The Washington Capitals were much better than their putrid performance in game 3 on Thursday night in Raleigh, but it wasn’t good enough. A couple of structural breakdowns very early in period one and then late in period two resulted in Carolina goals and the home team made them hold up for a 2-1 win. The series is now tied at two games apiece with the fifth tilt slated for Capital One Arena on Saturday night at 8 pm.
The really bad news is that Washington will be without T.J. Oshie for a significant amount of time after suffering a serious upper body injury following a cheap shot cross check into the boards while defenseless by forward Warren Foegele. Kelly Sutherland is one of the best referees in the NHL, but he and Chris Lee didn’t get this call correct, that was a clear cut major penalty. Foegele, who falsely claimed he was going for a stick lift on Oshie, should be suspended for the remainder of the series. Carolina has played dirty in this series (see Dougie Hamilton’s elbow to Kuznetsov’s head in game 2).
Regardless of that, the Capitals failed to step up on the scoreboard for their fallen teammate with a power play that is terrible right now. It is struggling with poor zone entries and a lack of net presence. It’s long overdue for the coaching staff to make adjustments, and the biggest thing is to simplify it with a focus on shots from the point with bodies in front. With the Osh Babe out, it will now be up to Tom Wilson to score some in close goals or create screens.
The Caps were better in this game after going nearly 40 minutes with one or two shots on goal in a 5-0 loss on Monday. They were really good in period two up until the bad line change following a neutral zone turnover and then the defense mis-communicated in their own zone, which allowed Tera Teravainen to break in all alone on Braden Holtby (22 saves) and score the game winner with 27 seconds left in the middle frame. Those kinds of breakdowns just can’t happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Washington had the puck much more in the first two periods, but trailing by a goal in the final frame, they couldn’t break through a Carolina defense that walled off the front of their net, getting only eight shots on goal. Simply put, the Canes are winning the majority of the individual battles and that’s why they went two for two on home ice.
After the Caps went up two games to none, the turn in this series definitely came when Alex Ovechkin knocked Carolina forward Andrei Svechnikov out with a right hand in a fight that should never have happened if Ranger Dan O’Halloran and Eric Furlatt were doing their proper jobs. Call the penalty on Svechnikov right away and there’s no fight, it’s that simple. Even still, the Canes player had a chance to skate away from the fight, but he threw the first and even second punch before Ovechkin leveled him. Washington seemed to let down emotionally worrying about the kid while the Canes amped their play up afterwards. It was a total mismatch of a game three after that sequence. The fact is Svechnikov slashed and cross checked Ovi several times before both agreed to fight, despite what Canes Coach Rod Brind’Amour says about the altercation.
Speaking of Brind’Amour, he had the following to say about the Oshie play and injury (courtesy of Isabelle Khursudyan of The Washington Post) after game four.
“He crashed into the boards hard, and that’s when the arm went up, because he stayed down. You don’t like to see that, but more than anything he was not ready for the hit…I think he just went in awkward….We have way more injuries than they do, so I don’t worry about their team.”
That is quite the opposite response to the classy comments from Caps Coach Todd Rierden and Capitals players following the unfortunate injury to Svechnikov. Add in the fact that all three Carolina forward injuries in this series (Svechnikov, Michael Ferland, and Jordan Martinook) were the result of their own stupidity, brought on by Brind’Amour’s Slap Shot tactics, and you see a real clear picture of how classless the former Flyers player has acted in round one.
The key now for the Capitals is to use the Oshie injury as a galvanizing moment and get back to playing their brand of hockey. They need to start winning more one on one battles and finding ways to generate more pucks and bodies to the Carolina net. They’ve scored just two goals in their last 122+ minutes of hockey and both tallies came with a Canes player without a stick. This is the clear result of not paying the price to score the ugly playoff type goals they notched last season en route to the Stanley Cup. Petr Mrazek is having far too easy of a time in net. He does not have to fight through any traffic to see the Capitals shots.
Bottom line is the Caps need to get ticked off and stick it to Carolina. They will have their home crowd on Saturday and through four games, the team that has taken the initial lead has won every game. As I’ve said numerous times, the first round is the hardest to win. To prevail you have to be emotionally invested in the game and in North Carolina, it was the Canes who were much better in that category in both outings.
Washington needs to play with an edge and be smarter. The Capitals coaching staff needs to analyze the way Carolina is configured and find ways to expose their defense which is heavily riding Justin Faulk, Jacob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce. Carolina has looked like the faster team creating gaps in the Caps defense while the Capitals have not really opened up many lanes for scoring opportunities since game two. Again, they were much better in game four, but nowhere near where they need to be to regain control of this series.
It is pretty simple now, if they don’t pick up their intensity, then they’ll find themselves watching round two with the Penguins and Bolts.
Notes: Washington out shot attempted Carolina, 55-52. Shots on goal were 31-22 for the Caps, but most of those 31 were “one and done” sequences…the Capitals won the face off battle, 23-21. Lars Eller was 7-5…with Oshie out, the Capitals can either plug in Chandler Stephenson or Dmitrij Jaskin or they can call up Devante Smith-Pelly. DSP is a proven playoff performer who goes to the net…Ovechkin had the Caps lone goal at the end of a power play. Again, it was scored because a Carolina player, Trevor Van Reimsdyk, broke his stick and the lane to Ovi was wide open…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:31…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 on the penalty kill.