Can the Capitals dodge the neutral zone trap?

bruce boudreau.jpgGoing into tonight’s Montreal Canadiens-Washington Capitals contest, my basic question has been “How – in the world – do people expect the Canadiens to stick with the Capitals?” Mike Chen of From the Rink might turn that question on its head, though, as he discussed what it takes to break through a neutral zone trap.

Last night was the perfect example of how a less-talented team took away the breakout of a skilled team, and the skilled team failed to adjust except for small bursts here and there. Without any speed upon hitting the blueline, the Sharks arrived at the puck too late to really do any lingering damage.

We’ll most certainly see this style of play again, and it might be sooner rather than later when the Washington Capitals open up their series against the Jacques Martin-led Montreal Canadiens. I’ll be watching that one with a lot of curiosity, not only to see how the defensive-minded Martin tries to shut-down the high-powered Washington offense, but also to see how the Caps will adjust should the scenario repeat itself.

I pondered throwing out some numbers regarding how the Capitals dealt with the trap during the regular season, but to be honest, those statistics won’t mean that much going forward. Why? Because passing lanes go from Roseanne-wide to Ally McBeal skinny in the playoffs. Because shot blocking responsibilities go from a few players with wacky shin pads to a near league-wide mandate.

Nope, instead, breaking the trap will come down mostly to the Capitals’ talented European players and the zone breaking tactics employed by coach Bruce “Gabby” Boudreau. I couldn’t help but think that the playoffs (not just this series, since the Canadians are – in my opinion – wildly outclassed) will be a great test of an intriguing statement former Caps winger Viktor Kozlov made to Elliotte Friedman.

Had an interesting conversation with Viktor Kozlov about Bruce Boudreau. Kozlov said Boudreau is a genius at attacking and defending the neutral zone.

Reason number 1,874 that I love the playoffs is that we get some real answers – bad bounces and luck be damned. Capitals players, front office and even fans have been playing the victim/disrespect card repeatedly this season but now the Caps have their chance to prove that The Big Bad Media and The Dirty Underground Bloggers did them wrong. I can’t wait to find out if Washington can convert their staggering regular season success to playoff glory.

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    Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

    ST PAUL, MN - MAY 6: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Zach Parise #11 and Jason Pominville #29 of the Minnesota Wild during the first period in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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    If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

    It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

    Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

    Central Division title chase

    1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
    2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

    Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

    Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

    The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

    Price didn’t just play for Habs; he made the difference vs. Rangers

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    It’s one thing for Carey Price to shake off that Paul Byron shot in warm-ups. And, honestly, that bump from Shea Weber during the game. But to play like, well, Carey Price? That would be something else.

    Well, you probably saw this one coming … but Price had some absolutely great moments against the New York Rangers in an eventual 3-2 shootout win.

    He was the main difference-maker, although it must be said that there’s some comic relief in Byron scoring the shootout-winner.

    Price vs. Rick Nash felt like a subplot of the overall story.

    On one occasion, Price made a resounding stop on a Nash breakaway:

    It was quite the night for the aging power forward, however, as he nailed his other opportunity.

    Some might be a little sad that Nash vs. Price didn’t go against each other in the shootout, but hey, maybe the two teams could save that for next time?

    The Canadiens needed this win more than the Rangers. The Ottawa Senators actually briefly went ahead for first place in the Atlantic Division, but now Montreal has 72 points to Ottawa’s 70 … while the Sens hold two games in hand.

    Similar tweets might end up being relevant, however. Though betting against Price is also a dicey proposition.

    Video: Laine hits 30 goals vs. Matthews and Leafs, Byfuglien battles Martin

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    Patrik Laine might rub some people the wrong way with his matter-of-fact brand of swagger, but the Winnipeg Jets rookie can back up that talk.

    Just look at how he performs against fellow Calder Trophy hopeful Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Back in October, Laine stole the show with a hat trick. He has a chance to do that again, but either way, with two goals in as many periods, Laine hit the 30-goal mark as a rookie. In February.

    His 29th goal came less than five minutes into the game:

    He then hit the big 3-0 in the dying seconds of the middle frame, though that was far from the only noteworthy moment of the clip above this post’s headline.

    As you can see, there were bodies being thrown around, culminating with a brief bout between Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Martin. The earth may or may not have shook from such an altercation. It wasn’t the only example of violence between the two teams tonight.

    ***

    It’s been a nice milestone night for young Jets scorers, as Nikolaj Ehlers also scored his 20th goal of 2016-17.

    That 30th goal came less than 30 seconds after Leo Komarov‘s second goal of the contest, putting Winnipeg up 4-3 heading into the third period. For all we know, the Jets might need even more from Laine tonight.

    No helmet, no stick, no problem as Preds’ Watson blocks shot anyway

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    Sometimes, when you ponder a player who opts not to wear a visor, you wonder if that person cares about their health. Then you remember that it takes a certain mixture of bravery and recklessness to be a professional hockey player in the first place.

    Even so, there are moments that stand out as especially “hockey tough” – and, yes, reckless – with Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators fitting both labels well on Tuesday.

    It’s already brave and dangerous to block a shot with your full gear, but Watson did so without his stick and without his helmet against the Calgary Flames. Luckily, the shot didn’t hit him up high … but dude.