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The Narrative: Ovi’s Slow Start, Fourth and Goal, and Again with the Bad Ice

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Three things we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the Caps

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

1. Alex Ovechkin was arguably the Caps’ MVP through the first three rounds of the playoffs, but got off to a slow start (for him) in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, attempting just five shots overall (three at five-on-five, two of which were on net), notching a pair of individual scoring chances (both at fives) and registering a single point (a primary assist on Tom Wilson’s goal) while playing pretty even in terms of on-ice shot attempts. That’s not bad, per se, but neither is it “Games 6 and 7 against Tampa” Ovi.

Was it rust? Nerves? Both? Regardless, he remains “100%” confident that he and his team will be better in Game 2. And let’s be honest - on an off night for their captain, the offense rallied and did their part in Game 1 — it should’ve been enough.

And if it wasn’t already clear that Monday just wasn’t Ovi’s night...

Oof.

2. The Golden Knights’ fourth line of Ryan Reaves, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek entered Game 1 with two goals and three assists in the playoffs and left with five goals and four assists. (For those of you who grew up in Western Pennsylvania, that means they tallied three goals and an assist in the game.) Not only did they find their way onto the score sheet for the game-tying, -winning and -insuring goals, but they dominated possession:

via Natural Stat Trick

At the risk of stating the obvious, getting eaten alive by an expansion team’s fourth line is no way to go through life. Of course, two of the last three goals the Lightning scored last round (you know... in Game 5, before the back-to-back shutouts) came from their fourth line as well.

The bottom line (no pun intended) is that you can’t take any shifts off this time of year, because depth players and/or missed calls are always lurking.

3. The quality of the ice surface in Vegas was a story in Game 1 and likely will be again in Game 2.

So who does a sloppy track favor? Gather ‘round, kids, it’s story time.

A decade ago, the Capitals clawed their way to their first playoff berth of The Ovechkin Era playing the kind of hockey that would come to define the bulk of the Bruce Boudreau years: fast and skilled.

When they got to the playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers were waiting for them, and, over the course of a grueling seven game series, sent the upstart Caps home to think about their bright future... and perhaps their building. You see, among the things Philadelphia credited for their victory was the playing surface in Washington. Quoth then-Flyer Danny Briere:

“Another thing that favored us was the condition of the ice,” he said. “It was so bad that it was tough for guys like Semin, Backstrom and Ovechkin to get anything going, the ice was so bad. That was another thing that went our way.”

Poor conditions tend to level the the proverbial playing field (rink?) and favor the team with less high-end talent and/or advantage the club that relies on pressuring opponents into making mistakes to create offense. In this series, the respective roles are pretty clear, and the Caps know it:

The Caps may want to slow the game down a bit from the torrid pace of Game 1, in light of both Vegas’s pressure and the surface on which they’re playing. The Golden Knights have had a clear home-ice advantage all season long and into the playoffs, and it ain’t (just) because of the crowd feeding off all of that goofy in-game entertainment.

All that said, we’ll give The Captain the last word on the matter: “It doesn’t matter. Ice, sticks, skates. It can’t be a problem.”

No excuses. Game 2 looms.