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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 2 and even the Stanley Cup Final series

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 2 and even the Stanley Cup Final series

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

What were the two biggest stories coming out of Game 1? Ryan Reaves’ cross-check on John Carlson and Tom Wilson’s hit on Jonathan Marchessault.

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

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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.

Other key Caps questions:

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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.