Looking To Get Even –
The Caps and the Maple Leafs are back at work on Wednesday night in Toronto, set to go at it in Game 4 of their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series. Each of the first three games of this series have gone to overtime, and Toronto has won each of the last two to take a 2-1 series lead into Wednesday’s game.
Wednesday’s game is a big one for Washington. Win it, and the series is even, it becomes a best-of-three set, and the Capitals regain the home ice advantage. Lose it, and the Caps match a franchise record for consecutive road losses in the playoffs, and they head home knowing they must win three straight games – including one in Toronto – just to keep their season alive.
“Nothing really needs to be said,” says Caps right wing Justin Williams. “You’re down 2-1 in the series; there it is. You go back home and make it a best-of-three on your home ice. That’s the goal, and that’s the one focus we have.”
“It’s important for us to get off to a good start here tonight,” says Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “We’re in a good situation and we want to keep it that way. We’ve got to start fast.”
When one team leads a series 2-1 after three games, a two-game swing occurs with the results of Game 4. Either the series is even 2-2 or one team has a two-game lead at 3-1.
“We’re going to try to play our best game, best game of the year,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. “There is a lot of incentive obviously, and a lot of urgency here. We know if we do some things better, we’re going to have a great chance of success here tonight.”
The Caps are making one lineup adjustment for Wednesday’s Game 4. Tom Wilson will slide up to the right side of Lars Eller’s line, and Andre Burakovsky will move from the right to the left side on the same unit. Brett Connolly will skate the right side of a line with Jay Beagle in the middle and Daniel Winnik on the left.
Shoot ‘Em Up –
After launching 94 shots at the Toronto nets in the first two games of the series, the Caps managed just 26 shots on net in Monday’s Game 3. Worse, the Caps went more than 14 minutes without a shot on goal from late in the second period to late in the third. And the four shots on net the Capitals did muster over the final 21 minutes of the game all came from long distance and weren’t threatening at all.
The Caps had nothing going on offensively in the third period of Monday’s Game 3, but they did author several strong and sustained offensive zone shifts over the first 40 minutes of that contest. Washington is at its best when it is playing in the attack zone, cycling pucks, forechecking, working from low to high and generating looks and scoring chances.
In Monday’s game, it seemed as though too many of those shifts were going by without pucks getting toward the net and on Andersen.
“I think we’re getting the pucks there,” says Caps left wing Marcus Johansson. “I just think we need some more bodies in front to make it a little hard on him. We’re doing the right things except for that. If we get a little more traffic and find those second pucks more, I think that is going to help us a lot.”
Even on offensive zone shifts where the Caps do not generate shots or manufacture scoring chances, there is value. The Leafs are playing in their own end of the ice, and there can be a long-term erosive effect on a defense if it spends most of its night chasing in its own end. But shots are obviously needed to score, and that should be a focus in Game 4.
“I think we had that sustained pressure,” says Caps center Lars Eller. “We had a lot of zone time and we had a lot of good looks. But I think we can do an even better job of taking [Andersen’s] eyes away a little bit and getting second opportunities. [Evgeny Kuznetsov’s] goal is a good example of just shooting any chance you can get, and getting to that rebound. We’ve done a lot of good, but we can be even better.”
“Part of our DNA is that we do have some [offensive] zone time,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “And then you’ve got to deliver the pill a little bit more. There is not a bad shot in the playoffs, so we’ve got to put more pucks on net. We’ve got to make it a little tougher on Andersen in terms of making him a little more busy, and we intend to do that.”
Fighting The Forecheck –
Toronto tied Monday’s game with two goals in the final five minutes of the second period, and both of those goals were forechecking goals. The Leafs boast a group of talented and diverse forwards, and they’re capable of creating some great scoring chances off the rush. But the Leafs have shown themselves to be a strong forechecking team in this series, too.
“We’ve got to keep the puck out of our end,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “We made a poor decision on the late [second period] goal, and we just had too many people duplicating. Just do your own job.”
The Caps permitted just 113 five-on-five goals during the 2016-17 regular season, the lowest total in the NHL in the last three seasons. But they’ve surrendered eight such goals in the first three games of this series, and have had difficulty getting out of their own end of the ice cleanly at times.
“We’ve got to close a little quicker on them, take their time and space away,” says Eller. “There were times where we gave them too much room to skate, and when we do that, they look good. You’ve got to give them credit; they have skill but we can do a lot better job of taking their time and space away early, like we did in big parts of the game. We just have to do it for 60 minutes.”
“I think just be a little more detailed,” says Johansson. “Move a little bit quicker and be a little more detailed. Most of the game, we’re doing that and we’re getting out a little easier and getting a little more offense out of it. We’ve just got to do that more consistently and we’ll be good.”
The added bonus of stunting the Toronto forecheck is that it enables the Washington blueline corps to get the Caps’ offense going from there in a cleaner and smoother fashion.
“Good puck support is the biggest thing,” says Niskanen. “Just get back quickly, and then take what’s there. There are open areas on the ice at all times. You’ve just got to find them. And then have everybody on the same page. If you have to grind it out of the zone, then that’s what you’ve got to do. But doing good things with the puck to limit our time in our zone is important.”
In The Nets –
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby has permitted four goals in each of the last two games, the first time he has surrendered as many as four tallies in consecutive playoff games in nearly four years. Back on May 6-8, 2013, Holtby allowed four goals in consecutive 4-3 losses to the Rangers in New York. Those losses came in Games 3 and 4 of that series after Washington had won the first two games at Verizon Center.
Holtby will be making his 50
career playoff start on Wednesday night in Toronto. He is 23-26 lifetime with a 1.93 GAA and a .936 save pct. He has a .739 quality start pct. in postseason play during the course of his NHL career, as compared to .605 in the regular season. Each of Holtby’s losses in this series have come in overtime, and he is now 2-6 in his last eight playoff overtime games, dating back to May 8.
For the Leafs, Frederik Andersen is back in the nets for Game 4. Andersen has fashioned a .925 save pct. and a 2.47 GAA in the first three games, while Holtby’s numbers are .914 and 2.74, respectively.
All Lined Up –
Here is how we expect the Capitals and the Maple Leafs to look when they take the ice for Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Wednesday night in Toronto:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 10-Connolly
27-Alzner (upper body)
11-Hyman, 34-Matthews, 29-Nylander
47-Komarov, 43-Kadri, 12-Brown
25-van Riemsdyk, 42-Bozak, 16-Marner
15-Martin, 24-Boyle, 28-Kapanen
19-Lupul (sports hernia surgery)
23-Fehr (upper body)
46-Polak (lower body)