Washington didn’t do much that could be called pretty in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, yet escaped Sin City knotted up with the Golden Knights.
One of the reasons we haven’t seen the familiar flash and sizzle from a normally picturesque Washington team is the conditions. To put it frankly, Vegas ice stinks. The desert temperature this time of year intensifies, making the surface increasingly choppy. Capitals head coach Barry Trotz has done an excellent job helping his players navigate the challenge, one of multiple great calls that have put the Eastern Conference champs in a great spot ahead of Game 3.
1. Forcing his team to adjust to the conditions
“You have to adjust your game. You have to realize what you can do and what you can’t do.” — Coach Barry Trotz discussing the ice surface in Vegas…and the need to adapt to it. #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup #Caps pic.twitter.com/DrlWcqf2r7
— Tarik El-Bashir⌨️ (@TarikNBCS) May 29, 2018
At certain points during the NHL playoffs, Washington has played like a team that loves to manufacture a beautiful goal. Doing so in Game 1, the Capitals turned the puck over eight times.
The tally of giveaways is about average for Washington this post-season, but average in this category is dangerous against Gerard Gallant. The Golden Knights’ bench boss prides his offense on taking advantage of opponent’s mistakes. Hence why Vegas is averaging almost five more takeaways a game (11.8 to 7.2) than the Capitals in these playoffs.
In Game 2, Washington played to a very different tune. The Capitals left Vegas’s defensive dogs hungry for turnovers, giving the puck away just four times. Sure, the Golden Knights’ shot attempts jumped from 34 to 39, but their scoring chances dropped from 24 to 17.
Playing a cleaner game, one which Barry Trotz pleaded for after Game 1, led the Capitals to manage a much better all-round performance on a rough ice-surface.
2. Less Ovi equals more success?
Ridiculous, right? I must be completely out of my mind to think that the Washington Capitals are better off with their captain playing less. But hear me out.
There is always something that can be learned when looking back at history. Let’s take the Winnipeg Jets for example.
When trailing 2-1 in their series against the Golden Knights, Paul Maurice trotted Mark Scheifele out for an average of 22:37 minutes in Game 4 and 5. In the first three games of the matchup, Scheifele only eclipsed 21 minutes once.
But more Scheifele did not add up to more scoring. The hottest player of the playoffs did not record a single point in the final two games of the series en route to exiting the post-season. Reason why? Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt.
McNabb and Schmidt operated 70.1% of the time against Scheifele in Game 4 and 5 and had a ton of success. With the pair now shadowing the Great Eight whenever he steps foot on the ice, the key for Washington has not been putting Ovi on the ice more, but rather making sure that Vegas’s top defensive duo is on the ice less.
So far it has worked pretty well. Ovechkin has averaged 18:13 minutes of ice time, down from the 20:57 time-on-ice he has averaged in total throughout the playoffs. This has also resulted in a drop of playing time for Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb.
Schmidt, who has averaged 24:32 minutes of skating during the Golden Knight’s incredible Cup run, has played an average of 21:58 minutes in the Final. McNabb has seen a slight drop, down from 21:55 minutes to just 21:00 minutes.
This is due in large part to the fact the grouping has been pinned against Ovechkin 85.2% of the time he has been on the ice, and have not had as many opportunities to hop over the boards because of his downtick in ice-time.
And the results on the scoreboard have been pretty good so far for Washington. Of the 21 points the team has recorded, only six of them have come from the first line.
The Capitals’ forward depth has been on display all post-season long, and through the first two games of the deciding series, they have proven that they can take advantage of Vegas’s second and third defensive pairings.
For the record, Washington is 9-2 when Ovechkin plays less than 20:00 minutes in the playoffs and 4-6 when he eclipses that total.
3. Passing off the ‘Hot-lap’ duties to Lars Eller
— Adam Zielonka (@Adam_Zielonka) May 23, 2018
Sure, Barry Trotz’s first hot-lap proved to be a magnificent experiment. The Capitals bench-boss motored around the ice with some questionable edge work but it seemed to do the trick. Washington went on to eliminate Tampa Bay, thus forcing his number to be called at the next practice.
— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) May 27, 2018
While the second time around his edge-work certainly took a step in the right direction, it seemed as far as luck was concerned, Trotz had squeezed all of the juice he could out of it. After competing hard in Game 1 in Vegas but falling short, the head coach went looking for someone else to pass the duties onto and made the best choice possible prior to Game 2.
Today’s hot lap brought to you by LARS ELLER pic.twitter.com/jWdyleSOOt
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) May 29, 2018
Although coach Trotz offered up a hard act to follow, Eller found a way to do so. In Game 2, Washington’s third-line centre finished with a goal and three points. Not a bad call at all by the 19-year NHL head coach.
The job security of Trotz was a hot topic amongst pundits in the early stages of the post-season but, I certainly think he has bought himself some more time in the nation’s capital.
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