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Barry Trotz and Last Change vs Toronto

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Breaking down our first glimpse of deployment strategy in the Washington/Toronto series.

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the waiting is over, the pucker is eased, and the dust is settled on an entertaining playoff opener for your Washington Capitals, let’s take a look at how Barry Trotz, on a night where he owned the benefit of last change, played his side of the chess match with Mike Babcock.

We’ll use this visualization, courtesy of our own Muneeb Alam, for reference.

Defense

  • As we predicted in the “how to stop” section of yesterday’s Get to Know Mitch Marner, Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen drew the assignment of matching up against the Marner/van Riemsdyk/Bozak line, and handled it well. The Marner line was positive in possession any time they got away from Orlov-Niskanen, and tucked one past Braden Holtby for good measure.
  • As we saw all year with the pairing of Brooks Orpik and Nate Schmidt, and as we’ve seen continued since Kevin Shattenkirk has slotted in for Schmidt, Barry Trotz made sure his third defensive pairing slotted into some easier minutes, as they shared most of their ice with Brian Boyle, Matt Martin, and Kasperi Kapanen. Orpik in particular fared poorly in limited minutes out against the Marner line.
  • John Carlson and Karl Alzner drew the tough minutes against Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Zach Hyman, and although the possession numbers weren’t favorable, any night you keep that trio off the scoreboard should be counted a success.

Forwards

  • The Evgeny Kuznetsov/Justin Williams/Marcus Johansson line saw most of its minutes against the Matthews line, and crushed ‘em. They also saw some time against the Marner line, and crushed those as well. This was the Caps’ best line on the night, and they did it against some quality competition. If Kuzy and company and keep that wheel greased, the whole machine’s gonna work.
  • Barry Trotz put his top line out against Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and Connor Brown, and his power line got a heavy dose of Roman Polak and Jake Gardiner on the blue line as well. It wasn’t the best night for the big guns, but expect the talent discrepancy to flesh out over the course of a series here if the matchup remains the same.
  • The fourth line, big moment from Tom Wilson aside, had a really strong game, winning possession battles against each of the Leaf’s top three lines. Interestingly enough, it was when they got out there against Toronto’s grunts that the ice tilted the wrong way.
  • Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky, and Brett Connolly, on the other hand, simply ate the Toronto fourth line’s lunch. Trotz should take this match up when he can, because possession numbers like those turn into goals sooner than later.