Washington Capitals’ fans have watched this story before. Their postseason confidence is veiled by lingering uncertainty from past disappointment and underachievement. One may view that as a dramatic exaggeration for just two games into the first round of the playoffs, but the truth is in the results.
The Capitals need to fix things against the Boston Bruins fast, or it could be more of the same because the third and fourth games of a series are vital. Game 3 is in Boston at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Capitals Need to Fix Issues Fast
The Capitals first have to respond, but that shouldn’t be an issue considering how the first two games of the series have gone. Frankly, the whole season has been back and forth between Washington and Boston. During the regular season, each team won four games, and the Bruins outscored the Capitals 26-25.
In Game 1, Washington started the scoring, and then each team answered until Nick Dowd scored the game-winner in overtime. In Game 2, Boston got on the board first, and again goals were exchanged. Garnett Hathaway netted two in a row, but the Bruins got the final two, including Brad Marchand’s overtime bullet. That play poses problem number one.
Defense and Faceoffs
The Capitals have been haunted by late-game defensive lapses all season. This was on full display in Game 2, and even more so in the first 39 seconds of the extra period. Forget Taylor Hall’s equalizer with three minutes left in the third. Overtime was a disaster.
Brenden Dillon misplayed the puck in the defensive zone and then completely lost track of Marchand on the wing. Washington goalie Craig Anderson didn’t have a chance, and the game was over before anyone had could sit down on the couch expecting exciting sudden death play.
The defense needs to be better. The Capitals gave up 48 shots on goal and only forced four giveaways in Game 2. One major issue is gaining control of the puck, and that starts in the circle. Boston has won 60 and 63 percent of faceoffs in the first two games of the series, respectively. The Bruins are simply having more opportunities to possess the puck and set up scoring chances. Lars Eller’s injury contributes to this gap in faceoff wins.
Anderson has played well in relief, posting a .938 save percentage while facing 70 shots over the first two games of the series. Not many expected the 39-year-old goaltender to be in this spot. Ilya Samsonov was placed on the COVID-19 list in early May but has since been removed, and Vitek Vanecek suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of Game 1.
Health has been a concern for the Capitals. Captain Alexander Ovechkin missed seven games late in the season, and Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie all limped into the playoffs.
With the aforementioned Eller injury, and Evgeny Kuznetsov’s status still in question, center depth has become a major concern for the Capitals.
Connor McMichael, among others, was recalled from the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, and traveled with the team to Boston, but some line shuffling still may be in store.
Shuffle the Lines
Oshie may be asked to step up again and slide into center if either Eller or Kuznetsov can’t play. McMichael was running a lot of drills this morning, which may assume that the position will be somewhat depleted this afternoon.
Daniel Sprong, Connor McMichael, Martin Fehervary and TvR are running drills for quite some time after Caps AM skate today.— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 19, 2021
Not only is Eller’s injury significant to the depth chart, but he’s also a solid defensive center. With Boston being at home, they have the last line change, and their elite line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak can flourish over a vulnerable squad.
One thing is for certain the fourth line cannot be disturbed. Dowd, Hagelin, and Hathaway have been together all season, and not only are they grinders and a fantastic defensive trio, but they’ve been getting it done offensively as well. Dowd and Hathaway have scored three of the team’s six goals in the series, and Hagelin has added an assist. They will be asked to do even more in Game 3.
Time to Respond…Again
The Capitals have a lot of question marks going into Game 3 tonight. They need their stars to start having a “star” impact. This includes Anthony Mantha, who made it clear he wanted to be a difference-maker.
The good news is, the team is getting contributions from different players. The bad news is, there are not that many players left. It will take a massive response for the Capitals on the road to prove they’re truly a contender this year.
vibe check pic.twitter.com/zSE9VUK2CN— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) May 14, 2021
When a team has been good for such a long time, outside fans assume they are decorated. Yes, in 2018, the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. However, people tend to forget that that year was the only season the team advanced past the second round in the Ovechkin-era. If Washington doesn’t get healthy and start skating better on defense and controlling the puck, get ready for the same old same old. Capitals’ fans are always prepared for that storyline. But with high expectations comes optimism, and fans can always believe.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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