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Caps vs Knights: Observations After 2 Games

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Taking a look at how Gerard Gallant deployed his skaters with the advantage of last change in Vegas.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Washington Capitals at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

With two games gone to the books in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, let’s take a look at how Gerard Gallant leveraged last change in his deployments against the Washington Capitals. We’ll use Muneeb’s head-to-head matrixes to explore. Here’s an aggregate view of the matchups in Games 1 and 2.

Here’s a tip on reading this: in the above plot, the very first cell represents that William Karlsson faced Nicklas Backstrom for 10 minutes or so, and had an on-ice shot attempt differential of -4 in those minutes (nice work, Nick).

First, let’s cast our eye to the most yellow spots on this plot, which indicate some of the most common matchups.

  • Gallant has gotten Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb out against the Caps’ top trio of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson, and to great success. It’s worth noting that despite Schmidt and McNabb’s effective play, that duo hasn’t been on the ice for a Vegas goal, and were on the ice for the Tom Wilson goal in Game 1. Regardless, you have to think Barry Trotz is going to try to get his biggest weapon some breathing room on home ice.
  • With Schmidt and McNabb having their hands full, it’s been Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore drawing in against Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom, and TJ Oshie. to mixed results. While the shot-attempt numbers generally seem to favor this d-pair, scoring chance data indicates that this trio is getting some really good looks (which bears out what the eye test might have told you).
  • Vegas’ top line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault has seen a steady diet of Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov, who haven’t necessarily slowed them down, though the damage has been mitigated to an extent by timely scoring for the Caps.
  • Lucas Sbisa and Colin Miller have had their lunch eaten by the Eller line, and by the John Carlson/Michal Kempny pairing. These guys look like prime candidates for Trotz to target with his top line in Games 3 and 4.
  • Speaking of Carlson and Kempny, those guys have done a pretty bang up job (at least as measured by shot generation) against just about anyone named something besides Engelland or Theodore, who in turn have spent most of their ice time in the offensive zone, due largely in part to favorable deployment, but that’s partially a symptom of gameflow (icings, goalies freezing the pucks etc) putting a lot of faceoffs in the Caps’ defensive zone.
  • And finally, it’s pretty clear the Caps need to find a way to take advantage of the Golden Knight’s fourth line. Ryan Reaves, Thomas Nosek, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare shouldn’t strike fear into a single heart, but Barry Trotz hasn't had an answer, and it cost him a game along the way.

We’ll check back in later in the series, once the Caps’ bench boss has had a chance to play his hand.