Big news from out at yesterday’s optional skate...
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov are on the ice ahead of Capitals optional practice.— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 16, 2021
Samsonov was off the covid-19 protocols list yesterday. Would appear Kuznetsov is now out of protocols as well.
Your disbelief is fair, but there’s video evidence:
Kuznetsov, Kempny, Carr working on some early shots vs Samsonov pic.twitter.com/fQfZd7QSrv— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 16, 2021
So what does it mean?
Peter Laviolette said Ilya Samsonov is off the covid-19 list. Evgeny Kuznetsov remains on the list, but is allowed to be on the ice according to protocols.— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 16, 2021
Samsonov is available to the team, Kuznetsov is not for a few more days. No timetable for either to return to the lineup.
Peter Laviolette on status of Ilya Samsonov and Evgeny Kuznetsov:— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) May 16, 2021
“Samsonov is off the list, he’s available. Kuznetzov still remains not available to us for a few more days. However, he is available to start a process of getting back with our group and working out by the rules."
The Caps did recall Zach Fucale on Sunday, so expect Pheonix Copley to back up Craig Anderson tonight, assuming that Vitek Vanecek is unavailable (which seems a safe assumption):
Laviolette also said there’s no update on Vanecek’s injury. “He’s day-to-day. I’m not sure if it’s a short day-to-day or a longer day-to-day.” #Caps— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) May 16, 2021
What happens beyond tonight is unclear (in a literal and an existential sense, if you think about it), but what is clear is that Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov have let the organization down:
Huge win for the undermanned Capitals to open the playoffs. But within the organization, there's a sense they didn't have to be undermanned. On the absences of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov, and the playoffs going forward:https://t.co/iEYfiaGeAn— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) May 16, 2021
I’ve got some ideas on how they can make amends...
2. King’s Pawn Game
And so opens the chess match between Peter Laviolette and Bruce Cassidy, with the former making some successful initial forays and the latter now having to adjust.
We talked yesterday about how Laviolette, for the most part, got the match-ups he wanted and the Caps bent but didn’t break under the pressure of the Bergeron and Krejci lines, though they’re always playing with a bit of fire there - here’s how those two lines fared on Saturday night as compared to the regular season:
Those expected goal rates for the top line are a red flag, and Taylor Hall did draw two penalties, but that was about as good as you’re going to do against these guys.
Bruce Cassidy on the Zoom right now.— Mike Cole (@MikeColeNESN) May 16, 2021
"Our top guys didn't seem to have it. Couldn't find ice. Give Washington credit ... (Those guys) weren't able to get to their game tonight or get the puck to cooperate."
The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa had more on the Bruins’ frustrations:
[The Capitals defense] did well to keep the Bruins on the perimeter. But most of the Bruins’ offensive trouble started higher in the zone. They were too clustered, not extending the Washington defense by positioning a third forward high.
“They held the blue line well,” Cassidy said. “I don’t think we attacked them well enough. I don’t think we were willing to drive wide, turn up and support pucks. I thought our O-zone spacing, our forward wasn’t high enough to stretch them out a little bit so you could use your skill and foot speed.”
Here’s what that looked like:
That’s a lot of misses in tight from some very dangerous players, but, again... that’s about as good as you’re going to do against these guys, overall. Still, expect more net-crashing disruptiveness from the B’s in Game 2:
Shinzawa added, “Another offensive problem for the Bruins was solving Washington’s 1-3-1 neutral-zone formation. By spreading out bodies in center ice, the Capitals gummed up the Bruins’ entries. They snapped too many rims hard around the walls instead of chipping pucks into soft spots.”
Oh, and, unsurprisingly, the Bruins seem to have realized that their best chance at stopping the Caps’ top line is with their own top line and top pair (duh):
The Bruins’ most critical Game 2 adjustment: matching best vs. best. https://t.co/MhQpAGocvl— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) May 17, 2021
So now it’s up to Cassidy to make adjustments (to the extent he can, given that Laviolette will still have the last line change) to try to get more out of his top-six, to cut down on the rush-chances against, and to try to contain an Alex Ovechkin that seems to be on the verge of potting a goal or three (though, frankly, if the Bruins play the exact same game again, they’ve got a good chance of winning it). Your move, Bruce.
3. That Was Close
Oh, you were expecting one of these teams to cruise to victory in Game 1? Not so fast - the last time the Caps and Bruins played a playoff game that was decided by more than one goal was less than three weeks after Garrett Pilon’s birthday... like, “the day of his birth” birthday:
Should have seen this coming. Dating back to 1998, Caps and Bruins will have now played 10 straight 1-goal playoff games. Crazy. #ALLCAPS— Ryan Billie (@arrdog1) May 16, 2021
Overall, 13 of the 19 playoff games between these two teams has been decided by a single goal, with the Caps winning eight of those.
More recently (and meaningfully), the Bruins played the third-most minutes with the score within one this season (46:39 per game), and the Caps finished fifth in that metric (44:46), so these teams should be plenty comfortable with tight games. Us fans? Maybe less so...