It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out the April 24 edition below.
Have a Caps question you want to be answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.
Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.
Nathan S. writes: What do you think the atmosphere in Game 7 will be like? Loud like Carolina or tense like in years past? I noticed when game was tied in Game 2, the arena got quiet like in prior years. Old habits die hard I guess or are DC fans just not that rabid?
This will depend on how the game goes. Look, Caps fans have gotten a bad rap over the years because it did not take much to take the wind out of their sails after seeing multiple playoff failures. I thought the fan base was past that, but when the Caps lost Game 3 and people began tweeting me that the series was over (despite the fact that the Caps were up 2-1 at the time) I realized that that culture of assuming the worst remained ingrained in a lot of the fans.
Having said that, no one who was in Capital One Arena for any of the conference final games or Stanley Cup Final games last year can say the fans did not bring it then. That was the loudest I have ever heard the arena and there was not a shred of doubt or gloom from the fans in those games, even as Washington dropped Games 3 and 4 to Tampa Bay.
To answer your question, yes, Caps fans are rabid, but also quickly deflated in early elimination scenarios. If the Caps come out swinging, the crowd will be behind them. If it’s 2-0 heading into the third period, however, the silence will be deafening.
Benjamin C. writes: I am concerned with the Capitals. Why do they look like they’re sleep walking out there? They don’t look energized out there and we know they have another level.
This may be a bit revisionist history. The Caps won Games 1 and 2. I know they were close wins, but let’s remember in Game 1 the Caps were up 3-0 when Petr Mrazek saved breakaways from Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin before Andrei Svechnikov scored twice to pull the Hurricanes close. Game 2 was won in overtime, but the Caps never trailed in that game. After Game 3 a lot of people were saying Carolina had dominated every game, but that was an overreaction to a blowout loss and to the fact that possession numbers were heavily in favor of Carolina.
Here’s the thing, the Hurricanes were always going to dominate those numbers because those numbers are based on shot attempts and Carolina is a high shot volume team, Washington is not. You have to know that going in and take those numbers with a grain of salt.
Game 3 was bad. The Caps were the better team for the most part in Game 4, but the issue there was an overreaction to the forecheck which had dominated them so completely in Game 3. The Caps adjusted with short passes and speed out of the defensive zone, but one player would zip down the ice with the puck and end up so far ahead of his teammates and surrounded by four Hurricanes in the offensive zone. He would shoot the puck or turn it over and the puck would be headed out of the zone as quickly as it went in. Game 6 started out well, but the last 40 minutes were bad and now it has come down to a Game 7. Overall, I would say the Caps have only really played poorly in two games, Games 3 and 6. It doesn’t take much in hockey to give a team hope, however, and two bad performances were all it took to push this series to seven games.
Let’s also remember that Washington is the only division winner to even make it to seven games. It will be disappointing if they lose in the first round, but it would certainly be par for the course in what is quickly becoming the year of the upset.
Carl Hagelin has played great the last two games so I am not going to bury him. Jakub Vrana has not been much of a factor at all, but really if we are going to talk about players the Caps need more from, the discussion begins and ends with Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov was brilliant in last year’s Cup run and could easily have won the Conn Smythe over Ovechkin with 32 points in 24 games. So far he has just five assists in six games. That is not good enough. Washington does not win the Cup without him playing like a superstar and they may not even make it out of the first round if he does not step up his game on Wednesday. He was invisible in Game 6 and you just cannot have that from a player as important as he is.
Kuznetsov has to be better and if he’s not, he will easily be the biggest disappointment of this series. What’s more, his words from back in October about how it’s “not my style” to be focused 365 days a year are going to come back to haunt him.
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
For whatever reason, the Caps have looked like a completely different team in Carolina. Having a Game 7 in Washington has not been much of an advantage in recent years, but in this specific situation, playing at Capital One Arena will be huge. The Caps have been much better at handling the Hurricanes’ forecheck at home and that will need to continue. The first period has been huge in each home game for the Caps so the opening 20 minutes of Game 7 is going to tell us a lot about who has showed up to play. I expect a very physical start for Washington as that is about the one clear advantage the Caps have established thus far through six games.
Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.
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