whistles, but it’s the interim where they truly shine. Whether it’s Milan Lucic Game of Death-ing Brooks Laich before a faceoff, Milan Lucic ragdolling Nick Backstrom after the first period buzzer, or Milan Lucic biting Jeff Schultz’s brittany spaniel at the botanical gardens on Wednesday, its clear that they’ve got the edge when it comes non-hockey dickishness. The Capitals would be wise not to engage the Bs in their creeping.
They’ll win instead by being what Alan May called “thick and proud”–a tough and united team that finishes their checks and knows how to get gritty — but only during the course of the normal hockey game. But when Julien’s guys want to play the pest after every play, the Caps should be ascetic. Silent, focused, tough as nails. Just walk it off.
Roll the Roster Over
The Caps will be without star center and cross-checking phenom Nick Backstrom in Game Four, but that’s no reason to fret. NB19 played exactly none of the Caps’ three regular-season wins over the Bruins, so we know the guys can do it without him. But while Hunter is filling Nicky’s slot, maybe it’s time to shake the whole roster up.
I love Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman, but the dudes have been on ice for four of the six Bruins goals. Perhaps it’s time to give the rookie Dmitry Orlov his first taste of the playoffs. Or better yet, let’s get Big John Erskine in the lineup so he can give Looch what-for one more time.
In Backstrom’s place? You already know the answer. #FreeKnuble. Mike Knuble‘s experience, leadership, and cool head can only help a Caps team that may be frazzled after getting beaten up so ferociously last time. But putting him on the fourth line to grind it out does no one any good. Kanoobs is best deployed as a net-crashing compliment to a playmaker like Alex Ovechkin or Alex Semin.
Further down the lineup, Jeff Halpern may serve as another injection of experience in relief for either Keith Aucoin or Mathieu Perreault, who cannot match the Bruins in size and don’t have the elite faceoff chops of the former Caps captain. Plus: box check.
The Capitals weak-sauce possession game has had me queasy since December, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Results are the only thing that mean anything now, and the Caps proved that a tight defensive game can win. It’s the kind of hockey Dale Hunter said he wanted to play since the day he arrived, and now he’s getting his chance.
But Monday was ugly. The Caps surrendered four goals– many of them due to poor defensive decisions. Justin Bourne at Backhand Shelf took the Caps defense (and Mathieu Perreault in particular) to task for blowing assignments, looking clueless, and generally making it easy for Boston to get at Holtby’s net.
To win on Thursday, the Caps must recommit to defense. They’ve gotta stick to JJ’s plan and execute without the slightest deviation. If they can keep the Bruins cadre of 20-goal scorers off the boards for another game, they can steal this series.
About the penalty kill? Shh. No jinxing.
Win It For Nicky
And finally, the emotional dimension. The Capitals survived without Nick Backstrom for a huge chunk of the season, and they’re gonna have to do it again on Thursday as Backstrom serves a one-game suspension for cross-checking Rich Peverley after Game Three.
The Caps should remain cognizant of their loss and use it as fuel to perform. Just as the Caps sans Alex Ovechkin summoned a hat trick out of Mathieu Perreault against Boston, so too should their role-players emerge as goal-scorers in Game Four. The team has been wronged, aggrieved by a feckless foe, deprived of their glory. Now they must be righteous and indignant. That’s their fuel.
Pursuant to that goal, blog maestro Ian Oland has cooked up some crucial posters.
Same deal as always. The links below will download PDFs, which will fit snug on a 8.5″ x 11″ page. Take a reasonable amount to Chinatown, hand some out to strangers, and then camp out in front of the glass during warm-ups. Let the boys know who they’re fighting for.
RMNB’s Free Nicky Signs
If that doesn’t work, you can always go to Kinkos and print out a giant seagull head. That’ll really creep out Seguin.
Crash the net.
Posters by Ian Oland.