When you’re taking the ice against the NHL’s number one offense – an offense whose 337 goals in the regular season was the highest such number in 30 years – the last thing you want to do is provide them with extra opportunities. But that’s exactly what the Washington Capitals have done against the Florida Panthers, and they have the battle wounds to show for it.
We’re talking about icings here - plays that are seemingly benign...until they aren’t. During the regular season, the Capitals were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to reaping the consequences of sending the puck down the ice. They allowed 23 goals in the 30 seconds that came after an icing, which was the seventh-most in the NHL. On the flipside, the Florida Panthers scored 30 goals in the 30 seconds after having the puck iced against them, which is the highest number in the league.
So when it comes to icing, the Caps are playing with fire. So far through two playoff games, no team has iced the puck more than the Capitals have (Washington, Florida, and Pittsburgh have all iced the puck 16 times), and no team has allowed more goals following an icing than Washington, who, according to More Hockey Stats (the source for all of this icing data), have given up three such tallies. Tampa Bay has given up two, and no other team in the league has surrendered even one.
A closer look at the play-by-play data suggests the Caps have allowed two goals in the first two games after icings, not three, but the point remains - they’re being sloppy with the puck and they’re being made to pay for it.
This was the scene on the icing just before the Claude Giroux scored off the draw to put the Panthers up 2-1 in Game One.
John Carlson has won a puck battle against two forechecking Panthers to squirt the puck neatly out to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has a clear passing lane to Alex Ovechkin, although he is under some pressure from a third pressing Panther. Instead of making that pass, Kuznetsov fires the puck chest-high, past Ovechkin, off the glass, and down to the other end of the rink for an icing. You know what happens next.
Fast forward to Game 2, with the Caps down a goal and the puck on their stick breaking out of their own zone.
The Panthers are closing in on Marcus Johansson, who has just skated into the neutral zone. Johansson has a release valve in John Carlson behind him, and he’s also got plenty of open space off the bench-side boards to either skate through, or use to lightly the dump the puck and go for a change. Instead, he skies a pass down Nick Backstrom’s wing, apparently hoping that Backstrom might win a footrace to the loose puck (good luck with that). Naturally, that didn’t happen, and icing was the end result.
The Caps did win the ensuing draw and quickly clear the puck, but Florida immediately reclaimed it and re-entered the zone before the Caps could change, danced easily around a few tired Caps forwards, and gave the Cats a two-goal lead.
These are the types of details that can have an outsized impact once the playoffs roll around, and its clear that the Caps need to clean up their play in these types of margins, because as long as they play stupid games, the Panthers are going to continue serving up stupid prizes.