Even with the lineup tweaks, the Caps struggled to win board battles and solidify an offensive zone presence. The score ended up being much closer than it probably should have been, primarily due to Braden Holtby’s commendable performance between the pipes.
Following the Game 3 loss, the Capitals are now on the brink of elimination, with a 3-0 series deficit. Only four teams in NHL history have come back and completed the reverse sweep, the most recent of which came in the first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs when the Los Angeles Kings reverse swept the Sharks en route to their second Stanley Cup.
The Caps have the odds stacked against them and their play at even strength isn’t exactly comforting.
This game felt a lot like a continuation of the first two games in the series at even strength. The Islanders were suffocating the Caps at even strength, and Varlamov had his second game of the series where he did not give up an even strength marker.
The Isles owned every analytical success marker. They hemmed the Caps into their defensive zone, wearing down the top talent on the Caps. They generated more scoring chances and high danger scoring chances off of counterattacks and their aggressive forecheck.
The Capitals need to neutralize the forecheck by flipping the script on the Islanders. Instead of trying to set up skill plays, the Caps need to work along the boards and try to generate chances off of the cycle.
If the Caps can rack up considerable zone time, they can wear down the opposition, and if they were to clear the puck, they’re likely going for a line change. That allows the Caps to regain possession and start the cycle over again.
The problem for the Caps has been getting the puck deep into the zone, and winning puck battles. The Islanders have won considerably more puck battles, and that’s just an effort play. The Islanders are outworking and outplaying the Capitals, and that falls squarely on the team’s shoulders.
Here are some more indicators of the Islanders’ dominance at even strength, courtesy of Money Puck:
One bright spot is that Vrana was considerably better in today’s game. It felt like the game ended when Vrana didn’t convert on his breakaway chance in overtime, though.
The difference in the game here is that the Islanders have much more depth in generating expected goals for. The Caps have four players that register enough to get displayed in this graphic, and that’s not enough for an offensive team like the Caps.
This just tells it all. The Islanders put the stranglehold on in the first period after gaining the lead, and didn’t convert on high danger chances until Matthew Barzal scored the game winning goal in overtime. A large piece of this is the fact that the Capitals cannot figure out a way to stay out of the penalty box. Kudos to the penalty killing unit for being up to the task.
This shouldn’t be surprising based off of the statistics shown above. The Islanders deserved to win this game, and they did. Standout performers on the Caps from my perspective were Braden Holtby and Nick Jensen. This might have been Nick Jensen’s best game in a Capitals uniform.
To note, Game 4 will need to be a considerable trend breaker for the Caps. According to Hockey Reference, teams who take a 3-0 series lead end up winning the series 98.1% of the time.
By Justin Trudel