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Capitals vs Islanders Game 3: What Worked and What Didn't

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Heading into Game 4, we take a look at what worked and what didn't in the third go 'round

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders objectively dominated game 1, and skated out of Verizon Center with the series' first victory. When they returned for Game 2, they were met by a different Caps team, and lost their series lead. In front of a roaring Nassau Coliseum crowd, the Islanders gave their fans a game that resembled game 1 in it's dominance, and a John Tavares goal 15 seconds into overtime gave them the win that those types of performances deserve.

Here's a look at what worked and what didn't in Game 1, and in Game 2.

What Worked

  • Top Line on the ice with Matt Niskanen

Using Alex Ovechkin as a proxy, we can get an idea of how Barry Trotz matched his big guns up with his blueliners.

Player TOI CF CA CF% GF GA
Pairing 1
Brooks Orpik 10:05 4 11 26.7 0 1
John Carlson 10:12 7 11 38.9 0 1
Pairing 2
Karl Alzer 3:17 3 2 60 0 0
Matt Niskanen 4:22 8 1 88.9 1 0
Pairing 3
Tim Gleason 2:35 3 3 42.7 0 0
Mike Green 4:36 7 7 50 1 0

It looks about how you'd expect. The first line spent most of their minutes with Brooks Orpik and John Carlson, and then split it pretty evenly between the other two pairings.

The only thing that really stands out here— besides the bludgeoning they took for most of that ice time— was the Caps getting 8 out of 9 shot attempts while both Ovechkin and Niskanen were on the ice together. And maybe that's just because Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were great, which leads us to the next...

  • Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner

Granted, there weren't a lot of goals in this one to be on the ice for, but the play of the Caps' second defensive pairing was a big part of that. Both players were positive possession players— with Niskanen on the other side of 60%— while neither of the either pairings even sniffed 50.

The Kyle Okposo line was a bit of a thorn in their side all game, but Nisk and Alzner faired better than most. Here's a look at at.

CF% FF% SF%
Okposo 5v5 65.6 66.67 66.67
vs Alzner 60 63.6 55.6
vs Niskanen 58.3 60 55.6
vs all else 70 70 77.8

  • Braden Holtby's Return
The Caps' number one netminder was fantastic in his return to the ice, and despite questionable play of the guys wearing his same colored uniform, Holtby gave the Caps an opportunity to win. If Holts continues to turn in efforts like that, the Caps are going to have an opportunity to win night in and night out, regardless of each game's nuance.

And if the Isles' shot charts are going to continue to look like this, the Caps are putting a whole lot more on Holtby's shoulders than what could in good conscious be defined as reasonable expectation.

What Didn't Work

  • Defending John Tavares

Defending John Tavares didn't work because defending John Tavares didn't happen. The dude was on the ice for an absolutely outrageous 31 shot attempts for, and only 9 going the other direction (77.5 CF%). He spent virtually no time in his own end and, frankly, his scoring of the overtime game winner was just a manifestation of the inevitable.

It didn't matter who Barry Trotz put out there against the Tavares line; they were invariably thrashed.

Brooks Orpik? John Tavares was on the ice for sixteen shots for, and five against. Mike Green? Ten for and two against. Wanna match him with power? Here's how that went.

5v5 TOI CF CA CF% GF GA
91 vs Ovechkin 9:35 13 7 65 1 0
91 vs Backstrom 9:58 13 7 65 2 0

  • The Power Play

You might have thought that, after two games where power plays were about as easy to come by as good lovin', going a man to the good 3 times in 2 periods would have been just what the doctor ordered for team with the most fearsome powerplay unit in the NHL.

Nope. On those three powerplays the Caps generated a grand total of three shots and twelve shot attempts (one of which was— and stop me if you've heard this before— was a puck fired wide of a yawning expanse of net off the stick of Troy Brouwer).

The Caps finished the regular season with the second best 5v4 shot rate in the league. What they manufactured in three opportunities on Sunday was worse than the League's worst.

  • Clearing The Puck

This is no doubt largely a consequence of the fatigue that comes with being hemmed in your own zone by John Tavares and company, but it's also largely a contributing factor to how John Tavares and company hem you in your own zone. How many times did we see a Caps player try to flip the puck over the blueliners heads, only to fail to get the height they needed.

How many cross-ice passes in the Caps zone was an Islander able to get a stick on and send the puck back to the boards and eventually back around the net?

On the game winner, it was John Carlson throwing it up the boards, and Joel Ward failing to tip it past Nick Leddy, who got it back to the net. You know what happened from there. Remember what I said earlier about inevitability? This was that.

  • Tim Gleason

The Caps newest blueliner was just brutal.

Here's some context: Brooks Orpik had the team's worst possession numbers, only on the ice for 7 shot attempts for, and 24 against (22.4 CF%). Ouch. He also skated 19:16 at 5v5, and was tasked for most of that with skating against the Isles top forwards and top D.

Tim Gleason spent less than half of Orpik's TOI, and still nearly saw only one fewer shot attempt go against his own goalie.

Gleason's biggest crime, however, is anchoring Mike Green. Thankfully Barry Trotz seemed to see the same thing here, as he was able to finagle almost 9 minutes of 5v5 time for Green away from the former Carolina Hurricane. Without Gleason, Green skated to the tune of a 68.4 CF%. In those minutes, Green wasn't on the ice for a single shot attempt, and he picked up the primary helper on the Caps' only goal.

Pretty damning evidence against the Glease, and Mike Green usage in Game 3 makes you wonder if Barry Trotz and Todd Reirden don't have some designs on a 5-man blueliner rotation.

  • Pretty much everything when the game was tied
The Caps got shellacked while the game was tied. Then, some time after the Isles' scored their first goal, they turned on the afterburners a little bit. Sound familiar? Probably because you saw the same thing happen a million times this season. The good guys were out-attempted at even strength when the game was tied 45 to 21, which is an absolute beatdown.

You know how the Caps have been really, really, really, ridiculously good-playing when scoring the first goal this year? Generally, you've gotta play well when the score is tied in order to achieve that first goal— something that through three games they've failed to do.

Unless the Caps want to next see their fans in an elimination-scenario, it's time for the Caps to emphasize what worked, address what didn't, and ice an altogether more inspiring product.