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For Barry Trotz and Jon Cooper, the Game Within the Game Begins to Unfold

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Taking a look at tactical changes in matchup deployment from the series’ first two games to the third.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

After a game in D.C. that didn’t go the same way as the two that preceded it, it’s clear that Tampa Bay Jon Cooper went back to the whiteboard and made the necessary adjustments to ice a winning hockey product in Game 3.

Let’s use Muneeb’s head-to-head matrixes to understand a little bit about what changed from Games 1 and 2 to Game 3. Here's a look at the series’ opening two tilts.

Here’s a tip on reading this: in the above plot, the very first cell represents that Brayden Point faced Lars Eller for under 3 minutes or so, and had an on-ice shot attempt differential of +1 in those minutes.

Now here’s Game 3:

A few key observations:

  • Back in Tampa, the Alex Ovechkin/Evgeny Kuznetsov/Tom Wilson line was seeing a lot of Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman, as well as the Bolts’ second line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson. It was a matchup that Ovechkin and company feasted upon. In Game 3, the Caps’ big guns again drew McDonagh and Stralman, but saw omore of the Bolts’ fourth line. Possession favored the big guns here, as you’d hope, but they were kept off the board.
  • John Carlson and Michal Kempny drew the responsibility of shadowing the Point/Johnson line, while Dmitri Orlov and Matt Niskanen had to deal with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
  • In Games 1 and 2, the Lars Eller/Jakub Vrana/T.J. Oshie ate Tampa top defenseman Victor Hedman’s lunch.
  • In Tampa, coach Jon Cooper was getting his big guns Stamkos and Kucherov out against Chandler Stephenson, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky. With last change, Barry Trotz got the Eller line out for more of those minutes on home ice.

Obviously coaching adjustments entail more than just skater matchups. X’s and O’s are a huge part of the package, and for Barry Trotz and the Capitals perhaps in no place more important than on the penalty kill. But with three games written into the ledger, the game within the game, as it were, has just begun to unfold, and with a potential Nicklas Backstrom return to the lineup, Barry Trotz could soon have a powerful new chess piece to add to his strategy.