After playing nearly two months of games without any real stakes to speak of, last night the Washington Capitals took the Verizon Center ice for the 2016 NHL Playoffs - the light that's been at the end of the tunnel for a good long while. But the real goal lay somewhere in June, and with a 2-0 over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals took their first of sixteen steps towards that desired destination.
Let's take a look at what worked and what didn't in Game 1.
- Braden Holtby
We've been saying for months now that this team will go as far as Braden Holtby will take them. We've neurotically tracked his ups and downs as the team sludged through the dog days of late winter. But once the bright lights of the NHL's season turned on, Holtby turned in his 3rd career playoff shutout. He's now allowed 1 or 0 goals in 14 of his 17 playoff victories, including 11 straight. Holtby also currently has the highest career save percentage in NHL history among goalies who have taken the net at least twenty-five times in postseason action.
- A Strong Late Game
They've done it all season long, and they did it last night: The Washington Capitals got better as the game went on.
- Tom Wilson's Game
For a moment there, it looked like Tom Wilson was going to send the Caps' penalty killing unit onto the ice, late in the game, to protect a one goal lead, after that unit had already come up big four times earlier in the game.
And then Wayne Simmonds mounted his steed of valor and rode into battle to defend the honor of the fallen Andrew McDonald. After throwing air-punches in the general vicinity of Tom Wilson's face for a few moments, he exited stage left, and the game remained at even strength, and the Philadelphia Flyers had lost their leading goal scorer. Jay Beagle put the nail in the coffin in the remaining minutes.
Tom Wilson also managed to finish the game with a 57.1 CF% despite only a quarter of his zone starts coming in the offensive zone. All in all, not a bad game for Willy, though without Simmonds' abject foolishness, we might be writing a different story altogether.
What Didn't Work
- Early Penalties
The first period hadn't expired before the Caps found themselves in a penalty differential hole of -3. Certainly the team has a strong penalty killing unit, but give guys like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Shayne Gostisbehere enough opportunities with enough space, and they'll make you pay.
Besides, the Caps were the League's best team when scoring first. Consistent early penalties are a pretty good way to ensure you don't have the opportunity to build on that. Without a strong effort from the PK unit, and a few big stops by Braden Holtby, Game 1 could have taken on a far different contour.
The Flyers cleaned up on the Caps in the dot, winning 54.4 all draws. They won 6 of 8 while on the power play, which certainly isn't ideal given that those draws will generally be in the Caps' defensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom in particular was victimized for the Caps, as he only won 4 of his 10 draws, which included losing 4 of 5 in the offensive zone. Nick Cousins was the Flyers' strongest man in the dot, as he won 5 of his 6 draws, and all 3 that he took in the defensive zone.
- Matching Up With Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner was easily the Flyers' most effective skater last night, as he wrapped up with a 68.18 CF% in 13:15 of 5v5 TOI. Gagner's line got a lot against Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, who have generally been possession mavens when paired together this season. As shown below, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik fared much better against the Gagner line, and ultimately saw more minutes against them, although Gagner did individually beat up on Orpik a bit (figuratively and literally), as well as the Caps' fourth line.
It was a strong Game 1 for the Caps, and when "what didn't work" consists of taking penalties that ended up harmless, losing faceoffs, and a strong showing from a single one of the other guys, that's the type of performance the Capitals certainly wouldn't mind duplicating.