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Caps need to start strong in Game 7

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Caps need to start strong in Game 7

If the Caps want to beat the New York Islanders in Game Seven and move on to the next round, a fast start would go a long way. That's easier said than done, however, given how terrible the Caps have looked early on in games this series.

"Probably the ideal start is to come out and score right away and score often, but...it hasn’t gone that way for us a lot of the games," Karl Alzner said.

In six games, the Islanders have scored first in five of them. That would be hard for any team to overcome, but it's especially bad for the Caps.

In the regular season, Buffalo was the only team in the NHL that had fewer wins after conceding the first goal. The Capitals managed a win percentage of only .205 when trailing first, sixth worst in the league. When scoring first, however, the Caps led the NHL in win percentage (.860) and fewest losses (2). That's a trend they would like to return to on Monday night.

"Our execution needs to be a little bit better, get the puck in deep and keep it in deep," Alzner said. "Have a few whistles at the beginning would be fine too."

"It’s just making sure that you’re doing your due diligence and every player’s doing his job," Barry Trotz said. "Would I like to score more in the first period? Absolutely. It’s a little tougher always trying to come back."

RELATED: Despite new coach and new team, Caps back in Game 7

Good starts are not just about scoring goals, but also dictating the way a game is played. In their best games of the series, the Caps were able to establish their game plan early into the game. In some of the losses...not so much. That sort of trend is not lost on the players.

"If you look at Game 3, they came out and hit everything that moved and they played a good game the whole game," Alzner said. "The next game they couldn’t quite get a whole lot going that first couple shifts and it was a little bit different of a momentum for Game 4. Game 6 it worked out for them."

In a Game 7 where the team's season is at stake, getting off to a better start will be key.

"The plan is to come out hard and continue to come the entire game and not take the foot off," Alzner said. "If that means get a goal right away, then perfect. If it means not having anything on the board right from the start, but playing good hockey we’ll take that too."

NOTES:

Changing it up: On Sunday Trotz hinted at possible changes to the lineup for Game 7 and it sounds like Curtis Glencross will be back for the Caps. "I would say that there’s a good chance that you’ll see him in," Trotz said.

Glencross has zero points in three games this series. Should he be added back into the lineup the question becomes who will be the odd-man out? Rookie Andre Burakovsky has certainly seen his fair share of offensive chances, but ultimately has been held without a point in his three games thus far. Given how physical the Islanders are likely to play, it seems most likely that he will be the one in the press box.

Powerless: The Caps have struggled to score on the power play this series, but scored once and generated plenty of opportunities in Game 6. Even if the power play is improving, It may be a little too late for this series given the limited opportunities teams usually see in Game Sevens.

"We’re going to need our power play to come up big because I’m assuming there’s not going to be a ton of penalties called in Game 7," Troy Brouwer said. "I know the refs don’t like being a deciding factor in Game 7 and so if we get an opportunity we have to do what we can to either score a goal or get good momentum for our team."

Fehr play: Eric Fehr skated for the first time on Sunday since taking an upper-body injury in Game 3. Though he will not be back for Game 7, when asked if Fehr would return for the next series should the Capitals advance, Trotz said, "Oh yeah. Absolutely."

MORE CAPITALS TALK: Capitals looking to reverse recent trend in Game 7

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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 1-3-1 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 there 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 most NHL teams.

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 Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights 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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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.