WASHINGTON — It has been said time and time again that the NHL is a copycat league, but it is usually referring to the way teams build their rosters, implement strategy, or play the game in an effort to duplicate what winning teams are doing. It is not usually referring to the way teams kick off morning skates ahead of a playoff game because, well, that is just a little bit weird.
Then again, nobody ever said the NHL had to make sense. We do, after all, have a first-year expansion team in the Stanley Cup Final.
Throughout the playoffs the Washington Capitals have been getting a little bit of attention for their “hot lap” which involves a player taking a lap around the ice as fast as they can before practice. Jay Beagle started it in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and a new skater for the lap is chosen after reach road loss.
It reached its most comical point when coach Barry Trotz took over the responsibility before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
It has not gone unnoticed in the Vegas locker room where Jonathan Marchessault has been quietly going about doing it since the Western Conference Final.
It got a little more attention on Saturday morning when he kicked off the Golden Knights’ morning skate ahead of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final by taking his turn at it in Washington.
Following practice Marchessault said he saw Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin do it in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning and decided to do it before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals in Winnipeg following their Game 1 loss. The Golden Knights ended up winning that game and have not lost on the road since.
“The guys liked it,” Said Marchessault on Saturday morning. “So we’ll keep doing it on the road.”
Hot laps aside, Vegas has been a strong road team all postseason while both teams have continued a bizarre subplot in the 2018 playoffs where home-ice advantage seems to mean almost nothing.
The Golden Knights enter Saturday’s game with a 6-2 road record in the playoffs while the Capitals are only 4-5 at home.
“I’ve got no idea really,” said Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant on Saturday, when asked about the Capitals’ home struggles and if there was anything his team could exploit.
“They’ve had an unbelievable road record obviously, but they have a losing record here at home. I have no idea why. We’ll come here and play our game. A lot of times a team on the road just comes in here and plays a good solid hard working game and you get an opportunity. Sometimes being at home with the distractions things get a little tougher. Maybe hat is happening. It is hard to pinpoint.”
Once the game actually begins on Saturday though, none of this stuff — hot laps, previous records in previous games — is going to matter. It is all going to come down to what happens on the ice on Saturday.
When it comes to the outcome on the scoreboard the Golden Knights spent a lot of time on Saturday talking about having to “play their game” and limit the number of turnovers that they felt helped swing Game 2 in Washington’s favor.
Marchessault added that he does not think Vegas has played its best game in the Final yet, largely because of the turnovers. Gallant said a lot of the turnover issues are happening in the offensive zone which is there they really need to be strong.
“I want us to play fast, play a quick game,” said Gallant. “I think the biggest problem we’ve had is we are in the offensive zone and turning the puck over down there. We are throwing pucks on net but we are not getting the pucks to the net. They are taking the puck from the offensive zone, they are using their D to join the rush and making it a four-man attack. That is one of the biggest reasons. It is not really turning the puck over in the neutral zone, it is in the offensive zone. We need to make sure we are strong on the puck there.”