Photo: Justin K. Aller
It was the best of games, it was the worst of games. Okay, maybe that was forced, but it still holds true. Game Three began with a grope, but ended with a 3-2 loss on enemy ice. The Caps absolutely outplayed the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday night, but still walked away down 2-1 in the series.
Even so, there are positives to pull from the game. It was the first match of the series that the Caps unquestionably controlled the play against the Penguins. The Capitals probably never expected to come into Pittsburgh and take both games, so while it makes Game Four on Wednesday all the more important, it is not a backbreaker either.
The Caps are rightfully feeling pretty good about their current play going into Game Four. This was a game of bounces. The Pens got them. The Caps didn’t.
Game Two was unsuccessful to say the least. The Capitals struggled through two periods of play, committed penalty after penalty in the second (though maybe some were undeserved), and lost the game off the stick of an old ally turned foe. So, let’s engage in the oldest pastime known to sports: assigning blame.
For the last couple months (since I figured out how to create GIFs), I have been posting 140 character or less takes on goals that the Capitals have either scored or given up on the Twitter. I am more than happy to take any requests on a non-goal play that someone has questions about, so feel free to make any requests. For now, let’s use the ability to post longer than 5-second videos to get some more detail in the explanations for the goals of Game One.
Photo: Patrick Smith
I don’t know if anyone else has been paying attention to the numbers that Sportlogiq has been tweeting out about each playoff game, but I find them fascinating. For instance, did you know that in Game Five of the Caps/Flyers series, the Caps had offensive zone possession for 5:44 and the Flyers for only 2:07?
— Sportlogiq (@Sportlogiq) April 24, 2016
It was an impressive showing by the Capitals in the loss to be sure, but the interesting thing to me in those stats is that there was only 7:51 of even strength offensive possession by both teams combined. That leaves 32:09 of even strength time in a close, 60-minute game where there wasn’t offensive possession (there was 20 minutes of non 5-on-5 time). That is a huge percentage (80.375 percent to be exact).
That isn’t an outlier either, the Blues/Blackhawks series averaged 10:41 in even strength offensive possession by both teams combined, and they went to three overtime periods. So much emphasis is put on how players and teams play with the puck in the zone and defend in the zone, but the vast majority of time is spent doing other things, carrying or passing through neutral, fighting for loose pucks in all three zones, and regrouping and breaking out.
When it comes down to it, much of this game of hockey is played between the tops of the circles and not beneath them. That area of the ice is where the little things can cause more zone time, a quick strike goal or a huge breakdown. For the Capitals to win this series, they will need to outplay the Penguins here, in the middle of the ice.
Photo: Patrick Smith
About two weeks ago, we previewed the special teams matchup that loomed between the Washington Capitals and their First Round opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers. Special teams ended up playing an important role in more than one game of that series, so wise men and women will take note of this preview as well.
In the Caps/Flyers preview, we outlined the Caps penalty kill as well as the Flyers power play and PK. The Caps do not alter their PK from team to team, so another breakdown of that will be unnecessary, but you might want a refresher on how the Caps kill penalties. There will be similarities and there will be differences, so buckle up.
Caps starting goaltender Braden Holtby left practice early on Tuesday after colliding with a teammate, setting off widespread internet panic. Barry Trotz later said Holtby, who had been seen favoring his left leg, was fine.
We got further confirmation of this fact from CSN Mid-Atlantic when they published video of Holtby. Holtby had no noticeable limp when walking away from the catering table. He looked perfectly fine.
But discussion of Holtby’s possible injury missed the real point: what was Holtby eating?
Photo: Elsa/Getty Images
Before the series between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers began, we took a look at the special teams of both squads. Since then, three games have been played; three Capitals wins have been tallied; eight goals have been scored on the power play by the Caps, none for Philly. To say the power play has been just a factor in the series is underselling it.
In that pre-series write-up, we identified a triangle plus one formation for the Flyers’ penalty kill, a penalty kill that relies on getting in lanes to disrupt shots instead of putting pressure on the player holding the puck. They have been torched.
Photo by Patrick Smith
The value of hits is a point of contention among hockey analysts. There is little doubt that having more hits than an opponent likely means that the other team had better possession. This may not be exclusive as some teams rely and game plan for being physical and others do not, but the assumption is usually correct. Some have relegated hits to the intangible realm, where there may be some value, but it is unquantifiable for now. Some believe hits to have great value to slow down, frustrate or actually affect the game of an opponent.
Let’s take a look at Game Two to see if there was any effect on Caps’ physicality.
Photo: Geoff Burke
The eighth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers are down 2-0 in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals. Despite outshooting the Caps 61-54, the Flyers have been outscored 6-1. The Caps have received superior goaltending, but if you ask Flyers forward Ryan White, something else is afoot.
“We’re playing the Presidents’ Trophy champs,” White said to the Courier-Post’s Mark Trible. “They’re gonna get a lot of calls. Everyone wants them to keep winning. We’ve just gotta keep playing. We’ve got to push through it and keep our noses to the grindstone and keep getting at it.”
White suggests that the officiating has been slanted towards the Capitals so far in the series. He is wrong.
Photo: Patrick McDermott
Early in the second period of Game Two, with his team clinging to a 1-0 advantage, Jason Chimera stepped onto the ice, determined to give his team a two-goal lead. What followed was an impact shift, ending in a no-doubt-about-it goal from the Ice Cheetah, sending Verizon Center into a frenzy.
This snipe was so beautiful that it’s no doubt the most replayed goal from NHL action on Saturday night. On top of the highlight-reel quality of the goal, it also put Chimera in special company among Caps’ playoff goal scorers:
Jason Chimera scored his 6th career playoff GWG, tying Peter Bondra for first place on the #Caps postseason game-winning goals list.
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) April 17, 2016
Let’s take a look at the Xs and Os of the game-winning goal.
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