Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images
Despite needing an overtime win to end the game last night in Chicago, the Caps had one of their best games of the season. Here are ten reasons why they played so well:
The Caps Forced Crawford to Move East to West
All of the Washington Capitals’ goals last night were scored because they forced Corey Crawford to move laterally in his crease. Crawford, who recorded two shutouts and a 1.00 GAA in the six games leading up to last night’s matchup, allowed three goals last night for the first time since October 21st.
Second Chances were Disallowed in the Caps’ Zone
The Blackhawks came into last night’s game with a seven game winning streak. Chicago has one of the best offensive teams in the league, and a lot of their goals come from skilled puck movement and defensive activation in their opponents’ zone. The Capitals were able to clear the puck better in this game than they have in the past, and Holtby was great with rebound control.
Braden Holtby had a Fantastic Lateral Game
Holtby had more than one moment last night where he had to make a key save to prevent the Blackhawks from either tying the game or taking the lead. Chicago had 34 shots last night, and only two of them beat the Capitals’ net-minder, both of which came a man-up for the Blackhawks.
Washington’s Zone Breakout Passes Connected
This year, the Capitals have been struggling to complete passes breaking out of their own zone and in the neutral zone. Against Chicago last night, the Caps had some beautiful passing plays that led to strong offensive chances. The Caps’ defense tallied three assists last night and helped tremendously with the Capitals’ offensive plays from all over the ice, including a diving play in the neutral zone by Matt Niskanen which led to Washington’s first short-handed goal of the season.
The Caps’ Aggressive Defense Broke up Many Chicago Passing Plays
One of the best ways to beat the Blackhawks is to not allow them to develop their offensive plays. Before last night’s game, the Blackhawks were second in the goals-per-game category, averaging 3.43, second only to the New York Rangers. Washington wasn’t afraid to go after Chicago in their own zone and were able to poke the puck away and take away passing lanes from the Blackhawks. This led to many opportunities, including two breakaways in the second period which could have easily made the game four to one before the third period.
Washington Only had Three Giveaways all Game
Before last night, the Caps averaged 11.5 giveaways per game, usually due to poor passing plays or forced breakouts. Against Chicago, however, the Capitals only had three giveaways in the entire 62 minutes and 20 seconds that they played.
Chicago’s Star Players were Shut Down
Caps fans are used to seeing teams double team guys like Alexander Ovechkin on the powerplay because they know he’s a key goal scorer on the team. Last night, the Caps were able to do something similar to the Blackhawks. Neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews were able to record a point last night, and both of them had a negative +/- rating by the end of the game.
The Capitals Didn’t Rely on Any One Line
Washington’s top three lines got about equal ice time in the game last night. No one on the Caps’ offense got more than 20 minutes of ice time last night. One very basic thing that this allows for is to keep the top lines fresh so that they can play a faster paced game. Chicago’s first line of Panarin-Toews-Kane all racked up over 20 minutes of ice time last night.
Offensive Zone Movement
Despite not having any powerplay opportunities against the Blackhawks, the Caps were able to set up their offensive plays all night. Against a Chicago defense that doesn’t allow many goals, the Caps stayed dynamic to keep the play moving and the puck alive when they were on the attack.
One of the hardest working players on the Capitals had a phenomenal game against Chicago. Beagle was able to record two goals in the first period to get his third ever two-goal-game, including a short handed goal on a beautiful saucer pass from T.J. Oshie. Beagle’s quickness and speed led to an odd-man break on the penalty kill and allowed him to score a perfect wraparound, beating Crawford to the far post. All of the players on the fourth line ended last night’s game with a positive +/- rating.
By Justin Green