Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Devante Smith-Pelly scored for Washington and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots to lead the Capitals to a 3-1 victory in front of 18,506 raucous fans at Capital One Arena on Saturday night. The triumph was the Caps first ever win on home ice in the Stanley Cup Final and they now lead the best of seven series, two games to one. Game four is Monday night in DC.
This was the event of the year in town and the pregame featured a concert from Sting and Shaggy outside the arena and then Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak, a long time Capitals season ticket holder, announced the pregame lineups where every Vegas player, except for former Capital Nate Schmidt, was booed.
The Capitals did a lot of things correct and still have things to clean up, so here are eight thoughts and analysis on this win that moves the team closer to their ultimate goal.
Do The Bird – Kuznetsov was injured on a hit by Brayden McNabb in period one of the second game and since that time, the Capitals have been a different team. Washington amped up their play without Kuzy in a 3-2 victory and on Saturday night, the tougher than you think Russian with high end skill returned to the lineup. Number 92 was flying in this affair in an attempt to prove that he will not be intimidated by physical play and his shot from the slot eventually set up Ovechkin’s net crashing tally that put Washington on the board just 1:10 into period two. At 12:50 of the middle frame, he put a serious dagger into Vegas’ hopes in this contest. T.J. Oshie did a great job of blocking a shot by Shea Theodore and he gathered in the disc and fed it to Jay Beagle in the neutral zone. Beags took off up ice with Kuzy on a two on one and Jay alertly gave the puck to the wizard to his right very quickly. Evgeny skated in and with the Golden Knights Colin Miller shading Beagle in an attempt to cut off the pass, Kuznetsov sailed in closer on Marc-Andre Fleury and put a superstar shot past the goalie over the right pad, under the blocker and off of the inside of the far post for a huge tally. The $7.8 million dollar man showed up big time on the game’s largest stage to lead the Capitals to a monumental win. He logged 18:52 of ice time, had six shot attempts, including four on net, and won five of seven draws. Kuznetsov was named the game’s number one star and deservedly so.
Come on now
Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa
Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa
Follow the Leader – Ovechkin had another beastly game and he nearly scored in the first two minutes when Kuznetsov fed him on a two on one, but Fleury somehow got his glove on his attempt. Ovi would not be denied on this night and his goal, on a rebound of John Carlson’s shot, was reminiscent of his 600th career goal against Winnipeg this year. This one came on a backhander with bodies strewn all over the ice in a goal mouth scramble. It was pure grit and determination by the Gr8 and his linemates, with Tom Wilson having a wrecking ball of a shift. The goal put the somewhat anxious crowd at ease and allowed Washington to play the style they wanted while Vegas had to start chasing the game. Alex had 10 shot attempts in this outing and five were on net in 17:28 of action. He also had two hits and two blocked shots. The blocked shots are something the Capitals have done a very good job of in this series and when the other players see Ovi “all in” and doing the little things like that, it energizes the team and motivates them to put themselves on the line, as well.
Defense Wins Championships – Washington, after their own zone struggles in the first game of this series, have become much better at team defense and walling off the front of their net. In game three they blocked 26 shots and the Holtbeast noted afterwards that the communication between the shot blocker and himself have been good to make sure the right lanes are taken away and he can see the shots. Vegas’ only goal was on a giveaway by Holtby in period three, but the Golden Knights did have some quality chances to score. In period two, Cody Eakin, Jonathan Marchessault, and Alex Tuch all had grade “A” opportunities, but either missed the net or Holtby made the save. Afterwards, Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant agreed that his team had the potential to score more goals, but noted that they were not able to get the second or third attempts to penetrate the Washington net. This is a credit to the Capitals team defense. Coach Barry Trotz noted that the Caps turned the page quickly on game one and seem to be finding their better levels again, but he didn’t like the chances the Golden Knights received in period two. The Capitals were certainly stingier in period three, especially after the Tomas Nosek goal just 3:29 into the final stanza. Coach Trotz also said that they can certainly get even better in limiting Vegas’ offense going forward.
“We probably gave them a little bit more zone time than we would have liked, but certainly the high danger areas we did pretty good with,” stated big game player, Carlson, afterwards.
Breaking the Fore Check – Vegas is a fast skating, straight line team that comes at you in your own end with speed and size. Washington has adapted to that style as this series as gone on, but it’s imperative that the first pass is a good one, because when it’s not, the Golden Knights swarm and use that fore check to generate goals. That’s where Holtby’s ability to play the puck makes a big difference. Despite that one miscue, the Holtbeast has been very good at stopping the dump ins and getting the puck to one of his defensemen where they can make a solid read and get the disc going the other way quickly. As for the Capitals blue liners, they have continued to improve from game one with their decision making. We saw fewer giveaways in game three and more quality passes that are leading to opportunities at the other end. The Caps must continue that trend if they are going to take game four.
Let’s Get Physical – This series has continued to be very physical as it’s progressed and the Caps outhit Vegas, 38-31, and this was not because the Golden Knights dominated possession. Washington is doing a good job of hitting the Vegas blue line in their own end and there have been lots of Capitals hits on Vegas forwards along the walls and on the backboards in Washington’s end. Wilson, Smith-Pelly, Beagle, and Ovechkin combined for 12 hits while the trio of Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Michal Kempny had 11. The hitting is important for the Capitals because it helps wear down the Vegas defensemen and slow down their transition game.
Full Speed Ahead – All post season, it has been so important for the Capitals to get the lead. When you are ahead at the game’s midpoint, you start forcing your opponent to change their strategy and gamble more often. The opponents will activate their defense and this opens up the opportunity for counter attacks, if you play well in your end and get the puck out to the right places. Washington has improved with that and in games two and three they’ve locked the lead down well. If not for Fleury (23 saves), game three would have been a bigger spread on the scoreboard, something Vegas Coach Gallant noted afterwards. The Caps third goal with just over six minutes remaining was the cumulative result of being physical and taking the counter attack when presented. Beagle made a super play in the offensive zone to force a Theodore turnover and then Smith-Pelly read the play perfectly and broke to the net all alone. His top shelf cheese that beat Fleury was a high skill event and a big make up for his giveaway in game one on the Nosek winning tally. It was a huge goal from the fourth line and Washington continues to get production from all of its players.
“It’s good to get contributions from everyone, we expect that, whether it’s goals or blocks or just getting the puck out on the wall. Everything matters so much, at this point. It’s good to see those guys get rewarded for their hard work,” added Carlson after the game on the Smith-Pelly goal that was set up by Beagle.
Where Do We Go From Here? – This was the first time all post season the Capitals have won the first home game of a series so now they have a chance to take a strangle hold 3-1 lead on Monday night. Vegas has endured their first two game losing streak of the playoffs and now have to deal with some adversity. Washington has been accused of lacking killer instinct in the past and now they have a chance to rewrite more narratives in game four. They must do, as Coach Trotz said, get even better with their game because the Golden Knights will be desperate to tie things up. You don’t get opportunities like this very often, so the Caps must seize the moment.
Notes: Orpik was hit hard up high in period two and didn’t play the last 12:25, but Coach Trotz said he was fine after the game…the blue line trio of Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and Carlson logged 27:16, 26:04, and 22:23 of ice time, respectively. Orpik only played 11:57 and Christian Djoos had just 8:40 of ice time…Schmidt led Vegas in TOI with a low total of 21:12…the Caps were 0 for 4 on the power play while Vegas went 0 for 2…shot attempts were 62-58 for the Golden Knight thanks to a 19-13 period three advantage for Vegas, who started that frame down two goals…the Capitals were much better on draws in game three, going 39-23. Nicklas Backstrom was 11-7, Lars Eller 10-7, and Oshie went 5-0. Getting the puck first against a fast Vegas team is very important…the crowd at Capital One Arena was extremely loud, especially once the Capitals seized the lead. They also didn’t panic after the Holtby giveaway that made it 2-1. They stuck behind their squad.