It hasn’t been a secret that the Washington Capitals have taken a dive since their offensive juggernaut days of last season. Their system has shifted a bit, and their style of play has shifted as well. The Caps have become more defensively responsible and until recently, that had caused a serious dip in goals. While the Capitals have seemed to have found that balance again, averaging 3 goals per game during their current 8 game winning streak, they have also discovered a new aspect of their game: physicality.
The Capitals have been one of the bigger teams in the league for a long time. They currently have only one player who is listed at under 6 feet tall–Marcus Johansson, who is listed at 5’11. Despite the size of the team, the Caps were never known for using it to their advantage. In fact, it was almost the opposite. Many teams would purposefully try to get the Caps into a physical game so that they wouldn’t be able to use their speed and skill.
However, it seems as though those times are changing. Throughout those eight games, the Capitals have forchecked hard, gradually grinding down the opponent’s defense before scoring in the third period. Their physical game has been higher than it has in a long time, and it is at least partly due to the new, tweaked system.
Their new system requires a different level of physical commitment. It puts more emphasis on the forcheck and calls more a more simplistic style of play. After a while of trying to implement this system and after some additions around the trade deadline, the Capitals are finally buying in, and according Mike Kunble, are loving the way they are doing it.
“We’re realizing that we can grind and control pucks down low, and work our offense that way instead of scoring off the rush,” Knuble told reporters after yesterday’s game against the Blackhawks.
Knuble also made several references to a time of year that hasn’t been so kind to the Capitals the last few seasons: the playoffs. It is said over and over again that playoff play is nothing like regular season play, and there is certainly some truth to that. Could this style be what the Caps need to get over the first-round hump?
This type of physicality that wears teams down throughout the game can also wear teams down throughout a series. If you’re feeling banged up after a game, that likely isn’t going away quickly. Continuous wear and tear means less in the tank for game 7, and with their past history, that is what the Capitals have to be planning for.
One thing is certain: the Caps have changed the way they play the game. On paper, this change is what they need to take the next step. Though the last thing the playoffs are is predictable, finally using all of their assets (like their size) can only further expand this team’s options.