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Capitals vs Islanders Game 2: What Worked and What Didn't

Heading into Game 3, we take a look at what worked and what didn't in the second run.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

After a disappointing Game 1 loss and facing the daunting prospect of taking a two-game hole to a raucous Nassau Coliseum, the Caps skated onto the Verizon Center ice and— though the score didn't always show it— dominated.

Yesterday, we took a look back at what worked in Game 1 and what didn't, respectively appended with the parentheticals "not a whole lot" and "a whole lot."

This time around, after a big 4-3 win on home ice, we get to swap those parentheticals out for each other. Never has swapping parenthetical appendages been so fun.

What Worked

  • Nicklas Backstrom
Backstrom was one of the lucky few who made it into the "what worked" section for Game 1, on account of the success he saw in his shared TOI with Alex Ovechkin. Although Backstrom didn't start the game on a line with Ovi, like I'd predicted, it didn't matter. Backstrom was dominant, notching two assists, and surprising the world by walking into the offensive, keeping the puck on a string as four miffed Islanders anticipated a pass, and snapping the puck over Jaroslav Halak's glove to tie up the game.

It was probably Nick's best game since he notched two goals and an assist— all on the power play— back on February 19 against Winnipeg.

Interestingly, after having a good game with Ovechkin on Wednesday night, Backstrom seemed better off away from the Great Eight on Wednesday night. Here's a look at how the Super Swede fared with Ovechkin, and his more common wing, Marcus Johansson.

Backstrom w/ Johansson 9:25 15 7 68.2 1 1
Backstrom w/ Ovechkin 7:19 9 10 47.4 1 0

But Corsi measures shot attempts - and the Caps had plenty of trouble getting shots through to Jaroslav Halak, as evidenced by the disparity between their 82 (!) shot attempts, and 35 shots on goal. Here's how actual shots shook out for Backstrom's wingers.

Winger SF SA SF%
Backstrom w/ Johansson 8 2 80
Backstrom w/ Ovechkin 7 3 70

In summary, Backstrom and Johansson were fantastic together, and shot attempts in this instance are a bit misleading for Ovechkin/Backstrom— those two got almost all of their shot attempts through to (and past) Halak, while either blocking or forcing misses from their foes on the other end of the ice.

But let's talk more about Marcus Johansson.
  • Marcus Johansson
As stellar as one Swede was, it might have been the other who was the stronger skater last night— and he might have been rewarded on the score sheet about 10 seconds into the game if Jaroslav Halak hadn't just gotten his left toe to the post to foil a slick wrap around attempt from Johansson.

Yesterday we talked about how Braden Holtby's bad first goal allowed in Game 1 set the tone for an ugly performance. You can build the opposite argument for Marcus Johansson's first shift in this one.

Johansson's 67.7 CF% led all forwards. And the best part? Johansson and his linemates— Backstrom and Troy Brouwer— did this against the Isles' top defensive pair in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, and their top scoring line of John Tavares, Ryan Strome, and Nikolay Kulemin.

And here, take a look at Johansson's with-you's, for skaters with whom he shared more than 1:20 of ice.

Player TOI CF CA CF% With
Troy Brouwer 12:45 19 10 65.52
Nicklas Backstrom 9:25 15 7 68.18
John Carlson 8:38 11 7 61.11
Brooks Orpik 7:16 9 5 64.29
Evgeny Kuznetsov 6:06 8 4 66.67
Karl Alzner 4:27 4 3 57.14
Tim Gleason 4:25 10 4 71.43
Matt Niskanen 3:37 3 1 75
Mike Green 3:31 9 2 81.82

Nine shot attempts in only 3:31 with Mike Green? Nice.
  • Alex Ovechkin's Matchups.
JP summed this one up pretty succinctly earlier.
If our pals over at Lighthouse Hockey were to do a similar serial to this one, they might file this image under "What Didn't Work".

(This data, and so much of the rest, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.)
  • Secondary Scoring
Raise your hand if you had Matt Niskanen with a multi-point game, and had Karl Alzner getting the Caps back in the game, and Jason Chimera winning it. Okay, everyone with your hand up, into the Sarlacc Pit you go, because that's the only place your lies can be digested.

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are obviously primary scorers, accounting for 2 of the Caps' 5 goals scores so far in the series. Chimmer and Alz are secondary for sure, but probably more realistically (and perhaps generously) categorized as tertiary, and Marcus Johansson's tally of a more secondary nature.

Regardless of your categorization preferences, to receive scoring contributions up and down the lineup, while playing a strong game at evens, is a solid recipe for success. Add in a strong performance in net and you're cookin' with fire...
  • Patience and Opportunism
When you've got the League's best power play, and no calls seem to be coming your way, what do you do about it? Whine incessantly Create your own power plays.

On two separate instances, an Isles' stick snapped in the defensive zone, allowing the Caps to set up in the zone and get the puck to the point— a look not unlike the man advantages that have been so scarce. On the first one, Green took his precious time with the puck on his stick, and with a stickless defender standing in front of him, slid the puck over to Alzner, who blasted it short side on Halak.

On the second instance, the Caps used the freedom granted by the extra ice to coax some extra traffic (by virtue of maneuvering Islanders skaters) in front of Halak. Niskanen fired low off the pad, and Ovechkin was there to clean up the rebound, in the culmination of a fantastic display of patience, opportunism, and smart decisions.
  • The Crowd
If you were there, your ears are probably still ringing, your throat a bit raw. And your efforts did not go unnoticed. I'll let some important members of the organization take it from here.

We fed off the me, the crowd helps. Keep doing that. We feed off it. Keep rocking...we need you.
- Barry Trotz
It [Verizon Center] was as loud as I've heard it.
- Jason Chimera

It was unbelievable. There's not a better feeling than celebrating in front of that crowd rocking.

- Tom Wilson

And, if you needed any additional proof that I have the privilege of writing for the most eloquent editor in all the land...

No truth to the rumors that JP has taken a position writing scrum quotes for the players next year.

What Didn't Work

  • Losing Faceoffs to John Tavares in the Defensive Zone
In game 1, John Tavares won only 45% of his draws... but one of them was an offensive zone draw against Michael Latta, which promptly ended up in the back of the net off the stick of Ryan Strome.

In game 2, John Tavares won only 44% of his draws... but he won five of eight in the offensive zone, and, you guessed it, after one of those draws, the puck promptly ended up in the back of the net off the stick of Ryan Strome. Granted, Backstrom probably technically won that draw, but on account of some inattention from Brooks Orpik, John Tavares was able to retrieve the puck, effectively winning the draw.

So, the takeaway here: don't lose faceoffs to John Tavares in the defensive zone.
  • Defending the Rush
When the Islanders aren't scoring in the seconds following an offensive zone faceoff, they're scoring on the rush, with goals from Brock Nelson, Cal Clutterbuck, and Kyle Okposo all being scored in that manner. The only goal that really culminated as a result of sustained pressure was probably Josh Bailey's mark in the second period of game 1.

Whether it's a big save, more awareness or communication between the blueliners and forwards to prevent the rush (such as in the case of Clutterbuck's first period goal), or playing the angles better on the rush itself, if the Caps can cut into the Isles' conversion rate on those rushes, they'll at the very least be making their opponents work harder to find paydirt.

There's plenty more in terms of what worked, and there was very little that didn't work for the Caps in Game 2, when you really break it down. And it was an effort they needed, given the unfortunate and unpredictable absence of their star goaltender. It's foolhardy to expect this type of outing game in and game out from any team, the Caps included, but after the shellacking they took on Wednesday, Friday showed that they could dish it out in equal measure, restoring balance to what's shaking out to be a capricious series.