Sixty minutes was not enough to separate the Caps and Maple Leafs on Saturday. An additional 20 minutes couldn’t do the job either. What finally proved to be the difference was a critical icing call in the second overtime period that gave Toronto the 4-3 win and tied the series at 1.
While trying to break out of the neutral zone, Evgeny Kuznetsov attempted a pass off the wall to Justin Williams that was a bit too strong and went down behind Toronto’s red line for the icing call. By rule, that meant the players on the ice for the Capitals had to remain for the next faceoff. This put the Caps at a disadvantage. First, it kept the five players on the ice on a prolonged shift, a disadvantage more pronounced given that it came in double overtime when minutes need to be carefully monitored. It also allowed Toronto to match up with the players on the ice, something they were not normally able to do off a faceoff since the home team gets the second line change. Most importantly, however, it forced a line that Barry Trotz does not typically employ in the defensive zone to stay on the ice for a defensive zone draw.
Kuznetsov has the third-lowest percentage of defensive zone faceoffs on the team with 25.8-percent, lower even than Alex Ovechkin. What that suggests is that when the Caps are taking a faceoff in the defensive zone, Trotz specifically tries to avoid putting Kuznetsov out. Part of that may be because Kuznetsov is not a two-way forward and is much stronger on the offensive end of the ice. Another more likely reason has to do with the fact that as a center, he is tasked with the responsibility of winning the faceoff.
Of Washington’s four centers, Kuznetsov had the lowest faceoff win percentage in the regular season with 44-percent. On Saturday, he won only 10 of the 28 faceoffs he took for win percentage of only 35.7-percent.
So in terms of a critical faceoff in the defensive zone, Kuznetsov would not have been Trotz’s first pick. He had already taken the draw before in the defensive zone and lost to William Nylander leading to a dangerous deflection opportunity for Zach Hyman.
Toronto matched Kuznetsov with one of the better faceoff players on the team in Brian Boyle, but Boyle was kicked out of the circle and replaced by Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen still won the draw against Kuznetsov, however, giving the Maple Leafs possession which prevented a line change by Washington.
The shift was not an overly long one for the offense. Kuznetsov was on the ice for 59 seconds which was typical of the shift lengths he had been getting in overtime. The same was not true, however, for the defense.
With only three pairs of defensemen as opposed to four offensive lines, the defensemen’s shifts are much more limited because they are going to take more of them than the offense. Karl Alzner was on the ice for 50 seconds when the goal was scored. That was his longest shift since late in the third period. John Carlson was on the ice for 50 seconds as well which was about double the length of the shifts he had been taking in the second overtime.
The resulting possession led to the game-winning goal by Kapanen just 20 seconds later.
The impact of a simple icing call can so often be overlooked as it does not really begin to be a factor until later in the game when the players’ legs get heavier and the disadvantage in keeping the same line becomes more pronounced. On Saturday, an icing call gave Toronto a favorable faceoff matchup in the Caps’ defensive zone and forced a tired defensive pair of Alzner-Carlson to remain on the ice
The rest, as they say, is history.