Game 1 of the first round saw the Washington Capitals play an extremely sound, choking style of defense that rendered much of the Florida Panthers’ vaunted attack ineffectual.
Vitek Vanecek made some sparkling stops in goal and Washington dominate the neutral zone en route to a 4-2 victory on enemy ice. It appeared as though the Caps had put to bed some tendencies that had plagued them too often during the regular season.
Fast forward 48 hours, and the Capitals seemed to show the Dr. Jekyll to their Mr. Hyde in Tuesday’s game in a crushing 5-1 loss. That’s not to say, though, that Washington didn’t dominate the lion’s share of the first period.
“Actually, we started off pretty well I think,” said Nicklas Backstrom postgame. “But they got two late goals there in the first, and then scored on the power play, and then they scored the shift after that. That was kind of tough actually, mentally.”
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Lackluster defense was a major blight on the Caps during the regular season and made its way into the foray in Game 2, as sloppy turnovers near the blue line led to at least two of Florida’s five goals. But aside from defense, two other nagging trends doomed Washington in Thursday’s defeat: power play inefficiency and uninspiring goaltending.
A four-minute power play six minutes into the second period, while down 3-1, could’ve been the saving grace for a struggling Capitals attack. It wasn’t.
“We could’ve capitalized there, maybe grabbed some juice back and make it 3-2 at that point, and it didn’t happen,” Peter Laviolette said postgame. “It wasn’t as effective as we needed it to be.”
Vanecek played a stellar opening game, but his hot streak cooled off quickly in Game 2. Florida had three goals to their name after just their first six scoring chances, as the Capitals’ netminder struggled to swallow rebounds and cover the five-hole, leading to mistakes like Mason Marchment’s strike in the second period:
Vanecek was chased after 40 minutes and thus the unholy trinity of poor goaltending, fruitless special teams, and unorganized defense haunted Washington the same way it has earlier in the campaign.
Therein lies the key components for what the Capitals must focus on in order to jump out to a tasty 2-1 series lead when the contest goes back to the nation’s capital on Saturday afternoon. Ilya Samsonov played well in the third period on Thursday, so there’s a serious chance of him starting between the pipes in Game 3. His production once there is unpredictable but he might get the chance.
Florida did have the NHL’s best offense during the regular season, and Washington was able to mute it for three-plus periods to start this series. Containing the likes of Huberdeau, Barkov, Duclair and others—especially in the neutral zone—will be priorities A, B, C, and D for the home side this weekend.
Power play chances might come, and the Capitals will hope their man advantage comes back to life. Goaltending has been hit-or-miss all year. Maybe they get a strong performance. Combine it with a Game 1 style of play and Washington should be confident it can turn the series tide again.
All first-round games of Capitals vs. Panthers will be available regionally on NBC Sports Washington and streamed live on the MyTeams app.