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The Narrative: Mr. Anderson, Face-Off Fails and The Match Game

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

Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals - Game One Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

1. Mr. Anderson

Craig Anderson will turn 40 on Friday and played fewer minutes for the Caps this year than Anthony Mantha. He wasn’t even on the Caps depth chart at New Year’s (a list that probably read Ilya Samsonov, Henrik Lundqvist, Vitek Vanecek, Pheonix Copley, Zach Fucale), and he hadn’t seen NHL playoff action since before the Caps were even Stanley Cup champions.

But Anderson was ready when called upon - and he delivered - after Vanecek had to leave the game after trying (and failing) to stop Jake DeBrusk’s game-tying goal in the first period of Game 1.

Anderson stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced in relief, including all 18 even-strength shots, and all 16 low- and medium-danger shots. For Caps fans begging for a guy to stop all the shots he “should” stop, this was that performance... and then some.

While it wasn’t a Picasso (Anderson’s rebound control and lateral movement gave Caps fans some pretty tense moments), the veteran netminder turned in a terrific performance, and became only the second Caps goalie to not allow an even-strength goal in a playoff game since Braden Holtby shut out the Lightning in back-to-back games to win the Eastern Conference in 2018.

In Andy We Trust... at least for now... in part because we have no choice.

2. Face-Off Fails

Okay, so for years we’ve been telling you that faceoff win rates are overrated, despite the fact that individual faceoffs are often very important after the fact? Well, last night was one of those games that makes you question your beliefs on that.

The Bruins won 39 of the game’s 65 draws (60 percent), including 11 of 14 in their defensive zone, but just 13 of 28 in the offensive zone (Lars Eller lead the Caps, winning nine of his 13 faceoffs there).

Nevertheless, sometimes when you lose defensive-zone draws, this happens:

And that’s not a fluke - only Vegas generated more shots off faceoffs in the regular season than the Bruins did:

via Corey Sznajder’s Patreon

The Caps got better in the dot as the game went on (the Bruins won 17 of the game’s first 19 draws, and led 21-5 after one period, so the Caps actually won more faceoffs after the first frame than the Bruins did), and a 40/60 disparity might be acceptable overall (especially if they stay north of 50 percent in their own zone, though only winning 21 percent of their offensive-zone faceoffs certainly doesn’t help the offense).

Of course, what isn’t acceptable, is totally unwarranted defensive-zone draws...

... but that’s neither here nor there.

3. The Match Game

With home-ice advantage and the last change, Peter Laviolette’s Game 1 line-matching strategy became pretty clear - play the Lars Eller line and the Dmitry Orlov-John Carlson pairing against the Patrice Bergeron line, play the Nicklas Backstrom line and the Brenden-Dillon-Justin Schultz line against the David Krejci line, and let the bottom-sixers face each other, while pitching in where necessary.

Did it work? Yeah, for the most part.

The Bergeron line didn’t score. Neither did the Krejci line. The Backstrom line did. So did T.J. Oshie’s third line (twice). But the Bergeron trio did everything but score, and the Caps dominated the Bruins’ bottom-nine (despite the goal-against from the DeBrusk line):

You’d like to see that top line kept a bit more in check, but it wasn’t necessarily as ugly as that 88.6 xGF% might imply - scoring chances were only 7-6 in their favor and shot attempts were 18-12 for them. You take that if you’re the Caps.

Meanwhile, the Backstrom line scored a goal (Dillon’s), had a 70.8 Corsi-For (CF) percentage, and a 72.9 xGF%, and Oshie (mostly with Tom Wilson) was on the ice for two goals-for, none-against, and a 70.4 xGF%.

In previewing the series, we noted that “the Bruins’ top line is going to get their goals and will almost certainly be a net positive for Boston. But if the Caps can limit them and beat them elsewhere down the lineup, they’ll have a chance.” In Game 1, the Caps limited the Bruins’ top line (on the scoresheet, at least) and beat them elsewhere down the lineup. As long as they keep doing so, they have a chance.