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Capitals vs Islanders Game 1: What Worked and What Didn't

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Heading into Game 2, we take a look at what worked and what didn't in the first run.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With Game 1 on F Street decided handily by the foe on Wednesday evening, Thursday morning brought a surprise optional skate (with a surprisingly low attendance rate).

It also, presumably, brought an until-our-eyeballs-bleed film breakdown - a film breakdown session that would, presumably, illuminate some anecdotes about what worked (not a whole lot), and what didn't (a whole lot).

Since we aren't privy to the inner workings of the Caps' meeting rooms, here are some things that may have come up:

What Worked

  • Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, together at last.
On March 28th, the Alex Ovechkin line was centered by Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom was knocked down the depth chart to pivot Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. The Caps played a strong game, earning a 5-2 victory against the eventual Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers. The Caps continued to win games despite underlying numbers that indicated these lines weren't optimal, and so the lines remained... until Lord Stanley's Playoffs were some 10 minutes old, and Barry Trotz gave Batman back his Robin.

As it turned out, Alex Ovechkin saw comparable time with both Backstrom and Kuznetsov yesterday. Here's how their 5v5 play shook out.

Center ES TOI CF CA CF%
Evgeny Kuznetsov 9:33 9 8 52.94
Nicklas Backstrom 7:15 16 9 64

Granted, the Ovechkin/Backstrom duo was out there for one of the Islanders' three even-strength goals (and Ovechkin wasn't exactly blameless on it), but if their performance over the regular season is any clue, that's not a trend that's likely to continue. Presumably.

One would expect the Ovi and Backs to be reunited for puckdrop at game 2— something we were calling for before game 1...

...or not...

  • Brooks Orpik and John Carlson vs. the Tavares Line
Brooks Orpik and John Carlson have regularly been tasked with facing the opponent's toughest competition, and if Game 1 was any indication, this series will be no exception— and as far as John Taveres and company go, that competition is exceptional.

Using John Carlson's numbers from Wednesday night as a proxy for the pairing's performance, let's take a look at how the line of John Tavares, Ryan Strome, and Nikolay Kulemin stacked up against the Caps' top pairing.

Forward ES TOI CF CA CF% GF GA
John Tavares 10:07 5 10 33.3 0 1
Ryan Strome 9:56 4 9 30.8 0 1
Nikolay Kulemin 10:02 4 10 28.60% 0 1

To give you an idea of Carlson and Orpik's effectiveness, note that when Jack Capuano got these guys onto the ice against other pairings Tavares skated at a 76.2 CF%, Kulemin at a 66.2, and  Strome at an 88.9. The difference is night and day, and Barry Trotz needs to continues to use the coaching advantages granted by last change - while Carlson and Orpik need to continue to do whatever it is they're doing, because it's working.

What Didn't Work

  • Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen against almost literally anyone.
For two guys who skated pretty much the entire year together (in 1338:40 of total 5v5 TOI this year, Alzner skated only 135:06 of it without Niskanen), who brought 81 games of combined playoff experience into the Game 1, and whose assignments should have been somewhat manageable, this pairing was an absolute goat rodeo.

Despite sharing ice with the Tavares line for less than three minutes in the game, Niskanen and Alzner managed to be on the ice for all three of the Isles' even strength tallies... and Niskanen being out there for the empty netter was salt in the wound. Granted, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Frans Nielsen are by no means an easy draw, but this is a level of competition Niskanen and Alzner have skated against all year, and with respectable results (48.6 GF%/52.0 CF%).

It wasn't just against Okposo and his pals that Niskanen and Alzner flailed, either — in fact, the only matchup that turned out to be favorable for them was against Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Michael Grabner, who they actually saw positive possession against (in about four minutes of face-to-face time). And it's tough to fault them for Nelson opening the scoring— that one's on Braden Holtby.

Mike Green and Tim Gleason, on the other hand, held the Okposo line without a shot in about three minutes of five-on-five ice time. A small sample certainly, but Game 1 performance might suggest matching up Green and Gleason against the Okposo line, and giving Niskanen and Alzner the Anders Lee matchup.
  • Braden Holtby
It's not that Braden Holtby played a bad game on paper— three goals allowed on 26 shots, a.885 save percentage, is well below his career averages, and well below the type of performance needed to succeed in the playoffs, but he was also going up against the fifth-best even-strength scoring team in the NHL, and fourth-best overall. The Isles averaged 2.99 goals per game during the regular season, and they dropped 3 on Holtby. Not much there, right?

Well, there's something to be said for allowing what can generously be categorized as a medium-danger wrist shot to beat you glove side, when the playoffs are six minutes old, the game is still taking on its character, and the crowd is lively as hell. The Capitals never seemed to recover from that first-period goal, and while those culpable for the game's outcome extend well beyond the Caps' crease, that was an undeniably awful goal, and it set the tone for all the undeniable awfulness that followed.

  • Troy Brouwer / Evgeny Kuznetsov / Marcus Johansson
With Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin ostensibly reunited, it stands to reason that the Brouwer/Kuznetsov/Johansson trio— who skated about five minutes at five-on-five together— will comprise the Caps' second "scoring" line. Unfortunately, there's little from Game 1 to suggest that they can do that (Johansson's goal was mid-change, with Brooks Laich and Jay Beagle sharing the ice), as they were tuned up to the... er, tune, of a 22.2 CF%.

Granted, this trio saw a heavy dose of the Tavares line, which doesn't make a lot of intuitive sense— if Trotz is looking to match power with power, he needs to draw from his actual, you know, power sources. If he wants to try to match power with a conventional checking line, that's what the Eric Fehr line is for. The rationale behind putting two guys— Kuznetsov and Brouwer— who have been possession anchors for much of the season, against one of the best possession drivers in the League, is difficult to ascertain.

There's plenty more in terms of what didn't work— the power play, the giveaways, the missed shots, the bad ice and the inability to acclimate to it, the frustrating case of Jason Chimera's stupid penalties and Andre Burakovsky in the press box— but we'd be here all day.

The Caps take the ice tonight, as Becca keenly pointed out, to play their first game of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. We wait with bated breath to see what they learned from the game they didn't play.