Photo: Gregg Forwick/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals can extend their First Round series lead to 3-1 with a win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Thursday night. After taking the first two games at home, the Capitals got crushed by a score of 5-0 in Game 3. Game 4 can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NBCSN for viewers outside of the DMV beginning at 7 PM ET. Here are five keys for the Capitals for Game 4:
1. More Shots
The Capitals have been limited to 18 shots twice in this series, including Game 3 on Monday. Their average of 23 shots per game through the first three games is the fewest among playoff teams by four shots entering Thursday.
Forwards Tom Wilson (four), Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Carl Hagelin, and Brett Connolly and defenseman Matt Niskanen (three each) and forward Jakub Vrana (two) all have fewer than five shots through the first three games of the series. Captain Alex Ovechkin (11) and center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson (10 each) are the only Capitals’ players to hit the double-digit mark in terms of shots.
Fortunately for the Capitals, Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek’s .897 save percentage is the fourth-worst in the postseason, so they need to pressure him more and get some high-quality scoring opportunities. If they create havoc in front, the Capitals will find more success hitting the back of the net.
Since scoring on their first two power-plays of the series, the Capitals have gone 0-for-10 on the man advantage. They had a five-minute power-play in Game 2 when forward Michael Ferland hit center Nic Dowd up high but were not able to create any scoring chances.
The Capitals need to start shooting the puck more and to create some sustained offensive zone time to challenge the Hurricanes’ penalty-kill, which finished eighth in the NHL with an efficiency of 81.6% during the regular season. The Capitals certainly have the weapons to turn Carolina’s penalty-kill from a strength to a weakness, but they need to make them defend in their own zone.
3. Second Line vs. Aho
With the Hurricanes back on home-ice, head coach Rod Brind’Amour opted to match center Sebastian Aho’s line with forwards Nino Niederreiter and Teuvo Teravainen against the Capitals’ second line of Backstrom, Oshie, and Vrana for Game 3.
The Hurricanes’ top-line combined for two assists and seven shots in Game 3 while Backstrom and Oshie were each a -1 and held to just four shots. They must do a better job of limiting Aho and his winger’s chances in Game 4 to have success.
While Backstrom and Oshie are dangerous forwards who can bring a lot to the table offensively, part of the reason they mesh so well is their play away from the puck. Those two, as well as Vrana, must do their job in shutting down the opponent’s top-line in Game 4. If Carolina’s top trio is shut down for most of the night, they will have a very tough time tying the series.
4. Silence The Crowd Early
The crowd at PNC Arena was loud for the Hurricanes’ first Stanley Cup Playoff game in a decade and the team thrived on that energy. The Capitals got off to a good start in Game 3 but tumbled after the Hurricanes struck first 9:43 into the game. Once Carolina struck first, the crowd kept pouring on the energy.
To take the crowd out of the contest, the Capitals need to pressure the Hurricanes in their own zone. For the Capitals, scoring the first goal of the game will be the best way to take the energy out of the building. If they score first, the Capitals will have to keep building momentum to plant some doubt among the crowd in Raleigh.
5. Pressure Carolina’s Forwards
The Hurricanes are likely to be without forwards Andrei Svechnikov, who left Game 3 to undergo concussion protocol after getting knocked out by Ovechkin in the first period, and Michael Ferland, who left shortly after following an attempt to hit Wilson. With two of Carolina’s best forwards out, the Capitals will have to force the Hurricanes’ forwards to defend.
If the Capitals wear out Carolina’s young forwards, that would be a major plus as some of them might still have trouble in their own end. The Capitals will need to hang onto the puck and have strong passing. If they can do that, then they will have a good chance of pushing the Hurricanes to the brink with a chance to advance to Round 2 on Saturday at home.
While the Hurricanes have some dynamic talent up front in Aho and Teravainen, they do not match the scoring depth that the Capitals have. If the Capitals’ forwards are better than the Hurricanes’, it will give Carolina fits in Game 4.
In an effort to generate some more offense ahead of Game 4, the Capitals made some line changes during practice on Wednesday, moving TJ Oshie up to the top line and dropping Tom Wilson to the second. In addition, Andrew Burakovsky was promoted to the third line, with Carl Hagelin — who has been strong on the PK but has struggled offensively, slots in on the fourth line.
Capitals’ Game 4 Projected Lineup
Caps in practice:
So, there are some changes.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 17, 2019
Hurricanes’ Game 4 Projected Lineup
Hurricanes practice lines and D today:
Extra: de Haan-Bean
Svechnikov (concussion protocol)
Ferland (upper body)
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) April 17, 2019
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) April 17, 2019
By Harrison Brown