The Washington Capitals’ Recipe for Success in Game 3

In a way, it’s a shame that Alex Ovechkin’s incredible goal against the New York Rangers over the weekend was not a winning goal – or even a goal in a game that the Washington Capitals won. It was that kind of goal – one that will appear on YouTube in late December 2019 as part of a “Top 10 Goals of the Decade” montage. As it happened, Ovi’s work-of-art goal from his knees was part of a 3-2 losing effort by the Capitals in Game 2, and there is still some work to do for his team to regain momentum in their Stanley Cup Second Round series.

Alex Ovechkin Capitals
Alex Ovechkin says ‘so long’ to two Rangers’ defensemen (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

The first period in Game 2 was wretched for the Capitals. They looked tired and disjointed when they allowed the Rangers to score only 38 seconds into the contest, and their measly four shots in that first period was atrocious. Clearly, if the Capitals have three periods like that one tonight at the Verizon Center for Game 3, an ugly evening may be on the cards.

“We need to reset a little bit after the first two games,” stated Capitals Coach Barry Trotz after his team’s practice Sunday. “I think we have to have a real good positive plan going forward, so I think the guys have always been real good at buying in on what we need to do.” This is true, but the team cannot afford the ‘falling asleep at the wheel’ routine we saw in Saturday afternoon’s game.

Capitals Home Advantage

What factors spell success for the Capitals in Game 3? Recent history is one; the defense is another. The Capitals have home ice tonight and are better in the Verizon Center of late than out of it. They’re aiming for a fourth straight home victory in the playoffs for the first time in six years. Anybody who’s attended a playoff game at the Verizon Center can attest to the advantage the Capitals have. The crowd is the team’s extra player.

An organized, hard-hitting defense was key to the Capitals’ regular season success and it’s key in the postseason. Brooks Orpik leads the postseason hit tally for defensemen with 50 hits – that’s 17 more than the next guy on that list (Johnny Boychuk) and only eight shy of the man with most hits in any position (Bryan Bickell). Capitals defensemen Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen also make the top 10 hits by D-men during the playoffs. Is not all about hitting, but it is all about retaining the puck and passing it after the hits – and the Capitals are regularly doing that this term – it’s how they’ve won a majority of their games.

The Rangers called the shots in Game 2. They did a nice job of wearing down the Capitals similar to how the Capitals wore down the New York Islanders in Game 7 of their first round series. The Capitals must return to their own ‘wearing down’ plan tonight in Game 3. They need a strong forecheck, they need to stay out of the penalty box and they need to maintain puck possession – especially in their own zone.

Brooks Orpik
Brooks Orpik leads defensemen in the postseason with 50 hits (Tom Turk/THW)

The Washington Capitals under Barry Trotz this season are reborn as the team all fans hoped they’d get. Ovechkin is his old self and Trotz knows exactly how to get the performances out of his superstar. Trotz also has the right combinations of defensemen with John Carlson accompanying Orpik, Alzner and Niskanen together and Tim Gleason paired up with Mike Green. Carlson, Alzner and Green love to shoot (and occasionally score) while Gleason, Niskanen and Orpik play like brick walls on skates.

All the Ingredients Must Mix

Combine all of that with a few forwards who are itching to score (Troy Brouwer and Tom Wilson for example), a sublime goalie in Braden Holtby and the best first line in the game (Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward) and you have a recipe for victory in Game 3.

Stanley Cup Semifinals Game 3: New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals, Monday 7.30 p.m. at the Verizon Center.