It is hard to believe that as much as the Pittsburgh Penguins outplayed the Washington Capitals in game three on Wednesday night that the Caps might have won the game in overtime had the puck not rolled off of Alexander Ovechkin’s stick when he was in prime scoring position during the extra session. That is how close Washington came to having a commanding three games to none lead in this best of seven series. The only reason the Caps were in that position was because of 21 year old goalie Simeon Varlamov, who was superb. The Caps now only lead by one in this series with game four Friday night in Pittsburgh at the Igloo (Note: Please join WNST at Silver Spring Mining Company in Hunt Valley for the “Rock the Red” Caps-Penguins Game 4 on Friday night at 7 p.m.).
Here are my keys to a Washington victory on Friday night:
1. MOVE YOUR FEET BOYS! – The biggest problem the Caps had on Wednesday was they simply did not skate the way they usually do. I’m not sure if they were suffering from a lack of energy or were tired but after the first 10 minutes this did not look like the hard charging Caps team that dominated the Penguins during the regular season. Since Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau took over this team on Thanksgiving Day of 2007, this has been a high energy, pressure the puck, and fast skating club. That team was not on display on Wednesday. The Caps need to get back to skating hard and playing with confidence.
2. GET THE PUCK DEEP! – Washington needs to play a simple game and get the puck deep in Pittsburgh’s end. The Caps forwards are very strong on the boards and they play well when they have the puck behind the opposing team’s goal line. On Wednesday the dump-ins were terrible and there were too many neutral zone or early in the offensive zone turnovers (typically from cross ice passes). The Penguins defense is not that good and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is weak handling the puck so the Caps have to get the puck in, skate hard to get it, and get their cycle game going to generate scoring opportunities. Getting the puck deep includes dumping it behind the net by the defensemen when the shooting lanes are blocked or they can’t get a hard shot off. Had Tom Poti dumped the puck behind the Penguin net the in overtime that game winning Penguin face-off play does not happen. Poti also failed to get it deep on the first Penguin goal, which led to an odd-man rush for the Penguins (Ruslan Fedotenko scored on that play).
3. BETTER BREAKOUTS! – The Caps routinely panicked with the puck or threw it up the boards in their own zone on Wednesday. Gone were the typical crisp breakout passes we’ve routinely seen from a fairly mobile defense. The defensemen need to get their feet moving and not fear a Penguin hit. The forwards need to do a better job of being in position on the boards and fighting to get pucks out of the Washington zone. I wouldn’t mind seeing Karl Alzner, who is a very good puck moving defensemen, get a look in game four. Alzner is a very good skater and is smart with the puck. Tyler Sloan was good in game two playing a simple game but just chipping it up the boards isn’t going to work in Pittsburgh. When the puck is moved by a Washington defensemen it needs to be put in a position for the Caps forwards to go into their strong transition game. The Caps had little to no transition game after the first 10 minutes on Wednesday.
4. GET SHOTS ON NET! – Ovechkin and Alexander Semin had chances where they were unable to get shots off, for whatever reason, on Wednesday. The Caps need to shoot the puck on Fleury, who tends to give up rebounds, and go to the net. Remember what happened in game one when Matt Bradley shot the puck on net and it went up the slot to a charging Dave Steckel for a tap in goal or when Sloan fired from the point through traffic and it bounced right to Steckel in game two for an easy goal? Those are the kind of grind it out, playoff type of goals a team needs in the post season. Brooks Laich, Viktor Kozlov, Chris Clark, and Tomas Fleischmann (and Keith Aucoin if he is recalled from Hershey) all need to pay a price and go strong to the cage. Ovechkin and Semin also need to quit trying to beat the Penguins one on one all of the time. A good, hard, low shot is one that can generate rebounds so the Caps forwards need to do that and then crash the net.
5. STAY OUT OF THE BOX! – The Penguins have 17 power plays to just 9 for the Caps so far in this series. I haven’t been thrilled with some of the calls from the officials, and apparently neither has Boudreau or GM George McPhee. But some of Washington’s penalty’s have been of the retalitory variety so discipline is key on Friday. The Caps penalty killing has been good but when you give Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Sergei Gonchar seven opportunities in a game they will score at least once.
6. ALLOW VARLY TO SEE THE PUCK! – Varlamov has stopped 106 of 114 shots in this series so far (93%). When Varly sees the puck he routinely stops it so the Washington players need to keep the front of the net clear. All three Penguins goals on Wednesday were the result of screens or deflections (the first goal being on a deflected pass). Crosby’s three goals in game two were all in close too. The referees also need to crack down on some of the crease crashing going on by Pittsburgh.
7. SLOW DOWN GENO! – Malkin was the best skater on the ice on Wednesday. #71 had too much room and was able to generate lots of speed in the neutral zone that allowed him to draw penalties and create opportunities. Boudreau needs to adjust Washington’s neutral zone defense so that the back pass to a charging Penguin is negated. Best way to do this is keep Pittsburgh hemmed up in its own zone. The Caps need to get a strong forecheck going, something they did not have on Wednesday. If the Caps can slow down Malkin they have a good chance to win game four.
8. CONTINUE HOT POWER PLAY! – The Caps are 3 for 9 on the power play in this series, a very good 33% success rate. When Washington gets a man advantage they need to continue to cash in. It would be nice to see Mike Green finally score a goal in this series to get his confidence back up. The Caps need to continue to get traffic in front of Fleury on the man advantage.
Well there you have it, eight keys for the Caps in game four, and speaking of that number, the Great #8 needs to come up big for Washington on Friday as he did in game two. A win and Washington takes a commanding lead in this series but if they lose it becomes anyone’s series on game five on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.