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The Narrative: COVID-92, King’s Pawn Game and That Was Close

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

Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

1. COVID-92

Big news from out at yesterday’s optional skate...

Your disbelief is fair, but there’s video evidence:

So what does it mean?

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):

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:

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:

data via NatStatTrick

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.

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:

via HockeyViz

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):

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:

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...