Monday, March 28, 2016

Can the Caps regain their form for the playoffs?

The Caps huge lead in the playoff race has been deadly to their performance in the last two months. Their record is better than their performance. Can the Caps regain their form for the playoffs? As Coach Barry Trotz and others have stated, it is not that easy to turn it on for the playoffs after playing lackluster hockey for the two months before the playoffs.

The Caps play against good teams does not inspire confidence that they will last long in hockey’s second season. The Pittsburgh Penguins beat them by 4 goals in a 2-6 loss on March 20th. The St. Louis Blues pasted them for a 0-4 loss at home. They rarely beat the San Jose Sharks and continued that tradition on March 12th in a 2-5 loss.

Alex Ovechkin, with 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 11 games, is not producing at his usual scoring pace although he may still be nursing that nagging injury. Evgeny Kuznetsov is on a 4 game goal scoring drought and had a minus-4 performance in Pittsburgh, which followed his 3 assist night versus the Nashville Predators.

Dmitry Orlov needs to mature in a hurry. His outlet pass that turned into a giveaway against the Blue Jackets is an example of the little stuff he needs to clean up. Those types of plays will get the Caps scored on in the playoffs.   

T.J. Oshie is a critical component of this Caps team. He is the Energizer Bunny as Ovie says. He plays the game with an intensity that gets the rest of the Caps going. When he was out with flu like symptoms the prior two games against the New Jersey Devils and the St. Louis Blues, it was easy to see how much he is missed. The Caps need him at 100% throughout the playoffs.

Thankfully, John Carlson is back. He netted the game winner his first game back. It is obvious when Carlson is on the ice because the outlet passes out of the defensive zone are much stronger and get the Caps to the other side of the ice. The Caps need him to stay healthy.

The Caps have performed better in the first period in the last few games and won tonight against the 15th place Eastern Conference team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, which means they won it the Presidents' trophy. They also won it in 2010 and then bowed out in the first round. They need to remember that and keep getting in shape for the playoffs.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Third period Caps

Are the third period Caps going to be the ones playing in the playoffs? It is great for them to come from behind and win games by 1 goal as they try to motivate themselves to finish the regular season, but coming from behind is harder in the playoffs.

The Caps lead their division by 18-points in the standings with 14 games left and they play like it. They give up the first goal with stunning regularity, leading games after the first period just twice in their last 22 games. Then, they play well enough in the third period or during the overtime period or the shootout to come back and win the game most of the time.

The comeback did not work out so well against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night when the Caps lost by three goals. The concern is that the slow starts become an ingrained habit that is not so easy to shake once the playoffs start.

Teams are giving the Caps everything they have got, as is natural when they are playing against the top team in the league. But, effort level of the opponent goes up in the playoffs, not down, so the Caps need to weather the barrages better. The intensity level will continue to increase.

The relentless schedule of games, made worse by two make up games due to the Washington D.C. blizzard the weekend of January 22, 2016, has not helped. The Caps have had 5-6 games in hand on most teams in the league until the 7 games in 12 days spurt that ended in San Jose.

The nagging injuries, including Alex Ovechkin’s are also worrying, particularly, as he goes into a 5-game goal scoring slump. John Carlson is skating and is expected to be back on the ice towards the end of March, but he has been out more than in this season. New players have jointed the Caps in former Toronto Maple Leafs Daniel Winnik and former Buffalo Sabre Mike Weber. Injuries and new line mates messes up the chemistry and takes time to mesh.

Coach Barry Trotz mixes up the line when things get stale and the Caps play too cute so the expectation is that will continue versus the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow. That game will give the Caps, new lines or not, another opportunity to score first, for a change, and come back from an overall mini performance slump. One month left…

Let’s go Caps!

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