All week long, while waiting for their round two opponent, the Washington Capitals talked about maintaining their focus so they would be ready for game one of the next series. If this was school and I was the teacher grading the Caps on their performance towards that goal they would not get a passing grade. The Capitals started slow, came on strong for twenty minutes, then completely got away from playoff hockey, and as a result lost, 4-2, thanks to two late second period tallies by the Lightning. Steve Downie and Steven Stamkos notched those markers and the Bolts now lead this best of seven series with game two set for Sunday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that the Capitals basically gave away to Tampa:
– A lot was made of Tampa’s 1-3-1 defensive scheme and how the Caps needed to be patient against it. In order to defeat that scheme, I blogged that Washington needed to find a way to enter the Bolts zone with speed and make sure they put the pucks in the correct areas on their dump-ins. They also could not turn the puck over and allow the Lightning to get breaks and odd man rushes in transition. In fact, a couple of very smart hockey fans over at Japers Rink posted a great blog on how to technically defeat Coach Guy Boucher’s scheme. For the first 30 minutes of game one, the Caps seemed to be following the necessary script but then something happened that sent Washington into a downward spiral midway through period two. Instead of being content passing the puck D to D like they did in a win in Tampa in February, which forced the Bolts to send a forechecker in and open up the neutral zone, the Caps decided to attack the 1-3-1 without being responsible. As a result, the Bolts started getting chances and got the momentum necessary to regain control of the game.
“We went away from our patient game and tried to lure them in and kind of open up some seams, but I think we got the lead and we just figured we need to get more and more instead of kind of protecting,” said Caps defensemen Jeff Schultz on how Washington got away from what had been making them successful recently.
– Schultz hit the nail on the head as the Capitals played more like last year’s team or more like a game from November from there on out in the middle frame. Washington got too fancy with the puck trying drop and low percentage passes, had too many individual moves in the neutral zone and blue line that zapped them of speed and often lead to offsides calls, and made too many turnovers. Washington stopped moving their feet and as a result their physical play dropped off and they took some lazy penalites. All three Caps second period infractions could have been avoided had the player kept working and played smarter (Boyd Gordon’s slash, Matt Hendricks interference, and Jason Chimera’s rough).
“I think we play very well, the last 10 minutes of the first period and the first 10 minutes of the second period. When we get the lead, we didn’t play our game, I think we play too cute and we took lots of penalties and that cost us. It’s over and we have to prepare for next game,” said Caps captain Alexander Ovechkin on what led to the demise and where his mindset was following the contest.
– Tampa’s special teams have been outstanding in this postseason and they killed off all five Capitals power plays while scoring on one of their four attempts. That goal edge to the Lightning was the difference in the game (Tampa’s last tally came into an empty net). Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was disappointed in the lack of shots his team took on the power play while Boucher credited his club’s attention to detail for thwarting the highly skilled Capitals attack.
“There’s always the luck element in there. Our players put a lot of work into the details. They really do. They spend a lot of time watching video by themselves or in little groups on top of what we made them watch. They figured out a lot of the small details that make you successful. You look at their power play, they still had a lot of time of possession in our zone,” commented the Tampa coach on the key to his club’s special teams success while pointing out that there is still work to be done by his crew.
– Boucher, just two days into the series, has picked a theme with the media and stuck with it. He has likened his team’s chances against the Caps to that of David vs. Goliath. He continually praises the Capitals players calling them extremely skilled, a juggernaut, powerful, etc. So far, his rhetoric is working because his club won the majority of the battles to the loose pucks on Friday while Washington must have been reading the press clippings and blogs. The Caps played rather stupidly when they got ahead, as if they thought they were the high powered Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s, and they also forgot about what it takes to win in the playoffs. Their hits were down and their turnovers were up, which is a recipe for the golf course if it continues.
“You can’t play river hockey and I’m looking and thought this isn’t the way we play, it was reverting back to an older day,” finished Boudreau on why the Caps were not successful after seemingly taking command of the play near the game’s midway point.
– Another game and another injury on the blue line for Washington. John Carlson was shaken up late in period two and only logged 36 seconds in period three. #74’s ice time total was just 14:39, way down from the norm. Boudreau stated that he was “day to day” and that the loss of Carlson cut his offensive ability from the back line nearly in half. That left Mike Green as the only puck rushing defensemen, making it easier for the Lightning to channel their top defenders to the times when #52 was on the ice. Green’s ice time, 27:05, led the Caps and 11:25 of it came in period three. That is way too much, but with the Capitals down a goal, Boudreau didn’t have any options.
– In summary, this was a really poor effort on Washington’s part. They forgot what made them successful in the opening round and didn’t stick to their game plan when they were on the verge of locking this tilt down in period two. It was a lazy and low hockey IQ type of performance, plain and simple. The Caps cannot play that way and win against an opportunistic Tampa club that has the skill to make the Capitals pay for mistakes, unlike the Rangers, who worked hard but just couldn’t finish. Those last 30 minutes were nothing like what we saw from Ovechkin and company in the last 52 minutes of game four and much of game five of the opening round. It was a real stinker and as one of my friends from Canada texted me near the end of the game, “The Caps were lazy and lacked intensity. The Royal Wedding was more entertaining than this hockey game.” I think that pretty much sums up my thoughts on this clunker too.
Notes: Simon Gagne was hit clean by Scott Hannan in period one, lost his footing, and fell to the ice hitting his head in the process. He did not return. In addition, Pavel Kubina hit his head on the glass as a result of Chimera’s roughing penalty and did not return…Ovechkin was not good at all getting only two shots on net. He had seven attempts blocked and he tried too many one on one moves that went nowhere. His best play was a feed to Nicklas Backstrom in the slot but #19 missed wide. Backstrom is struggling big time and if the Caps are to prevail in this series, he must get going offensively…Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr scored the Washington goals…Marcus Johansson set up the tally by #16 and was one of the better Caps on the ice…Washington won the face-off battle, 35-30. Brooks Laich was 6-3…Michal Neuvirth (21 saves) made some great stops in net. About the only thing I could fault him on was the first Tampa marker where he seemed to have the puck covered at one point and then lost it.