Two games into the playoffs, and the Capitals could not be doing any better. At least in terms of the series.
Two games, two wins. You can’t ask for any better than that.
But it hasn’t been exactly pretty.
Twice the Caps jumped out to big leads, twice the Carolina Hurricanes clawed their way back, twice Washington had to hold the Hurricanes off for a narrow victory.
There are things not to like about how the Caps are playing, there are things they need to improve, there are players that need to play better. All of that is true, but let’s take a step back and look at what’s happening around the league.
By the end of Sunday’s action, every team had played at least two playoff games. In all eight series, only two teams managed to win the first two games at home: Washington and the New York Islanders. That’s it. The biggest shock is that the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning did not just lose their first two games at home, they have been pushed to the brink of elimination by the Columbus Blue Jackets through three games.
So while the Caps can and will need to play better than they looked in the first two games of the playoffs, you cannot be too hard on them because they found a way to win both games. That’s more than you can say about the Lightning, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets or Nashville Predators.
Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.
- Let’s start with the positives. A team will not be successful in the playoffs if its best players don’t show up and so far, both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been brilliant. I wrote about them on Sunday. Everything the team needs from them, they are providing. Ovechkin is passing well, has been all-in on the backcheck and has been a physical wrecking ball. Backstrom is winning big faceoffs, has been great on the penalty kill and has been a scoring machine.
- They haven’t needed it so far, but Washington has gotten essentially zero secondary scoring from their bottom six. Here are the goal scorers through the first two games: Backstrom, Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie, Brooks Orpik and an empty-netter from Lars Eller. Washington will need to see production from the bottom-six in these next two games since they will be in Raleigh where the Hurricanes will be able to better control the matchups.
- After being a major factor in Game 1, the power play dried up again in Game 2. The issue was a familiar one: Forcing the puck to Ovechkin. If the power play is going to continue to rely on Ovechkin to be its only weapon, Carolina is going to continue to cover him closely. What really made it curious was the fact that on Saturday, Ovechkin was passing up the one-timers. Either they were not being delivered to him like he wanted or he just wasn’t feeling it. Either way, Carlson kept forcing it to him and Ovechkin kept passing it up. Carlson was left the most open on the power play in Game 2. He needs to start firing some of those shots from the blue line to keep the penalty kill honest.
- The defense is an issue. Here’s the good news. Washington has been searching for the best replacement for Michal Kempny on the top pairing since he left and they have found out who that is. The bad news is that it is Brooks Orpik and you cannot rely on him to play top pair minutes. You are basically asking him to play about 25 minutes per game and that’s just too much for a 38-year-old. But Nick Jensen has not looked comfortable on the top pair even though he is playing on his natural right side and Christian Djoos has not played well. Unless Todd Reirden wants to experiment with breaking up the Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen pair, we are going to continue to see Carlon with Jensen and then Orpik moved up with Carlson at various points of the game.
- Djoos played 7:48 in Game 1 and 5:44 in Game 2. That Game 2 total includes five seconds in overtime so he actually played 5:39 through regulation. Reirden said after Game 1 that this was just situational, but when you have a defenseman playing less than six minutes, it suggests a lack of trust. It also puts a strain on the other defensemen, especially the top guys. I asked Reirden on Sunday that if Djoos’ use has been situational and this series looks like it could be a close one, would he consider putting in Jonas Siegenthaler who has a more defensive skillset? Reirden said he liked the six guys they had, but acknowledged Djoos would have to play more. So it certainly looks like Reirden is set on the current six as the team’s top six on the blue line. But how long will this current set up of a fluid top pair and playing Djoos for five to eight minutes a night really last? It does not seem like a sustainable plan.
The Caps certainly have some things they need to improve on, but they have won both of their games and are in control of their series with the Hurricanes.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- In Your Face: Caps' fan forced to wear Golden Knights shirt gets the last laugh
- Scorpik: Brooks Orpik nets Game 2 OT winner
- Switching it Up: Two games in, Ovi and Backy enjoying a role reversal