F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 04/12/12 at 05:08 PM ET
While it may have been in doubt during the closing weeks of the regular season, the Capitals do begin a playoff series tonight against the 2nd ranked Boston Bruins. While this will mark the 5th consecutive year that the Capitals will be a part of the playoffs, it is the first time since 2003 that they will enter the playoffs as a lower seed. That time around the Capitals were unable to hold onto a 2-0 game lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and eventually bowed out in 6 games, thanks to a Martin St. Louis triple overtime goal at the MCI Center. An interesting note, 10 players who suited up for Tampa in that series still play in the NHL, while only Jeff Halpern and Dainus Zubrus remain of the Capitals’ players.
This time around the Capitals have the daunting task of trying to dispatch the defending Stanley Cup champs. Here is just a quick stat comparison of the teams and respective leaders. Parentheses note rank in league.
Washington: 42-32-8: 92 points
Boston: 49-29-4: 102 points
Washington: 2.66/game (14th)
Boston: 3.17/game (3rd)
Washington: 2.76/game (21st)
Boston: 2.43/game (6th)
Washington: 16.7% (T-18th)
Boston: 17.2 % (T-14th)
Washington: 81.6% (T-20th)
Boston: 83.5% (11th)
Leading Goal Scorer:
Alex Ovechkin: 38 goals
Tyler Seguin: 29 goals
Alex Ovechkin: 65 points
Tyler Seguin: 67 points
Joel Ward: +12
Patrice Bergeron: +36
Dennis Wideman: 46 points
Zdeno Chara: 52 points
TOI Leader :
Dennis Wideman: 23:54/game
Zdeno Chara: 25:00/game
Braden Holtby: 4-2-1/2.49/.922/1 SO
Tim Thomas: 35-19-1/2.36/.920/5 SO
To say that the Washington Capitals have an uphill battle appears to be a bit of an understatement. Boston is not really deficient in any area of the game. They are more than happy to grind down the Capitals’ forwards and win a bunch of 2-1 games. That being said, the Capitals are certainly looking better these days. They no longer look like the team that will take it on the chin and go home with their tails between their legs.
The biggest match-up in this game will obviously be the line of Ovechkin-Laich-Brouwer vs the defensive pairing of Chara and Seidenberg. It is no secret that Ovechkin will have to be at his absolute best if the Caps are going to pull off this upset. I would also assume that the line of Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin will also see a large amount of ice time opposite the Washington captain. With those 5 on the ice for the Bruins, Ovechkin is going to have to fight for every inch of ice in the offensive zone. Knowing this, Hunter has already changed the lines that helped them down the stretch. While Ovechkin skated mostly with Johansson and Laich down the stretch, he is projected to skate alongside Laich and Brouwer in game 1. Hopefully Brouwer and Laich will free up some space for Ovechkin. We all must just hope that Ovechkin can keep the puck down and his stick in one piece when he gets a chance.
The obvious benefit of playing Laich and Brouwer with Ovechkin is that it allows Backstrom, Semin, and Johansson to see some time against a little easier opposition, not that it is much easier. In the regular season finale in New York, we finally got a chance to see Backstrom play at a level close to where he was before the concussion. His line with Semin and Chimera should stick together for tonight’s contest. The speed on that line could be deadly, but they have to establish net presence, which will fall on Chimera’s shoulder. If Chimera, or somebody, cannot maintain position in front of Thomas, this line will not succeed. If Semin fails to produce in this series, it could be the last time he wears Capitals Red or White.
It is clear that Tim Thomas could very well be the difference maker in this series. The Caps love to create opportunities from point shots. I don’t think there is a goalie in the league that sets up further from the crease than Thomas. Anybody that watched the series with Vancouver last year knows how aggravating it was for the Canucks that Thomas was constantly outside of the crease. This is where guys like Hendricks and Beagle will play huge parts in this series. If Thomas wants to challenge outside of the crease, then he is going to have to deal with Beagle, Hendricks, Knuble, and Ward being in his way.
This also means I don’t see where playing a guy like Keith Aucoin serves any purpose. Aucoin has been a serviceable replacement in the latter half of the season, but he is going to get blown away by the Bruins. Even though Ward has not been playing well this season, his style of play will allow him to be better at grinding it out in the corners and poking away at rebounds. As of this morning, it looks as though Aucoin is going to start on the 4th line, with Knuble sitting, but I don’t see how he is going to have much of an impact of the game. Knuble should start in his place at some point in the series.
Even if the forwards can do their job, this series will ultimately fall on how the Caps play in their own zone. This has been their biggest struggle all year. Should the forwards spot them with a late lead, they have to be better at holding on to it. They cannot just sit back and play for Hendricks to win it in the shootout. I don’t see the issue coming against the Carlzner pairing. Carlson looks like he is finding his old form after being reunited with Alzner, who has been as steady as they come throughout the season.
The real issue will fall on Mike Green and Hamrlik. Neither of these players have played the way Caps fans were hoping at the outset of the season. Hamrlik consistently found himself in and out of the lineup during the heart of the season. While Green spent most of the season hurt, he has not played well since returning. I firmly expect to see the Bruins’ forwards repeatedly focus their dump-n-chase efforts to his corner of the ice. The area that Green has struggled the most is getting the puck out of his zone when he has to turn his back. If he struggles as I think he will at this, it will be crucial that whichever forwards are on the ice with Green make sure to not fly the zone too quickly. Guys like Marchand, Bergeron, Kelly, and Lucic do not need much time to convert a turnover into a ten bell scoring chance.
It appears as though the 3rd pairing will be comprised of Schultz and Wideman, at least for game one. I can only assume the replacement of Orlov by Schultz is solely because of size. If this is the case, I don’t quite get it as Schultz still has a tendency to play small at crucial moments. Most likely, he will see a lot of time against the Bruins’ 3rd and 4th lines. He absolutely must use his size or those grinders on the Bruins will absolutely tear him up. If the Caps cannot control the bottom lines, don’t expect much.
That leaves us with the biggest question mark of all in the Caps’ lineup: Goaltending. As much as I believe that Holtby will be a starting goaltender in this league, the fact is that he just is not one right now. He has exactly zero experience in the NHL playoffs. To make matters worse, he will have a baptism by fire as the Bruins will certainly be all over him. I cannot think of a single Bruin who is afraid to plant himself in the crease. Nearly every pundit out there has their 5 cents on how Holtby should play. For me, he needs to focus on just stopping the puck. I don’t see it as smart for him to play the puck with too much frequency. Frankly, if it comes down to Holtby having to stand on his head to win the series, the Caps are obviously not playing well.
We have seen the Caps flame out year after year when receiving a higher seed, effectively wasting perceived chances at the Cup. In return, the hockey gods have decided to punish them be forcing them play the defending Cup champs as a lower seed. We have heard the excuse ring out that previous failures were a result of securing a seed too early or the immense pressure of simply being a high seed being too much for them to handle. If they fail here, the only excuse is that they simply were not the better team. I do think this team has the ability to pull off the upset here. The question is if they have the heart. I think they will have moments of brilliance, but their lack of a killer instinct will eventually do them in. Bruins in 6.
Washington will win: Games 2 and 3
Boston will win: Games 1,4,5,6
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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate. This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals. The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.
In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at York College of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland.
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