Nerves played a big role in a crazy 6-4 Game 1 on Monday. Game 2 will likely be a contest between two much more composed teams.
Down 1-0 in the series, the Capitals need Game 2 to earn the split in Vegas and return to Washington with the advantage. Here are four keys for how the Caps can beat the Golden Knights on Wednesday.
Clean up the defensive play
Look at where Vegas scored its four 5-on-5 goals in Game 1.
See a pattern? Yeah, that’s not good.
Washington looked sloppy in their own end as they frequently turned the puck over and struggled to transition out of the defensive zone. The all-out defensive effort that befuddled the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning turned into a chaotic frenzy on Monday as the Caps were drawn out of position as they chased the puck leading to so many net-front opportunities.
The Caps need to keep their assignments in the defensive zone and use quick, simple plays to get out of the defensive zone.
Win the special teams battle
With the controversy that surrounded both hits, it seems unlikely the referees are going to put away the whistles in Game 2. This will mean more power play opportunities for both teams.
Washington has scored on 28.3-percent of its power plays in the postseason, but the penalty kill has struggled since an incredible run against the Columbus Blue Jackets with the Caps killing off only 74.2-percent of the power plays they face. Vegas, meanwhile scored on only 19.2-percent of its power plays but have been much better on the PK with 82.8-percent.
Priority No.1 is for the Caps to play disciplined and stay out of the box. If special teams do become a factor, it’s critical that Washington win that matchup while on the road.
Keep getting to Marc-Andre Fleury
Game 1 marked just the fourth time this postseason that Fleury has given up four goals, but he still got the win on Monday unlike the last three times. It's easy to see Monday as a missed opportunity, but the fact is if they can keep putting that many goals on the board, the Caps are going to win more often than not.
Likewise, Fleury has been the most important player in Vegas’ postseason run and if he gets hot against the Caps, they are in trouble.
Washington did a very good job of making him uncomfortable in Game 1 and getting into high-danger areas. They need to keep attacking the slot, get traffic in front and make him keep moving from side to side. Dirty goals are going to win this game because those are the goals that come when you make a goalie uncomfortable in the crease.
Win the first line matchup
Vegas’ fourth line was the difference in Game 1 as it accounted for three of the Golden Knights’ six goals. Its top-line, however, had a good night as well as Reilly Smith, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault accounted for two goals.
Washington got only one goal from its top line, a third-period tally from Tom Wilson.
Ovechkin has game-breaking potential and is the best player on the ice for either team. He needs to be more of a factor.
If Vegas can't outscore Washington's top line, they may not have the scoring depth to overcome that. From top to bottom, the Caps have the better roster and Vegas' offense has largely been carried by its top unit. Even the Golden Knights can’t get three goals from their fourth line every night.
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