Scene Shifts – Two games into their first-round playoff series, the Caps and the Columbus Blue Jackets now move several hundred miles west to Ohio’s capital city for the next two tilts in the series.
Each of the first two contests required overtime, and Columbus prevailed in both to carry a 2-0 series lead back home for Games 3 and 4. Washington squandered a trio of two-goal leads in the first five periods of the series, and it surrendered the game-tying tally to the Jackets on the power play in each of the first two games of the series.
While Columbus charts some previously uncharted territory in leading a playoff series for the first time in its history, the Caps find themselves in all too familiar waters. They’re down 2-0 after hosting the first two games of a series for the second time in as many series, and they’ve been down either 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1 in each of four straight playoff series now.
No team sets out to fall down and to be chasing a playoff series, but the Caps do have a significant amount of recent experience in that regard. Can that be useful to them as they chase the Jackets here in Columbus these next two games?
“There is a lot of hockey left,” says Caps winger Tom Wilson. “You obviously look at this game as a pivotal game and a do-or-die game, but there is a lot of hockey left. We know that and I think that’s the message in the room – stay patient. We’ve got to play our game; we don’t want to get away from our script.
“We’ve played good hockey. It’s just little plays here and there that have changed the game, and we’ve had leads. We’re confident in our plan and we’re confident in our group. I think if we manage the game a little bit better, then we’re going to have a better outcome. It’s a big game. If we get this one, it’s a tight series. We’ll work on that and focus on tonight. That’s about it.”
“I think we believe in each other, and that’s the most important thing,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “Right now, every team that’s losing in a series, they still believe [they can win]. It’s not over until a different team gets four wins. We believe in each other, we believe in what we’re doing and if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re going to bounce back.”
Power Outage – Both teams have put up crooked numbers on the power play in the first two games of this series, and one of the reasons for the plethora of power play goals has been the lack of discipline on both sides. The Jackets have been shorthanded 13 times to eight for the Caps in the series to date, and both teams are probably taxing their respective penalty killing outfits more than they would prefer to at this point.
“I think both coaches are saying the same thing,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “I think both have been successful on the power play. Where we need to correct is the timing of our penalties. We haven’t taken as many, but the timing of our penalties has been very unnecessary and untimely, and it put us in a position to give the momentum back, and [the Jackets] have taken advantage of those opportunities to get the momentum back. We’ve got to make sure that when you get that momentum, you keep the momentum. You push the other team out, and we haven’t done that. That’s on us.”
Striving At Five-on-Five – During the 2017-18 regular season, the Caps were 46-4-4 when scoring three or more goals. They’ve scored three or more in each of the first two games of this series, only to lose both.
While Washington has outscored the Jackets 5-4 on special teams in the first two games, Columbus owns a 5-2 advantage over the Caps at even-strength. Scoring at even-strength has been a long-term and ongoing problem for Washington at this time of year, and 2018 is proving to be no exception.
Dating back to last spring’s playoffs, the Caps have tallied just two goals at even strength in their last 205 minutes and 55 seconds worth of playoff hockey. Washington’s top six has been silent at even strength over that span; the two goals have come from Devante Smith-Pelly and Jay Beagle, bottom-sixers both.
“I think we’ve had pretty good chances,” says Ovechkin of his line. “I think we play well, but anytime when you look at the video or you look at the game, we have to know exactly what to do, especially with the puck.
“We know exactly what we have to do. We just have to simplify our game, and it’s going to help.”
The Caps have been guilty of overpassing at times in the offensive zone and on the rush, so if “simplifying” means “getting pucks to he net,” that’s probably good. Some second chances would help, too. The Caps had 58 shots on net in Sunday’s Game 2, but precious few of them were rebound chances, while the Jackets won the game on a rebound goal.
“You ask guys around the room and myself,” says Wilson, “if you think back on a playoff game, if you could have played a little better, maybe the outcome would have been different. I had that feeling in Game 2.
“I felt I was playing well, but there were a couple of little plays where if you play a little bit better, it changes the fate of the game. You’ve got to control those moments, you’ve got to be clutch, you’ve got to make sure that the right plays are made and that you take advantage of opportunity, because it’s pretty tight in the playoffs and you don’t get that opportunity very often.
“Our line has got to be better, for sure. We’ve been a little bit perimeter. We’ve got to do a better job of controlling the offensive zone. We always have chances off the rush; we’ve got to make sure that we’re developing stuff in [the offensive] zone and make it a little bit harder on the line and the [defensemen] that we’re playing against.”
The Capitals are 9-14 in the playoffs when they don’t score on the PP in the Trotz era. They’re 17-34 when they don’t score on the power play in the playoffs during the Ovechkin era.
Ch-Ch-Ch Changes – The Caps lost winger Andre Burakovsky to an upper body injury early in Game 2. Burakovsky did not make he trip to Columbus and he won’t play in either of these next two games, at a minimum. Jakub Vrana draws back into the lineup in Burakovsky’s absence.
Jakub Jerabek played each of the first two games of this series as Brooks Orpik’s partner on the right side of Washington’s third defensive pairing. Jerabek collected his first career playoff point on Sunday, assisting on Jay Beagle’s first-period goal, but Jerabek will sit out Tuesday’s game in favor of Christian Djoos, who will make his Stanley Cup playoff debut tonight against Columbus.
In The Nets – Philipp Grubauer started each of the first two games of the series for Washington, but after permitting eight goals – half of them on the power play – in the first five periods of the series, Grubauer yielded the net to Braden Holtby.
Holtby, whose streak of 37 straight postseason starts came to a halt in Game 1, finished up Game 2 by stopping seven of the eight shots he faced but getting tagged with the loss on Matt Calvert’s rebound goal in overtime.
Holtby will be in the crease for the Caps at the outset of tonight’s game against Columbus. Lifetime in the playoffs, Holtby is 29-31 with four shutouts, a 2.00 GAA and a .932 save pct. Over the course of his career against Columbus, Holtby is 14-4-2 with a shutout, a 2.62 GAA and a .914 save pct.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been dented for seven goals in the first two games of this series, but he is also the primary reason that Columbus comes home with a 2-0 advantage in this series. Bobrovsky made 54 saves in Sunday’s 5-4 overtime victory in Game 2, and he stopped 40 of 41 shots he faced at even strength.
It’s still quite early in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the sample sizes are still quite small, but Bobrovsky’s .966 save pct. at even strength is third best among all starting goalies in the playoffs. He trails only San Jose’s Martin Jones (.986) and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury (.974) in that department.
For the first time in his Stanley Cup playoff career, Bobrovsky enters Tuesday’s Game 2 with a winning streak. He has won two straight games and three of his last four in the postseason.
All Lined Up – Here is how we expect the Caps and the Blue Jackets to look when they take to the ice on Tuesday night for Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 25-Smith-Pelly
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
65-Burakovsky (upper body)
13-Atkinson, 18-Dubois, 9-Panarin
38-Jenner, 71-Foligno, 26-Vanek
22-Milano, 17-Dubinsky, 77-Anderson
11-Calvert, 55-Letestu, 28-Bjorkstrand
10-Wennberg (upper body)