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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    Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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    You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

    The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

    (Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

    Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

    The penalty element is interesting, though.

    When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

    The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

    via Natural Stat Trick

    It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

    Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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    It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

    Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

    It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

    Judge for yourself in the highlights:

    The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

    If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

    Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

    (Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

    The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

    It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

    Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

    Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

    The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

    Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

    Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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    Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

    Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

    That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

    Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

    Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

    Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

    Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.