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How an icing call cost the Capitals Game 2

How an icing call cost the Capitals Game 2

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.

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Brent Johnson calls for rookie Vitek Vanecek to replace Braden Holtby in goal for struggling Capitals

Brent Johnson calls for rookie Vitek Vanecek to replace Braden Holtby in goal for struggling Capitals

After the 5-2 Game 2 loss to the New York Islanders Friday night in a Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series, Rob Carlin asked the Caps Postgame Live crew how they would fix Washington's error-ridden performances seen in the first round so far. 

Brent Johnson knows the pressures that comes with playing in net during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but that doesn't mean he'll sympathize with the end results. As a goaltender for the Capitals for four seasons in the mid-2000s, Johnson has vast experience with the ups and downs that come with the position. But he had a pretty radical answer to Carlin's question: Bench veteran goalie Braden Holtby, the man who helped Washington win a Stanley Cup in 2018, for a rookie who has never played in a regular-season NHL game: Vitek Vanecek. 

"I know how they can shake it up. I know how they can shake it up. Right?" Johnson said. "Vitek Vanecek. Right there. That’s it. Hey. You know what? Bold decision. Bold decision. Do something bold. You never know. I’ve seen it happen in the playoffs thus far."

To call for Washington's veteran netminder to take a seat on the bench for a rookie who hasn't even played in the NHL yet is more than bold. Johnson's proclamation left Carlin yelling "Whoa!" and fellow panelist Al Koken saying he didn't know how to top that one. Alan May simply smiled and shook his head. 

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The Capitals wouldn't be in this position at all had rookie Ilya Samsonov never gotten injured during the long NHL break back home in Russia in an off-ice incident. The 23-year-old had a breakout season for Washington to get in the rotation in what's been an up-and-down year for Holtby. Samsonov had a .913 save percentage and won 16 of his 26 games in net this season. Vanecek, on the other hand, just got called up for the postseason after playing all season for the AHL's Hersey Bears.  

Nonetheless, the Caps have to figure out something to get a spark going for Game 3 against the Isles at noon Sunday. Johnson's solution was by far the most radical suggested, but everyone agreed changes needed to be made or the season could end far sooner than anyone anticipated. 

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Capitals 'hoping' Nicklas Backstrom can play in Game 3 vs. Islanders, but status remains uncertain

Capitals 'hoping' Nicklas Backstrom can play in Game 3 vs. Islanders, but status remains uncertain

While Capitals fans would take any good news they can get after the team fell behind 2-0 to the Islanders in a 5-2 loss on Friday night, there was no concrete update on center Nicklas Backstrom’s injury status postgame.

Washington coach Todd Reirden said he was hopeful for Backstrom’s return in Game 3 against New York on Sunday in Toronto. That was about all he was providing to reporters after the game. 

After a late hit from Islanders captain Anders Lee, Backstrom left Game 1 early and was ruled out for Game 2 as he remained in concussion protocol. Backstrom’s teammates and coaches were displeased by the late hit, calling it “dirty” and “predatory” after the fact.

The Caps struggled on Friday without Backstrom in an all-around sloppy performance. Reirden commented on the impact of losing the star center following Game 2.

“Without Backstrom, it's not an easy situation and getting Lars Eller back in there for the first time after being away from the bubble for a little bit, we have some adversity,” Reirden said. “We have to fight through. It's not going to happen easily. It never does, and we have to put more work in and match that and compete to give ourselves a chance to have some of our skill be more present in the game."

Now trailing 2-0 in the first round, the Capitals have to turn things around quickly if they hope to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Having Backstrom back on the ice for Game 3 would certainly make their troubles easier. That is far from certain right now. 

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