After the New York Islanders defended their home turf for perhaps the final time, the Caps' will take the Verizon Center ice, where they've played some of their finest hockey of this series, for Game 7, where they've historically played some of their worst. But before getting caught up in the stresses and stakes of an ultimate series tilt, let's revisit Game 6 and take a lot at what worked for the Washington Capitals, and what didn't.
Here's a look at what worked in Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, Game 5...and now, let's look back at Game 6.
- Drawing Penalties
Last week, prior to game 5, we illustrated the Caps' inexplicable inability to earn more powerplays than their playoff opponents. In the next game, the Caps picked up three powerplay opportunities, while going shorthanded only twice. On Saturday afternoon, they drew three more powerplay opportunities, while only serving up one.
In the regular season, the Islanders were a top 10 team when it came to drawing penalties, and the Caps a bottom 10 team. During the latter stages of this series, the Caps have flipped the discipline script on the boys from Long Island, who are playing with fire every time they trot off to the box. With the power play looking more like its regular season self in its three opportunities on Sunday, the man advantage is primed to be a good look in Game 7.
- The Power Play
With the first intermission only four seconds away, John Carlson managed to fire one past Jaroslav Halak for the Capitals second power play goal of the post season— an area in which more success over the course of this series would likely have rendered a Game 7 unnecessary.
But it wasn't the goal itself that's promising, though it's certainly welcome. It's the rate at which the Caps are getting pucks towards the net. In the regular season, their shot-attempt rate on the power play was a League leading 115.9 shot-attempts per 60 minutes. On Sunday, in their three opportunities, the Caps were firing away at a rate of 133.1 attempts/60.
Here's a look at shot-attempt generation through the series.
You might point to Game 2 (200 CF/60) and Game 4 (175.6). In Game 2, Nicklas Backstrom scored on the only Caps' power play opportunity, making it an ever smaller sample (and thereby inflating the rates). In Game 4 the Caps' also only had one power play. Game 6 was easily the Caps' most consistent performance on the power play in any game when they've had more than one chance, which should bode well.
Granted, it's pretty easy to argue that such a small sample size renders rate stats meaningless, but the Caps' also pumped 8 PP shots on goal in Game 6— more than any other game in the series (six in Game 5, three in Games 1, Game 3, and Game 4, and two in Game 2.
- The Penalty Kill
What's there to really say here? The Caps haven't given up a power play goal in 6 games. Whatever they're doing here, keep doing it, and as long as they keep doing it, it'll continue being the most obvious component of their game that's working. One really fantastic way to keep a streak like this in tact, which the Caps' have done well with, is staying out of the box.
In six games they've given the Isles' 13 chances to go a man to the good. Those 2.16 power plays per game is one entire power play fewer than what the Isles' were used to receiving throughout the year (3.25 power plays/game), and one entire power play fewer than what the Caps' were used to killing off (3.24 times shorthanded/game).
What Didn't Work
- 4v4 Play
During the regular season, only the New York Rangers boasted a better goals-for percentage than the Washington Capitals when the game was played at fours. The Caps were also the sixth best team at tilting the ice in these situations. For comparison, the Islanders were 11th in the League in 4v4 GF%, and 16th in 4v4 16th.
So it stood to reason that when they game was played at 4v4 for almost four consecutive minutes halfway through the second period, it was a prime opportunity to make some noise on the scoresheet. Instead, the Caps spent most of the time in their own zone— taking 5 faceoffs there, compared to 0 in the Isles end of the ice— and only forcing Jaroslav Halak to make two saves.
- The Top Line
The only forwards who spent a larger percentage of their ice time in their own zone than Alex Ovechkin (42.1 CF%) and Nicklas Backstrom (38.4 CF%) were Michael Latta (33.3 CF%), who saw only 4:40 of even strength ice time, and Brooks Laich (30.7 CF%) who somehow couldn't be on the ice for more shot-attempts than Latta and Tom Wilson, despite skating more than double their even strength minutes.
This is the second consecutive game that the Caps' big guns were held off the score sheet, but in Game 5 the underlying numbers suggested that they both played well, and the production provided through the ranks made reliance on their contributions unnecessary. In this one, the numbers reinforce the eye test— the Caps best players were bad, and the optics were particularly bad for the optics on the game-tying, series tying Nikolay Kulemin goal.
These guys need to bring it in Game 7, or a very pesky narrative about legacy and springtime shortcomings is almost guaranteed to rear its ugly (and categorically unfair and idiotic) head.
- Taking Advantage of a Depleted Blueline
Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield. These are two real live human defenseman who are playing hockey in this series. And that only as a consequence of Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, and Lubomir Visnovsky's collective absence. Both players were making their series debuts, and had a combined NHL experience of 72 games. And they were playing together.
This pair drew the assignment of Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who were unable to scathe the greenhorn duo— though they did manage to tilt the ice a bit, skating at around a 60% CF during this match up.
Matt Donovan eventually was escorted from the game for a 10 minute misconduct, forcing Jack Capuano to go to a 5 man rotation on his already thin blueline. Didn't matter. They were up to the task. Pretty major missed opportunity here, though with the benefit of last change, Barry Trotz will be in a much better position to exploit it during Game 7. It'll be interesting to see how much Capuano leans on his young blueliners in an elimination game in a tough barn. Donovan finished the game with 9:09 of 5v5 TOI despite his 10 minute misconduct, and Mayfield finished with 10:30. That's not a lot, but it's not nothing either.
- Tim Gleason
Tim Gleason was the Caps worst possession skater, skating 10:15 to a 23.08 CF%. And it's not like he's drawing particularly tough matchups. Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Casey Cizikas, are certainly more effective than a conventional fourth line, but they're still a fourth line. Allowing those types of skaters to see possession numbers around the 80% mark far transcends an unacceptable level of play. It almost makes you jones for a worldbeater like Scott Mayfield.
But more damning than Gleason's ineffectual defense, is how he damns his partner, Mike Green, to the depths of offensive hell. Seriously, look at this.
Apart from being a ready pair of knuckles during the rough stuff, you have to wonder exactly what positive contributions Gleason is currently bringing to the on-ice product, and if it might be time to leash the Glease, cuz' he's playing like a piece of treesh.
Home ice, a roaring crowd, a hated division foe. The table's set. Time to eat.