Capitals vs. Canadiens Game 7: Keys to the game

HabsFan.jpgIn case you didn’t know, last night was the first of back-to-back
Game 7’s. While the Detroit Red Wings taking on the Phoenix Coyotes
isn’t exactly as momentous a game as the Habs having a chance to knock
off the Capitals, there are some similarities between the two games.

Despite
the Coyotes heading into the game with the better record and home ice
advantage, there were many who considered the Red Wings to be the better
team. After all, the Wings had finished the regular season as the
hottest team in the NHL and had fought back to the 5th seed after a
first half of the season riddled with injuries. Add to that the overall
talent level and experience of the Red Wings, and it’s easy to see why
the Coyotes were considered the underdogs.

Yet the Coyotes were
able to take the Red Wings to the brink with a Game 7, as they at times
surprised Detroit with their tenacity and overall team approach to the
game. The Coyotes won as a team, yet the Red Wings were only going to do
as good as their superstars would perform. In the end, Detroit
dominated a guarded and ginger Coyotes team that seemed deathly afraid
of making any mistakes in the biggest game of the season. The Red Wings’
stars took over on their way to a 6-1 rout.

After the jump, some
lessons for both teams headed into tonight’s game that can be learned
from Detroit’s victory:

Don’t stray from what’s been
successful

Save for one game, the Canadiens have been able
to surprise the Capitals by jumping out to early leads and then
stifling the Capitals from there on out. In their first two wins, and
for the first 40 minutes of Game 2, it was the defense of the Habs that
did the trick, frustrating Alex Ovechkin and company to no end on their
way to surprising victories. In Game 6, it was the superb play of
Jaroslav Halak that did the trick, as he was calm and collected in net
and never out of control. Still, Ovechkin was held in check once again
by the defensive play of the Habs. This is what they’ll need to do once
more. It’s when they’ve strayed from this philosophy that they’ve gotten
themselves in trouble.

Weather the early storm

With
the Capitals facing a do-or-die game, on home ice, expect each and
every player on that team to hit the ice like they were shot out of a
cannon. The Capitals will be hungry and pissed off and fueled by what is
sure to be an insane home crowd. The key is not lose control when the
pressure is on and take bad penalties.  The Coyotes were able to
somewhat stay in the game early on, but found themselves down two quick
goals thanks to putting a talented team on the power play. Don’t play
with fire.

Don’t wait to “turn it on”

The
Capitals have been waiting to play a full 60 minute game for the entire
first round. Despite what their Game 3 and 4 wins may say, even the
Capitals will admit they weren’t their best overall effort. The Capitals
have had this issue since returning from the Olympic break, really, as
they’ve literally had nothing to play for the past month of the season.
Now they’re being asked to play their best hockey when it counts the
most. Against this team, a Canadiens team with nothing to lose and
everything to gain, the Capitals must finally put together a complete
game. The Red Wings were able to put the accelerator to the floor when
it mattered most, jumping all over a Coyotes team that was doubting
itself at times. This is what the Capitals will need to do.

The
superstars will have to shine

The Capitals will not win
this game unless Alex Ovechkin is their best player. Sure, you could say
the same thing about Semyon Varlamov, but this is why Ovechkin was
named captain of the team. The rest of the players feed off of his
energy and production; if he’s frustrated and not driving the play
forward, then it’s going to tough for the rest of the team to follow
suit. The Capitals are starting two young defenseman on the blueline
tonight, so the uber-talented forwards the Captials employ will need to
be better than they ever have been before. While Backstrom, Semin and
Green all need to rise to the occasion, it’s Ovechkin who will be the
difference. If he truly is as great as we all think he is, this is his
time to shine.

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    Talbot torments Ducks as Oilers take 2-0 series lead

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    Those who vehemently argued for Cam Talbot being a Vezina finalist likely felt vindicated tonight (even if postseason results don’t factor into the voting).

    In Game 1, Leon Draisaitl stole the show. Talbot was the standout of Game 2, snubbing a steady Ducks threat as Edmonton won 2-1 on Friday.

    And, just like that, the Oilers are up 2-0 in their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. Better yet for this young group: the venue shifts to what’s likely to be a rowdy scene in Edmonton for Games 3 and 4.

    The tone was set when Andrej Sekera scored just 65 seconds into the contest. That said, the Oilers could have sulked when a would-be 2-0 goal was called off (and they had to kill a penalty). Instead, they just kept battling, even after Jakob Silfverberg ended Talbot’s shutout bit with a laser beam on the power play.

    Speaking of the power play, the Oilers managed to match the Ducks (1-for-4 each on the PP), even as Talbot faced 12 shots on goal during Anaheim’s power-play opportunities.

    Talbot ultimately made 39 of 40 stops, and while the Ducks kept Connor McDavid from scoring, number 97 sure looked speedy and dangerous at times in Game 2.

    Anaheim came into the second round with home-ice advantage through the West side of the playoffs, seemingly enjoying a golden opportunity when other conference powers fell. Instead, it’s looking like the Oilers might just have a chance to prove that they’re big-time contenders, too.

    Game 3 airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream.

    Latest goalie interference mess: Oilers get penalty, not goal

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    Ah, goalie interference. Does the fun ever start?

    Arguably the most irritating facet of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs reared its pesky head once again on Friday, as the Edmonton Oilers saw a would-be 2-0 goal disallowed in the first period of Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The goal wasn’t just disallowed, either, as Mark Letestu was given a minor penalty.

    One would imagine that there are opinions for or against the goal (and penalty counting); there are also many who are just getting a little worn out by the uncertainty surrounding such calls. Tomas Holmstrom is nodding his head so hard right now, everyone.

    Here’s one unhappy take:

    Moments after this post went up, the Oilers made it 2-0 for real this time. Check out the game here.

    Math may help build Vegas Knights, but biggest aim is not being boring

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    Unlike Pierre Dorion, it sounds like Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee would rather listen to analytics-minded people rather than … you know, hit them.

    As McPhee readies for the expansion draft, he told The Star’s Kevin McGran in Q&A that they’ll at least be factored into decisions.

    I’ve been really fascinated by how revealing that data can be. You have these kids speaking a different language. But I’m convinced it has a really important place in this game. You have to pay attention to it, and you have to use it.

    Naturally, the real question with McPhee and other executives comes down to how much they will lean on analytics. Some teams seem to pick and choose when to listen to such voices, ending up with an odd mix of moves that please and unnerve the “fancy stats” community.

    Owner Bill Foley gave a good idea of how much they’ll lean on stats vs. more traditional approaches in an interview with the Vegas Hockey Hotline back in February, which was transcribed by The Hockey Writers’ Keith Scheessele.

    “Analytics is not going to drive how we draft,” Foley said. “Analytics are going to supplement what the scouts are seeing. We’re going to rely on the scouts and what they recommend.”

    (Foley also spoke of rating players in 10 different categories, which started to make one think about how old sports video games could only quantify skills in so many ways. Anyway …)

    So, it sounds like McPhee & Co. will take a modern approach – a mixture of the old and the new – rather than going full-on bold and revolutionary like, say, the Cleveland Browns or Golden State Warriors.

    Considering the mystery of roster quality one faces with the Vegas Knights, it honestly might be most important that McPhee is repeatedly stating that he doesn’t aim to put together a boring hockey team.

    Hey, if it takes a while to be good, at least the Vegas Knights might fit with their environment and put on a show.

    Tarasenko’s two goals help Blues tie series with Predators

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    One of the (many) remarkable things about the St. Louis Blues dispatching the Minnesota Wild was that they didn’t need a ton of production from Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score a goal until the clinching game of that series.

    The Blues needed more from him tonight, and he responded with two huge goals to help St. Louis win 3-2 in Game 2, tying the second-round series at 1-1.

    Tarasenko scored the opening goal on that major power-play opportunity from the Vernon Fiddler knee on Colton Parayko, while Joel Edmundson wisely got out of the way to let Tarasenko nab the game-winner.

    That ended up being the decisive factor as the Nashville Predators finally lost their first game of the postseason.

    St. Louis must be breathing a sigh of relief for a number of reasons. The series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4, so going down 2-0 might have been lethal.

    Even beyond that, the Blues had some breaks go their way that likely won’t repeat to the same degree in future contests. The Predators didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity while St. Louis spent significant chunks of the contest on the man advantage, going 1-for-5 (but again, that includes a major).

    The Blues also won despite what must have been a frustrating start. They only managed a 1-1 tie after the first 20 minutes despite holding Nashville to a mere three shots on goal.

    The Predators also managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1, yet the Blues kept fighting to get back in this series. Game 3 will air on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App (Click here for the livestream link).

    * – That said, he made a lot of commotion to set up Edmundson’s overtime game-winner from Game 1. That connection continued on Friday, as you likely noticed.