Nobody Asked Me
But … it’s the little things. And it’s lots of little things. If the Caps can fix them, or even fix most of them, they can even the series Thursday night in Philly and regain home ice advantage in this best-of-seven set.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
They need to put the body on Danny Briere. The guy has four goals in three games, and I’ll bet he hasn’t been hit four times. I can’t remember any. Philly’s defense has made it uncomfortable for the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov. The Flyers have hit them frequently, and done a good job of taking away time and space. Two of Briere’s goals have come on the power play, but he got way too much room with which to work on the other two.
The Caps need to do a better job of protecting Cristobal Huet. Maybe I’m too old school here, but if a team or some particular players are going to make a habit or a sport of running my goalie, or they think it’s their privilege to park at the top of the paint, then I’m gonna make them pay for that privilege. Huet should feel comfortable and confident out there, and the guys in front of him should be going out of their way to make sure he feels comfortable and confident. And that the likes of Briere and Scott Hartnell do not.
Get more traffic of their own. Flyers goaltender Martin Biron has had it too easy thus far. In the early minutes of Game 3, the Caps had two power play chances while the game was still 0-0. And yet Washington had no one in the front of the net during that stretch. What few shots the Caps were able to get through, Biron was able to see. And to stop.
Shoot the puck. The Caps averaged 31 shots on goal per game during the regular season, tied for fifth in the league. The Flyers allowed an average of 31.8 shots on goal per game during the regular season, 27th in the league. I don’t remember the Flyers picking up Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom at the trade deadline. Somehow though, the Flyers are preventing shots from getting through.
Which leads me to …
Get the shots on net. Through three games, the Caps have 70 shots on goal. Another 57 have been blocked before they could get to Biron. Forty-four more missed altogether. That’s 101 intended shots that never reached their mark. Biron has a shutout in this series, yet his save pct. is just .886 in the three games. If the Caps are able to get another 8-10 shots per game on goal, it could mean another goal or two per game. Especially if they combine this with some traffic in front.
Get a lead. The Caps haven’t had a lead since Game 1, and they’ve dug a two-goal hole for themselves in each of the last two games. Try playing with the lead. It’s more enjoyable.
That’s it. Simple stuff, little stuff, but very important stuff. Especially at this time of year. Washington certainly has not played its best hockey in this series, yet the Caps are just one solid 60-minute effort away from shrinking the series to a best-of-three.
A few adjustments were made this morning at practice. Sergei Fedorov and Backstrom were flip-flopped as pivots on the top two lines, with Fedorov skating with Ovechkin and Kozlov in an all-Russian unit and Backstrom joining Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin.
Also, the power play got a bit of a makeover. One unit has Laich stationed in front of the cage, Ovechkin in the high slot and Fedorov at center point. Mike Green and Backstrom man the half-walls. The other unit features Eric Fehr at the top of the paint, Kozlov in the slot, Green at center point and Tom Poti and Semin on the half-walls. I like the set-up, and like the idea of Ovechkin being closer to the net. Laich and Fehr are the right guys for their respective gigs, too.
I think the Caps can do it, and we’ll find out in about 24 hours. In the meantime, I’m here in Hershey for the off night in between Games 3 and 4, watching the Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 1 of their East Division semifinal series. No score midway through the second, and Mathieu Perreault has looked good to me as he makes his pro debut for the Bears.
Here are the Hershey lines:
Frederic Cassivi is in goal.