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):
As close to a perfect game as you can get for the Canes. Holding the Caps to 5 slot shots, the Canes dominated the play in front of a fired up Carolina crowd #TakeWarning #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/jfZtjfaoIk— The Point (@ThePointHockey) April 16, 2019
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?
“They were at a different level than we were tonight.” - Caps coach Todd Reirden.— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) April 16, 2019
“They were better than us tonight. We didn’t deserve to win. That was playoff desperation and intensity.” — Washington coach Todd Reirden— Luke DeCock (@LukeDeCock) April 16, 2019
“It’s completely unacceptable...” - Nick Backstrom on one of the worst playoff losses by #Caps in a long while.— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) April 16, 2019
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.
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...
Pummeled. Ovi told him he didn’t want the smoke either. pic.twitter.com/JQkpV9Ovd6— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) April 15, 2019
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.
Ovechkin said a couple times that he hopes Svechnikov is okay. He said Svechnikov challenged him to the fight.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 16, 2019
"When you put your hand in the tiger cage and he bites you, it's not the tiger's fault...it's your fault..."@CraigJButton on why it's 'completely unfair' for Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour to fault Alex Ovechkin for fight with Andrei Svechnikov https://t.co/ouDbgaxMWm #TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/6LpR3T4URq— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) April 16, 2019
I don’t have much more to say on it, so we’ll yield the floor to the players and coaches:
John Carlson on seeing Ovechkin fight: "I've seen him fight before. It's not like I was expecting him to get beat up or anything. But I wouldn't challenge him to fight."— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 16, 2019
Braden Holtby on Ovechkin's fight was Svechnikov: "It was big for him showing emotion. I mean he plays hard. Against a kid that kind of takes a lot of cheap shots and that kind of thing, it was you know, playoff hockey."— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) April 16, 2019
Brind'Amour: "One guy’s gloves comes off way first. And that’s Ovi, not our guy. So it’s a little bit frustrating because he got hurt. It's his first fight. He's played 90 games. He’s never fought in his life, and I'm pretty sure Ovi knew that. So that stuff bothers me.”— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 16, 2019
Brind'Amour says he doesn't know the extent of Andrei Svechnikov's injury. He went to check on him and he was already gone.— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) April 16, 2019
"I'm still sick to my stomach about it"
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:
If Nazem Kadri gets suspended for the rest of the 1st round for his cross check then Haydn Fleury should get at the very least a 1 game suspension for this blatant cross check to T.J. Oshie’s neck #NHLPlayoffs #CapsCanes #ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/vqtiAOFB5a— Parmesan Don (@Soft7Parm) April 16, 2019
Dougie Hamilton with the flying elbow pic.twitter.com/acl8hpaMdt— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 13, 2019
Ovechkin 2 for elbowing. Elbow never makes contact, pic.twitter.com/tfhriluAOQ— StopThrowingHats (@stopthehats) April 13, 2019
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:
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.