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The Morning Narrative: Big Willy Style, Heroshie and Adjustments

Three things we’re talking about this morning when we’re talking about the Caps

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Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images

1. Before the series started, Mike Babcock had this to say about Caps forward Tom Wilson:

It was (and is) a fair and honest sentiment, of course - the fourth-liner scored seven goals over the course of the regular season, and while he was a valuable penalty killer, one could easily rattle off an overflowing handful of more dangerous Caps.

Then Wilson scored the overtime game-winner in Game 1 and we all had a hearty guffaw at Babcock’s expense.

A couple of games later, Barry Trotz moved Wilson up a line and Wilson had himself a Game 4.

With the Caps having jumped out to an early 2-0 lead only to see it halved eerily similarly to how Game 3 started, the Leafs were pressing... then this happened:

This series has had a few notably huge shifts (in two senses of the word) - Nicklas Backstrom’s game-tying goal in Game 2, Nazim Kadri’s physical momentum-swinger in Game 3 - but this was the most impactful, as in the span of seconds, the game went from literally inches away from being tied at two to a 3-1 Caps lead.

Then, for good measure, Wilson did this two-and-a-half minutes later:

Upon bumping Wilson up to the third line, Trotz had this to say:

Well, I’m not sure anyone knew he brought all of that (then again, maybe Toronto should have)... but we’re sure glad he did.

Wilson is still “not as big a concern as a lot of people” on the Caps, but he’s made an unexpectedly huge impact. Of course, it’s the time of year for that sort of thing. As Trotz put it...

One last happy thought on this point: take a moment and think about Flyers and Islanders fans watching that game last night. There’s your Moment of Zen.

2. While Wilson did most of his damage in that three-minute span of the first period, T.J. Oshie book-ended a big night of his own (and the Caps’ scoring) with a pair of goals 50 minutes apart, including the eventual game-winning insurance tally with seven minutes left:

Oshie now has eight goals (including three game-winners and a trio of multiple-goal games) and eight assists in 16 playoff games for the Caps after scoring five goals (no game-winners) and adding four assists in 30 career postseason matches for St. Louis and earning a reputation as someone who “vanished under extreme postseason pressure.” How’s that working out?

Of Oshie’s and Wilson’s big nights, Elias notes:


3. So the third line worked and the first line worked. The second and fourth? “Yes” and “appropriately incomplete due to minimal minutes,” respectively.

We’ve been beating the dead horse of not playing the second (Evgeny Kuznetsov) line with John Carlson’s defensive pairing for a while now and Trotz seemed to start reading from that same sheet of music before Game 4 - per Natural Stat Trick, Kuznetsov and Carlson (as proxies for their respective units) skated just 2:43 together at five-on-five, while Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen (our preferred duo, alongside Dmitry Orlov, for that line) were out for 12:37. This, predicatably, helped Kuznetsov and chums, which has been Babcock’s preferred match-up for his Auston Matthews line all series.

The result? See for yourself:

The Matthews line was largely stymied, and the Caps’ top line - with Carlson and Nate Schmidt - had success as well, as Kadri’s trio simply isn’t as threatening, offensively, as that top unit. And note that these final results include Toronto’s massive third-period, score-effects-aided-but-still-not-at-all-okay push (which we’ll touch on later today); after two periods, it was a bloodbath:

Now, as the series heads back to Washington, Trotz will have the upper hand on match-ups. Does he stick with the same two five-man units and usage when deploying his top-six, or does he move Niskanen and Orlov back to skating with the Backstrom line and hard-match them against Matthews? That game within the game may well be where this series is won... or lost.

4. Bonus thing! Not all heroes wear capes...