The Washington Capitals have one round robin game in the books. It did not go as Caps fans might have hoped, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they might take a bit of solace in the fact that the ending was one that will not be repeated when the real playoff games start. No “Gimmicks” there. And none here. Just good, wholesome hotdish goodness. On today’s fare, we lay out the ingredients and the sauce for the upcoming game against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of Capitals Nation this season.
1. Do the Caps need to change their intermission routines? Whatever the Capitals did during the intermissions in games against the Flyers this season, it didn’t work. Washington outscored the Flyers, 5-3, in the first periods of their four meetings this season. So far, so good. Then, not so good. Awful, in fact. Philadelphia outscored the Caps, 7-1, in second periods and then pasted them by a 6-1 margin in third periods for good measure.
The Flyers dominated the Caps in the last 40 minutes in most opportunistic fashion. In their first win over the Caps this season, back on January 8th, the Flyers scored the game-winning goal on a shorthanded marker by Kevin Hayes with just 2:01 left in the second period in a 3-2 Flyers win. A month to the day later, the teams were knotted at a goal apiece at the first intermission, but the Flyers struck for three goals in the span of 1:45 early in the second period to take a 4-1 lead. It was the first half of a six-unanswered-goal barrage on their way to a 7-2 win. In the final meeting of the season, on March 4th, the Caps took a 1-0 lead to the locker room after one period, but the Flyers scored in a bunch again in the second period. Three goals in 9:59 gave the Flyers a lead they never relinquished in a 5-2 win to take the season series with three wins in four games. If the Caps are to get their first round robin win, shutting down the Flyers in the last 40 minutes will be essential.
2. Could special teams be just a bit more…special? Special teams were uniformly poor for the Caps in their season series against the Flyers. The power play was a pitiful 1-for-16 at 5-on-4 and 0-for-1 at 4-on-3 for a 1-for-17/5.9 percent conversion rate. Factor in a shorthanded goal allowed – a game-winning goal at that – and the “net” power play conversion rate was 0.0 percent.
The power play suffered from a serious lack of shots on goal. In 32:01 of man advantage ice time, the Caps managed only 13 shots on goal. As one might expect, Alex Ovechkin had more than a third of them, but his five shots on goal came in 30:16 of power play ice time. T.J. Oshie, who had the only power play goal for the Caps against the Flyers this season, was the only other Capital with more than one power play shot on goal, and his two shots came in 18:12 of power play ice time.
Penalty killing was not any better. Going shorthanded 16 times was itself a bit on the high side, and four goals allowed certainly was on the high side, leaving the Caps with a 75.0 percent penalty kill rate. The problem was not in high shot volumes allowed; the Caps allowed the Flyers only 16 shots on goal in 26:07 of shorthanded ice time. Four goals on 16 shots, though; that is hard to swallow. Three of those power play goals either tied the game for the Flyers or gave them a lead. They converted in the clutch, or the Caps came up short in the clutch, depending on your perspective. The Caps simply have to be better on both sides of special teams if they are to earn their first win in the round robin phase.
3. Attention to detail in the small things. Nothing is as basic in hockey as the faceoff. By itself, the faceoff, more specifically wins and losses, are not generally a determining factor in wins and losses. But attention to detail in such small things can serve as an indicator of success in bigger things. The English language might not have a word to capture just how bad the Caps were against the Flyers in this simple task.
The Caps started well enough, winning 30 of 61 draws (49.2 percent) in the first meeting of these teams, in Philadelphia on November 13th. Things went downhill quickly, though. In the second game, the Caps were 15-for-51 (29.4 percent), and they were 17-for-63 in the third game (27.0 percent). They recovered some in the fourth meeting, going 29-for-55 (52.7 percent), but 91-for-230 in the season series (39.6 percent) was gruesome.
The Caps were universally bad in the circle. Here is how it broke down by situation:
- Even Strength: 69-177 (39.0%)
- Power Play: 11-25 (44.0%)
- Shorthanded: 11-28 (39.3%)
- Offensive Zone: 27-86 (31.4%)
- Defensive Zone: 31-71 (43.7%)
- Neutral Zone: 33-92 (35.9%)
That offensive zone number really does stick out. A team cannot score without the puck, and the Caps spent too many instances chasing after it after losing draws in the offensive end, wasting time and missing chances.
The “sauce”… Two is not enough. There is the matter of the Caps scoring two goals in each of the four games against the Flyers this season (including the shootout winner their lone win, a 2-1 victory on November 13th). The Flyers were one of two teams against which the Caps failed to score more than two goals in a game this season (Columbus was the other) and were the only team the Caps faced four times failing to do so.
The individual scoring stats reflect this offensive anemia. Six Capitals had two points against the Flyers in the four games this season, but none had more than that number. Seven Capitals had goals, but none had more than one. And sticking out by his absence on either list is Alex Ovechkin, who failed to record a point in any of the four games against Philadelphia this season. The Flyers seemed to have figured out Ovechkin, at least this season, holding the prolific shooter to just ten shots on goal in four games despite Ovechkin averaging almost 22 minutes of ice time against Philadelphia.
It is hard to win games in the NHL scoring two or fewer goals. Teams went 156-637-123 in the 916 instances across the league when it happened. The Caps found it especially difficult to win such games this season, going 5-12-3 in the 20 games win which they scored two or fewer goals, and only two of those wins came in 15 games after they beat the Boston Bruins, 3-2 in a shootout, back on November 16th. It just is not a recipe for wins.
Based on their regular season performance, beating the Flyers is going to mean…
- Being more competitive in the last 40 minutes of games on both sides of the puck
- More efficiency on both sides of special teams
- Attention to detail
- More pressure from the offense