F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 10/19/11 at 03:17 PM ET
For the first time in their 37-year history, the Washington Capitals have begun a season with 5 consecutive wins thanks to a 3-0 win over a much beleaguered Florida Panthers. Over this 5-game stretch, the Caps have netted 17 goals and only allowed 11. They are now 1 of only 3 teams in the Eastern Conference (with Philadelphia and Toronto) to remain undefeated in regulation thus far and are the only true undefeated team. While a 5-0-0 run is bound to contain multiple high points, the best sign during this run is that the Caps have gotten progressively better, particularly in their own end, shown by allowing only 1 goal over the past 2 games.
On Tuesday against Florida, the defense was as solid as it comes. They did not allow the Panthers a single shot on goal in the first 11+ minutes of the game, until finally Jovanovski threw one on goal from the neutral zone. The Capitals would head into the first intermission allowing only 2 shots on goal, thanks in large part to the defense blocking shots and getting the puck out quickly. By the end of the game, the Panthers only forced Vokoun to make 20 saves, with 9 of them coming in the third period after Florida threw more into the attack. The only 2 solid chances I saw were a Booth semi-breakaway and a weird bounce that left the puck directly in front of Vokoun.
Watching this game, I rarely heard Joe B or Locker talk about the defense, which is a great thing. If a defense is doing everything right, they tend to be referred to less than if they were playing shaky. In years past, the Caps’ blueliners have been dynamic. One minute you would hear about them creating a great scoring opportunity, and the next they were losing their marks. So far this year, they have been content with activating less and making sure not to give up odd man rushes the other way. Outside of the power play,the only guys who have really activated much have been Green and Carlson, and both are doing so at a lower frequency. Instead of simply joining the rush every time, they are sitting back and picking the most opportune times as evidenced by a 4-on-2 with the 4th line (85-15-26) that nearly resulted in a Mike Green goal.
After watching the Panthers go 5-9 on the power play against Tampa the night before, the Caps knew that it would be important to stay out of the box. The Caps ended up giving the Panthers 2 power play opportunities, but the Panthers clearly could not find enough energy with the extra man. In both instances, including a 3rd period chance, down 2-0, the Panthers simply could not get the puck into the Caps’ zone. Knowing that the Panthers were tired, the Caps’ penalty killers cranked up the pressure and forced the Panthers to play most of the man-up time in the neutral zone. I have the Caps credited with 9 clears, which equates to a clear every 26 seconds. If they can keep that up all year long, they should have one of the top kills in the league.
As I mentioned in the Penguins game breakdown, the way to get power plays is to simply outwork the opposing team until they are forced to take a penalty as a result of being tired and trying to cut corners. By that logic, the Caps should have had 5+ power plays in the game as opposed to the lone opportunity that they got early in the first with Upshall off for tripping Matt Hendricks in the neutral zone. That said, it was hard not to like what was seen in the lone chance. While moving Ovechkin to the slot is arguably not the best way to utilize his talent, it does improve the power play overall, as he is a magnet for defenders. The D seems to be acting more as distributors than goal-scorers, which should improve the total zone time during a power play and less shorthanded opportunities. With a visit to Philadelphia, the Caps should see more chances against a team that has already been shorthanded 30 times.
It is true that Florida was clearly exhausted from the Tampa game the night prior; a 3-0 victory is nothing to scoff at. Had the Caps found a way to connect on the cross-crease passes, they could have scored well over 5 goals. If there is one thing they need to work on between now and Thursday night, it is to improve their success rate when they have the puck within a foot of the crease. There is a huge gap in form between Florida and Philadelphia, so the Caps cannot afford to waste high quality chances time and time again. At some point, it is time to stop the pass and start crashing that crease.
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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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