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Justin Green breaks down the “game tape” and assesses how the Capitals dominated in last night’s 7-1 blowout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins’ Time and Space was Taken Away
Washington’s game plan was drastically different in their matchup against the Penguins last night. Compared to the rest of the season, the Capitals did not allow their opposition’s offense to have the time and space that they wanted to have, and it forced the Pens to make bad decisions in the Caps’ zone. Panic play by the Penguins allowed the Caps’ defense to read the plays easier, and allowed them to get into a position to force a turnover.
Washington had a Strong Finish Against a Team that Dominates the Third Period
Before last night’s game, the Penguins had only allowed eight goals in the third period in the 15 games that they had played. Against the Capitals last night, however, they gave up three goals in the final 20 minutes of play, beginning with a five-on-three goal scored by Justin Williams. The Penguins are a very good team when it comes to playing catch-up hockey, but the Caps didn’t allow them to regain any momentum when the third period started.
A Frustrated Penguins Team Took Bad Penalties
The Capitals had a total of seven powerplay attempts in the matchup last night, and were able to finish on two of them. Because Washington took an early lead and played aggressively in every zone, the Penguins got frustrated early on, and they ended up taking bad penalties. To make matters worse for Pittsburgh, it wasn’t depth players who were taking the majority of the penalties. Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel both had two PIMs, and Malkin had six PIMs before the night was over. By frustrating their star players, the Caps were able to neutralize the strongest parts of the Penguins’ offense.
Last night, the Capitals displayed the most aggression on the ice than any other game so far this season. Every time the Penguins went to the man advantage, the penalty killers were all over the man with the puck. The Caps were able to force turnovers, and then were able to make plays on the turnovers they forced. T.J. Oshie’s short-handed goal was evidence of this. Time and space were taken away from Malkin on the Pens’ man-advantage, and a turnover was forced. The puck was then tipped past Letang and all of a sudden Beagle was racing away on a breakaway against Murray. Many times last night, the Caps were off to the races on an odd-man-break due to their aggressive defense breaking up plays at the point the Penguins tried to make. In the offensive zone as well, the Capitals crashed the net and forced their way into the middle of the zone to generate plays. Aggression was the biggest reason the Caps won last night’s game by a six goal margin.
The Caps’ Powerplay is Built to be Effective Against the Penguins
On the powerplay, Washington generally plays the perimeter until they can make a move to the center to get quality shots on net. The Penguins’ penalty kill is built so that one man puts pressure on the puck holder to force a bad play, but the Caps passing plays in the offensive zone are typically effective when the penalty killers can be broken up from the center. By playing their game, the Caps were able to loosen up the Pens’ zone control in the center of the offensive zone, and thus were able to score two critical powerplay goals.
Evgeny Kuznetsov aside, the Capitals dominated the faceoff circle against the Penguins. Even Lars Eller, who has had a rough time in the faceoff circle, was able to win 58% of his faceoff attempts last night. Eller and Beagle, who are two key Caps penalty killers, both had amazing faceoff wins at crucial moments when the Caps were shorthanded, allowing Washington to clear the puck and kill off more penalty time.
The Caps weren’t Afraid of Shooting the Puck
Caps fans are familiar with the frustration of their team trying to make pretty plays instead of just shooting the puck to create scoring opportunities. Last night, even the guys on the team like Backstrom who primarily pass the puck, took shots on net. The Caps totaled 36 shots by the end of the 60 minute game, and all but two players on the team generated at least one shot on net. By having many different shooters from many different angles, the Caps were able to keep the Penguins confused while on the attack, and were able to generate many different scoring opportunities.
Passes were Connecting
All over the ice, the Capitals were able to make their passes connect. On the breakout, the Caps were calm and were able to make the passes connect through the neutral zone. The movement the Caps generated opened up the center of the ice, and because of that, there were more passing opportunities than in recent games. One of the biggest reasons the Caps lose games is because they can’t make the passing plays to set up a good offense, but that was no problem for the Washington squad against the Penguins.
The Caps played a Full 60 Minute Game
The biggest struggle for the Caps at the end of last season and the beginning of most of the games this season is the inability to play a full 60 minutes. There always seems to be a five or ten minute lapse where the Caps allow their opponents to get back into the game. However, last night the Caps never gave the Penguins an opportunity to strike back. Because of their consistency in play, and their continued assault on the Penguins’ defense, Washington kept the momentum all game and never let the Penguins have a chance to come back. Because of their ability to play the full game to their potential, the Caps dominated all 60 minutes.
By Justin Green