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3 keys to a Game 3 win for Washington

3 keys to a Game 3 win for Washington

The Stanley Cup Final shifts to Washington on Saturday for Game 3 with the series tied at 1. The series lead will be on the line when the Caps take the ice against the Vegas Golden Knights. Here are three keys to the game.

Use the crowd to your advantage, not your detriment

Considering how crazy an atmosphere Capital One Arena has been in Game 1 and Game 2 when the series was in Vegas, you can expect a raucous atmosphere for Game 3 when they will actually be playing in Washington. So far this postseason, the Caps have not been great on home ice with a record of only 4-5. In two of their three previous series, the Caps lost both of their back-to-back home games (Game 1 and Game 2 against Columbus, Game 3 and Game 4 against Tampa Bay).

If the problem were easily diagnosed, it would be easily corrected. Clearly there are several contributing factors, but one of those factors is how the team responds to the home crowd.

Washington has been at its best in these playoffs when they simplify their game, something they do on the road very well. At home, however, buoyed by the crowd, the Caps tend to get a bit more…adventurous.

Suddenly, they are not making the simple plays anymore. They get fancy, overpass and frequently turn the puck over with ill-advised plays like cross-ice stretch passes in the defensive zone.

Game 6 against the Lightning was Washington’s best home game of the postseason. Facing elimination, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head into the second period keeping the scored knotted at zero. The normal trepidation we see from the crowd in those moments was not there, however, because of the Caps’ physical game. They hit everything that moved, which kept the crowd engaged (despite no goals in a game they were dominating and one they had to win to avoid elimination) which gave the team something to continue to feed off of.

The Caps should be able to use what will be a crazy home atmosphere Saturday. Don’t worry about giving the crowd a show. The Caps will have a better shot of winning if they play boring and play simple. Adding that physical element will help pump up the crowd through the game which will make sure crowd support won’t dwindle as the game goes on.

Limit the penalties

Simply put, Washington took too many penalties in Game 2 as they gave up five power play opportunities. A two-man advantage in the third period nearly cost the Caps the game. Washington also has given up a power play goal to the Golden Knights in each of the first two games of the series.

When a player gets caught flat-footed against a fast team, this often leads to obstruction penalties such as hooking, holding, tripping, etc. That was the case in Game 2 as the Caps took three such penalties. T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson were also both booked for interference in what were two undisciplined penalties.

You can’t get away with giving up five power plays every game. The Caps need to be better positionally to avoid obstruction penalties and show better discipline to avoid the others. Your opponent will always try to agitate in a playoff series and the Caps cannot get caught up in that.

Slow it down

Vegas wants to play fast. Washington needs to slow things down. The Caps got caught up in a track meet in Game 1 as both teams traded opportunities in a very back and forth game. That fire wagon hockey may be really fun to watch, but that style of play favors Vegas which is a much faster team.

The Caps have been successful this season by finding ways to slow down their speedy opponents like the Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have done this playing the trap in the neutral zone, stacking up the blue line and countering when other team’s defensemen get too aggressive.

Now with the series in Washington and the fans behind them, the Caps cannot let the excitement or the home fans distract them to the point that they abandon their game plan.

Game 2 did not start well with the Caps again getting caught trading chances with Vegas. They took over the game when they finally established their own game plan.

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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

ilya_samsonov_scout_pruski.jpg
Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

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