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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines.

The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team. Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-1-3 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since the drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than we typically see.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against the Golden Knights. There is no weak line to exploit. They come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.




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The Flyers almost played with an ineligible player against the Capitals

The Flyers almost played with an ineligible player against the Capitals

Before the Caps took down the Flyers 3-1 Sunday afternoon, referees Tim Peel and Ghislain Hebert huddled at center ice to discuss what appeared to be a mistake on the Flyers roster card.

The Flyers submitted a wrong name on their lineup card, and the referees caught it.

The Flyers listed Phil Varone as part of their lineup when the card should have listed Justin Bailey.

According to Elliotte Friedman's 31 Thoughts, had the refs found the mistake after puck drop, neither Varone nor Bailey would have been eligible to play. "That’s the second time that mistake’s been caught recently," Friedman explained.

"Officials are looking for it."


Both Varone and Bailey don't see much ice time. They average under 10 minutes per game and have not cracked 10 points this season.

The rule, listed in the NHL Rulebook for the 2018-19 season as 5.1 and 5.2, addresses which players are deemed eligible and what happens if an ineligible player is caught during the course of play.

Teams must submit a roster, either from their coach or their manager, prior to puck drop, consisting of 18 skaters and two goalies and, if necessary, one non-uniformed player. The referees then look over the roster to make sure everything checks out. If the refs spot a mistake, they must talk to the offending team so they can correct it. The offending team doesn't receive a penalty for the mistake.

Once the game begins, team rosters are locked in. Had the referees noticed Bailey was on the ice after puck drop, Bailey would be deemed an ineligible player for the rest of the game, and the Flyers could not have substituted another player in his place, so they would have been without a forward.

Additionally, if Jakub Voracek's power play goal was scored with Bailey on the ice, it would not have counted, even if Bailey was not involved in the play.


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The Capitals and Hurricanes are about to spend a lot of quality time together

The Capitals and Hurricanes are about to spend a lot of quality time together

ARLINGTON, Va. – If the season were to end today, the Capitals would be playing the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The season does not end today, but as the Caps prepare to host the Hurricanes on Tuesday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) in the first game of a home-and-home with Carolina, a potential playoff meeting is sure to be on the mind of all the coaches and players.

Washington currently sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division, holding a one-point lead over the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps have a game in hand over Pittsburgh and also play the Islanders in the season finale. If they cannot lock up the division before then, that last game may well prove to be for the division crown.

Carolina meanwhile sits four points behind Pittsburgh and three points ahead of the second wild card team, the Montreal Canadiens, with a game in hand.

A lot can happen in the final two weeks of the season, but a Caps-Canes first-round series is a very realistic scenario.

So how do you approach a regular season home-and-home against a possible playoff opponent?

For the Caps, it provides them the opportunity to keep experimenting with lines and defensive pairings. The injury to Michal Kempny has left Washington’s blue line in flux. If he can find combinations that are successful against the Hurricanes, it could ease the fears of many who are wondering how the Caps can win without one of their top defensemen.

For Carolina, this is a measuring stick game to see how the team handles playing the defending champions who, before the loss of Kempny, seemed to be rounding into playoff form.

As far as the players are concerned, to a man they said playing a potential first round opponent would not change how they prepared or approached this game. Having said that, don’t be surprised if this game is a bit more contentious than normal as both teams try to send a message to the other.

Game notes

Hagelin promoted

Here are the lines from morning skate:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Carl Hagelin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic Dowd – Travis Boyd

Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen

Braden Holtby starts

Head coach Todd Reirden began shuffling lines on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers and he decided to stick with Hagelin on the second line. That may also have something to do with the chemistry that Vrana and Connolly seem to have together. Connolly assisted on Vrana’s breakaway goal that put the game away on Sunday.

Expect more defensive shuffling

The defensive pairs look the same as they did to start Sunday’s game, but you can expect more shuffling as Reirden tries to find the right combination. Djoos got 13:47 of ice time Sunday despite being on the top pair. It seems likely his time will be limited a bit again on Tuesday as he has struggled since coming into the lineup in place of Kempny.

Also of note, Tyler Lewington was sent back to Hershey and Jonas Siegenthaler was recalled. The Caps are very close to the salary cap and Lewington had a lower cap hit than Siegenthaler. They needed to wait until Monday before they could recall Siegenthaler. While Lewington was unlikely to get into the lineup, Siegenthaler may get a look to see if he fits into the team’s top six now with Kempny out long-term.

Watching the standings

The Islanders will also be in action on Tuesday as they play the Columbus Blue Jackets. Should the Caps lose, New York will have a chance to reclaim first place. Two points for Washington will ensure they retain first place in the division regardless of the result in Columbus.

Clinching scenarios

The Caps can punch their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday if they win and both Montreal and Columbus lose in regulation.