Four games in, the Capitals finally have their first win. Washington won Game 4 on Tuesday against the New York Islanders to stave off elimination and force a Game 5. Game 4 was easily the Caps' best of the series, but it wasn't good enough. Yes, it was a win. Yes, it gave the Caps the chance to stay alive and keep fighting. Yes, it was their gest game of the series. But it was just one win and the way in which they did was not a blueprint for how they could come back to win the series.
The Caps find themselves down 3-0 in the series because they can't play a complete 60-minute game, they can't score 5-on-5, they can't keep the Islanders out from the front of the net and they can't stay out of the penalty box. In Game 4, the Caps began the game with arguably their worst period of the series, they got only one 5-on-5 goal and it came from the only player on the team who has scored at 5-on-5 for the Caps in the entire series, the Islanders got two goals from right in front of Braden Holtby and they gave New York five power play opportunities.
Washington did not win Game 4 because it improved in any of the areas in which they had been outplayed. Of all the things the Caps were doing poorly, they did not fix any of them.
So what happened?
"I thought [Game 3] was our best game we had played in the series and then there were some things that you could look at to how we could have success," Reirden said after Tuesday's win. "And then today we were able to do it shift after shift for longer periods of time. At times, it's difficult when you don't find the back of the net that that's something that's working, but our team believes in that style of play and for us it was a matter of continue to do it over and over and over and then get rewarded."
This mantra of playing the right way and just showing how they can play was repeated on Wednesday.
"When you see how we can play, it shows everybody up and down the lineup the force to be reckoned with," Tom Wilson said. "At this time of year, that's expected. That's what we need to bring to the table for a full game."
To me, this sounds like the Caps decided to stick with their original game plan until they got rewarded and they finally were...in Game 4.
I understand what Reirden is saying, the Islanders are a frustrating team to play against and sometimes you can play really well and not get rewarded. The Caps are the better team on paper and when they can play the way they did in Game 4, their talent and game plan will ultimately win out.
That's fine when you're trailing a series 1-0 or even 2-0 in a series. I understand a coach not wanting to abandon his game plan too quickly, especially when the team did not play well enough to execute it. Frankly, if the Caps played the way they played on Tuesday from the start of the series in Game 1, this would be an entirely different series. They could beat the Islanders that way in a best-of-seven.
But when you go downin a series 3-0, what you're doing is not working. At that point, you have to adjust. It's no longer good enough to say they just need to stick to the game plan.
To be fair, Reirden did note that the Caps needed to get the puck into the offensive zone more and for longer shifts. The fact that they got it was a major reason for the win.
"The emphasis for me was that structure, we had execution and then ultimately was the work ethic," Reirden said. "And that was a big one and I think that we had to match the work ethic of the Islanders. That was something that because we were able to spend more time in the offensive zone, now we were able to get more to our game and get more to our blueprint of how you can fatigue another team and eventually break them and the numbers matched up with it."
I'm sorry, but when you go down 3-0 in a series, I don't think it's good enough to rely on work ethic to lead you back. You need to make adjustments to what the Islanders have been able to do so effectively. Trying to get sustained offensive zone pressure is a step in the right direction, but I don't see a game in which the Caps could score only once at 5-on-5, still could not get net-front presence on either end of the ice and still could not stay out of the box as a blueprint for their long-term success.
Sure, the Caps have the talent to pull off a win like they did on Tuesday. You can win a game that way, but you can't win four in a row. The Islanders have effectively shut the Caps down three out of four games and if the Caps don't adjust to what New York is doing, they're not going to complete the comeback.
Look, Reirden doesn't have to tell me anything about the adjustments he has planned for Game 5 and I doubt he would openly share anything he plans to do differently in Game 5 with the media, but the Caps need more than what we saw in Game 4. A good work ethic and offensive zone time is not going to help you win four straight if you can't control the front of the net, you can't score 5-on-5 and you can't play physically without taking penalties.
Game 4 was not a blueprint for how to come back from a 3-0 hole, it was a tantalizing look at what could have been had Washington played that way since Game 1.