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The Narrative: Ugly, Uglier and Todd Time

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

Washington Capitals v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Three Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

1. Ugly

Well, that was ugly.

Five-nothing. A 45-18 disadvantage in shots on goal (and that’s padded with five Caps shots in the game’s final minute), the first time the Caps have ever allowed 40-plus shots while taking 20 or fewer in a playoff game. 51-28 in five-on-five shot attempts, the third-most one-sided performance, League-wide, of this playoff year (and yet not as bad as Game 1!), second-worst in scoring chance (30.6) and high-danger scoring chance (22.2) and dead last in expected Goals-For (xGF) percentage (28.7). Hell, Warren Foegele (who?) had a higher xGF at five-on-five and all-situations than the entire Capitals team. Zero-for-four on the power play, three-for-five on the penalty kill. A flatline of a second period (outshot 16-1) that really started in the first and bled well into the third (that one shot on goal was the Caps’ only one in 40:20 of playing time, 43:16 if you don’t want to count Dmitry Orlov’s 84-footer from the neutral zone):

via MoneyPuck.com

We could go on, but there is perhaps no better way to summarize the Caps’ night than to note that NBCSN Washington’s player of the game was Braden Holtby... who gave up five goals and had a .889 save percentage (and they weren’t wrong to give it to him).

So what did the team think of their effort?

Through the first two games of the series, we talked about how the Caps were playing with fire in terms of shot share and were fortunate to have escaped Washington with a pair of victories. Sometimes the final score doesn’t necessarily reflect some of the underlying numbers from the game, and that’s fine. On Monday night they did, and it wasn’t.

2. Uglier

Speaking of ugly, let’s talk about Alex Ovechkin and Andrei Svechnikov.

First and absolutely foremost, here’s wishing Svechnikov a full and speedy recovery - hockey is an unfortunately brutal, barbaric game sometimes, and this was most certainly one of those times.

That said, this was a “clean” fight within the norms of the game, with both players having been provided ample opportunity to choose a different path before mutually consenting to settle their differences with fisticuffs. Let’s take a look, I guess...

It’s hard to watch. And it’s not as if Ovechkin is a fighter, of course (that was his fourth fighting major since entering the League, and first since 2010). But this is the way the NHL chooses to allow players to settle their differences.

I don’t have much more to say on it, so we’ll yield the floor to the players and coaches:

One last note here - as ugly as the result of this incident was, if the officials in this series continue to let stuff like the following go (or go inadequately penalized), it’s going to get even uglier:

3. Todd Time

If you came here looking for a silver lining, here it is - Game 3 only counts for one win in the series, just like the two the Caps got before traveling to Carolina. And while sweeps are nice (or so I’m told - the Caps have never been on the right side of one in a four-game series), the realistic goal in the first four games of a series is to hold serve at home (check), and split on the road (still in play).

That said, the Caps, like the Isley Brothers before them, have work to do.

It’s time for Todd Reirden to show that the Caps’ faith in him was warranted. This is where coaches are made or broken - by demonstrating that they can (or can’t) make the necessary adjustments within a playoff series to give their players a chance to win. As Mike Tyson famously put it, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Whether it’s system adjustments (special teams have been terrible since Game 1), lineup tweaks (have a seat, Christian Djoos) or properly motivating his club (where’s the Caps’ “desperation and intensity”?), it all comes back on the head coach at times like these.

To that end, here are a few unsolicited thoughts:

  • Sit Djoos - he’s overmatched right now and making too many soul-crushing mistakes. Jonas Siegenthaler deserves a shot.
  • Get John Carlson back on the right side, full time, and pair him with Dmitry Orlov. That’s your best option for a “top pair” right now. (It’s nearly impossible to overstate how much the Caps miss Michal Kempny.) That would leave Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen as a second pair (for now) and Siegenthaler and Nick Jensen as the third. Yeah, the options are... not great.
  • Shake up the top-six. Yes, the top line was very good for the first two games and even into the third (until Brind’Amour realized that going power-vs-power wasn’t going to work for him). But the second line? Well, let’s put it this way - the only players in the playoffs right now with a worse score- and venue-adjusted five-on-five Corsi-For percentage than Evgeny Kuznetsov right now are Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie:
via Natural Stat Trick

Those numbers are putrid. (Somewhat related, the Caps need their third line to do, well, anything, which is more than they’ve done so far.) Maybe reunite Alex Ovechkin with Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson and see if Nicklas Backstrom can get Oshie and Jakub Vrana going.

  • Swap Travis Boyd (or dare I venture into fantasyland and suggest Dmitrij Jaskin?) in for Chandler Stephenson. And maybe elevate Andre Burakovsky.
  • Ditch “the slingshot” on the power play - it’s embarrassing.

These are all pretty obvious armchair coaching moves (and, admittedly, may represent an overreaction to a single loss), but the Caps didn’t let one of the best coaches on the circuit walk so they could hire me. Hopefully Todd Reirden and his staff have the answers... because right now, there’s nothing but questions.