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The chess match is on as Caps try to anticipate the Lightning's adjustments

The chess match is on as Caps try to anticipate the Lightning's adjustments

The chess match is on.

Adjustments are critical when it comes to winning a seven-game playoff series. Both teams come in with their game plans and adjust as the series goes on. The team that can better adjust to the other’s game plan and counter their moves generally wins the series.

But how do you adjust when everything goes right?

The Washington Capitals have dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning in two games and lead the Eastern Conference Final 2-0. They have been better than Tampa in just about every aspect, but the chess match between the two teams is still very much in play.

“You always try to stay ahead of the curve a little bit, move, counter move,” Barry Trotz said following Tuesday’s morning skate.

If the Lightning are going to make this a series, they will have to make some adjustments and the Caps know it. For Trotz, he now has to anticipate what sort of moves Tampa will make.

“We've asked that question, what do you think they will do?” Trotz said. “I'm not in their room, I don't have any microphones or cameras or anything like that so it's a little bit of a guess, anticipation of what they might do. But we don't know.”

Looking at how the Caps won Game 1 and Game 2, there is no obvious answer for what changes Tampa head coach Jon Cooper will make.

The Lightning skated the same lines at Tuesday’s morning skate as they had in the first two games, suggesting there will not be any lineup changes. Andre Vasilevskiy has given up 10 goals in five periods, but that is more of a reflection of the play in front of him. Goaltending has not been the issue and, even if Cooper wanted to make a change, the team’s backups are Louis Domingue and Peter Budaj, neither of whom seem likely to take over the series.

The biggest issue for Tampa has been its inability to penetrate Washington’s 1-1-3 trap and defend against the quick counter attacks the trap has generated. The Lightning have to find a way to break into the offensive zone and keep the puck there without selling out and leaving themselves vulnerable.

“We've tried to formulate what they might do,” Trotz said. “We might be totally wrong.”

It’s a delicate balancing act. The Caps have to anticipate what changes Tampa may make, but they should not adjust too much given how absolutely dominant they have been through two games.

The good news for Trotz is the Caps will be at home. If the Lightning make any changes that catch Washington by surprise, they have the advantage of making the second line change. That will allow Trotz to adjust his lines accordingly for better matchups in order to counter whatever moves the Lightning may make.

With a 2-0 series lead, the best move Trotz can make may be to make no move at all and wait to see what Cooper does.

Said Trotz, “They'll drop the puck and we'll try to figure it out as it goes along.”


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Capitals draft pick admits he is...a Flyers fan


Capitals draft pick admits he is...a Flyers fan

Say it ain't so.

Mitchell Gibson is the first goalie the Capitals have drafted since Ilya Samsonov in 2015, but they may be thinking twice about their selection after a recent shocking interview.

Gibson spoke with a local Philadelphia CBS station and revealed that both he and his family...are Flyers fans.

Insert dramatic music.

"I think my family will always be Flyers fans in their hearts and I guess I will be a little bit," Gibson admitted, hopefully with guilt in his voice.

Gibson was selected by the Caps in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, but clearly the scouts did not do their homework. It's as if Gibson grew up a hockey fan in a place like Phoenixville, Pa. (about an hour outside of Philadelphia) without anticipating the future that he may one day be drafted by a rival team like Washington.

Shame, shame.

The young netminder tried to make up for his horrifying admission later in the interview.

"The Capitals are definitely treating me well right now so I would like to be their goalie," he said.

A likely story.

Gibson is only 19 and set to begin his first collegiate season at Harvard in 2018 so at least there is still time for Gibson to overcome his shameful past. And hey, it could always be worse. At least he's not a Penguins fan.


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

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.

Other key Caps questions: