When the Capitals win without Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom contributing offensively, they are viewed as a well-balanced team capable of going the distance.
When they lose without Ovechkin and Backstrom finding the score sheet, they are viewed as the same old Capitals. Stop the dynamic duo, stop the Caps.
Entering tonight’s Game 6 at Verizon Center, Ovechkin has gone three games without a point, while Backstrom has gone four.
“Every coach in the world will tell you your best players have to be your best players,” Trotz said before the game. “They’ve contributed in this series [Ovechkin with goals in Games 1 and 2 and Backstrom with a key assist in Game 1] but they’re getting checked very well. They’re going head-to-head against some very good defensemen and forwards.”
From the start of the series Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has designated Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi as his shutdown defense pairing, while alternating his top two forward lines – the top line of Derick Brassard between Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis and the second line of Derek Stepan between Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast -- against Ovechkin, Backstrom and Joel Ward.
In the past three games the Caps’ top line has spent many shifts in its defensive zone, where Ovechkin, while improved, is still a liability.
“That’s why you’ve got to rely on everybody,” Trotz said. “That’s one thing we’ve tried to do in our culture since I’ve come here. We’ve got to find different ways to do it. If it’s not Backy and Ovi, then it’s someone else. We’re hoping tonight one of our four lines really step up.”
The Caps also want to dictate the pace in the first period for a change, using the energy of the crowd to ignite an early barrage on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who, since 2012, is 12-3 when facing playoff elimination. The Rangers have outscored opponents 7-2 in the first period during these playoffs. The Caps have been outscored 7-5.
“It’s been a while,” Trotz when asked the last time the Caps were the hammer and their opponents the anvil to start a game. “We’ve got to get back to playing a little bit of Caps hockey When you play a series the length of this one and last one you find different nuances of each opponent. They found some of ours, we found some of theirs.”
One thing the Rangers showed in Game 5 was patience in their shot selection. That was apparent on their overtime game-winner when Stepan passed up a shot because Curtis Glencross and Mike Green took away his shooting lane. Instead, he dropped a pass for McDonagh for the game-wnner.
“My initial thought is shot,” Stepan said, “but there was too much traffic.”