Caps Need to Adjust Strategy
After the Flyers 2-0 blanking of the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series on Sunday one thing is obvious: it is time for the Caps to adjust their strategy to align more with playoff style hockey. Flyers Coach John Stevens and his very tactically smart and experienced assistant coach Terry Murray (former Caps and Skipjacks head coach) did a great job of clogging up the neutral zone and blue line on Washington forcing the Caps to dump the puck in, something they do not usually like to do. As a result, the Flyers created turnovers that led to their two goals on Sunday.
The negative to the Flyers strategy is that they will likely take more penalties of the interference and hooking variety and they had four minors called against them in the first period of Sunday’s game. The Caps, however, did not take advantage of those infractions primarily because their power play was too perimeter focused and there weren’t enough shots to the net with traffic in front of Flyer goalie Martin Biron. Somebody other than Brooks Laich needs to go to the front of the net. Perhaps putting Tom Poti on the point opposite Mike Green and moving Alexander Ovechkin in front of the goal, similar to something they did successfully in Atlanta last month, might be a good idea to get the power play going again? Anyways, I’m sure Coach Bruce Boudreau spent Monday coming up with a plan to go against the Flyer tactics. Dumping the puck and chasing is not something the Caps should have trouble with because they are a good skating team and have guys who can throw the body around. The Caps forwards also need to pay the price by going to the net at all times and finding ways to get some garbage goals. Tuesday nights’ game three at the Wachovia Center should be a good one.
After the Caps-Flyers Game 1 tilt, the best playoff game I’ve watched this year was the San Jose-Calgary Game 3 contest Sunday night from the Saddledome. The Sharks stormed to a quick lead scoring three goals in the first 3:33 and chasing Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff. Kiprusoff wasn’t totally to blame for the Sharks initial onslaught but Coach Mike Keenan had to do something to stop the Sharks momentum so #34 got the hook and Kiprusoff was clearly not happy about it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Keenan originally planned on putting Kiprusoff back in the game at some point but given Mikka’s temper tantrum Iron Mike decided he had no choice but to stick with backup Curtis Joseph (aka Cujo), who will be 41 years old on April 29th.
Anyways, things still seemed to be going the way of a San Jose blowout until the 12:54 mark of the first period when Calgary defensemen Corey Sarich levied the hit of the playoffs on Sharks captain Patrick Marleau knocking his helmet off and igniting the crowd. The Flames also received a power play when Matt Carle jumped Sarich after the clean hit. Calgary then scored on the ensuing power play to get back in the game.
Here is a link for viewing the Sarich hit and the subsequent power play goal by Jarome Iginla:
The Flames dominated from there on out and Owen Nolan won the game with 3:45 remaining in regulation putting a screened shot past Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The Flames 4-3 win puts them up two games to one in the series. Cujo was great in goal but everyone knows that Kiprusoff will be back in net on Tuesday night for Game 4. But I am sure Keenan is sleeping easier knowing that he has Joseph as his backup goalie. Calgary continues to take too many penalties in this series but perhaps their strategy of trying to intimidate the Sharks may actually end up working. I don’t think Marleau will get caught skating with his head down or be so quick to skate along the boards without looking up the rest of this series!
Ottawa – Pittsburgh
In a move to get the Senators back into their series with Pittsburgh, Ottawa forward and team captain Daniel Alfredsson returned to the lineup tonight for the first time since being clobbered by Leafs forward Mark Bell in the 81st game of the regular season. Alfredsson logged just over 17 minutes of ice time in the contest tonight but clearly it was desperation time for Ottawa inserting the captain into the fray at less than 100% health. It wasn’t enough as a three goal Pens third period buried the Senators 4-1 sending them to an insurmountable three games to none deficit in that playoff series. Once again, smart move by Pittsburgh tanking that last game in Philly to get Ottawa instead of the Flyers in the first round.
Rangers – Devils
NHL pest Sean Avery has been up to his old tricks for the Rangers in their series against the Devils focusing on hitting and agitating Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Through two games the tactic was working as New York took a quick 2-0 lead in the series and in game three Avery notched his third goal of the playoffs. However, Avery took things too far with his crazy antics by turning his back to the play and face guarding Brodeur during a Rangers power play. Fortunately on Monday NHL Senior Executive VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell stepped in and issued the following interpretation of Rule 75 on goaltender interference that should clarify things for NHL referees:
“An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty (Rule 75) will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender’s face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play.”
Things also finally went the Devils way on Sunday as John Madden scored the game winner off the skate of Rangers defenseman Mark Staal from behind the Rangers net in overtime. The Rangers now lead the series two games to one. With Avery and Jaromir Jagr on the Rangers, plus the fact they are a New York team, it is easy to see why the Rangers are the team I root against the most in the Eastern Conference. Martin Broudeur is due for a spectacular game and a shutout so look for one of those classic Brodeur games in the next contest.
Red Wings – Predators
With just over four minutes to go in Monday’s Detroit-Nashville game the Red Wings held a 3-2 lead and seemed poised to take a commanding three games to none lead in the series when lightning struck for the Predators. 2004 first round draft pick Ryan Suter beat Wings goalie Dominik Hasek with a beautiful low far post point blast and then just nine second later Nashville captain Jason Arnott capitalized on a bad change by the Red Wings defense and skated in and blasted a slapper through the legs of Hasek for a 4-3 Nashville lead. The Preds would add an empty netter to make it a 5-3 final. The Red Wings now lead the series two games to one. It was so loud in Nashville down the stretch that the players struggled to hear the referees whistles.
After scoring his game winning goal Arnott leaped in celebration into the glass, ala Ovechkin, but came down awkwardly and was tackled by teammate Alexander Radulov and fell to the ice. Arnott was shaken up and did not play another shift but appears to be okay. WNST blog commenter PSURaven pointed out that he would like to see Ovechkin and the Caps temper their after goal celebrations and I think all the Caps need to do is see what happened to Arnott Monday night to realize that they need to tone things down for their own safety.