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.
MORE STANLEY CUP FINAL NEWS:
- Injury update: Kuznetsov practices Friday
- Welcome to Washington: Sting, Shaggy to perform before Game 3, Fall Out Boy gets pregame of Game 4
- Conn Smythe Watch: Here comes Braden Holtby
- Save of the season: Braden Holtby's unreal Game 2 save