Back to Philly
It was important for the Caps to come out with a strong first period in Saturday’s Game 5, and they did. It was probably their best period of the series. They outshot the Flyers 12-4 and outhit them 22-9. Washington also held Philly without a shot for the final 15 minutes of the frame, but for all that dominance, the Caps held only a slim 1-0 after 20 minutes, and they needed a great Cristobal Huet save on a Danny Briere breakaway for that.
They’ll need six more periods like the first period of Saturday’s game if they’re to come back from the 1-3 hole they dug for themselves in this series, though. Game 6 is in Philly on Monday night, and we’re all headed back up that way later today.
I’d love to see the Caps completely eschew any idea of making a pass at the opposing blueline and just stick to dump and chase hockey, establishing a forecheck and forcing the Flyers’ defensemen to make quick, accurate passes. To me, that was the basis of a lot of Washington’s success yesterday, especially in the first period. And when they do make those cute passes at the line, they’re too often turned over and used as fuel for the dangerous Philly transition game.
I’ve been pointing out virtually since Game 1 that the Caps have had difficulty getting shots through and getting them on net. That was still the case on Saturday. During the regular season, the Caps had the fifth most shots on goal in the league, and the Flyers allowed the fourth most. But Washington has not been able to get enough shots on Flyers goaltender Martin Biron in this series. Through five game, the Caps have fired 137 shots on goal, they’ve had another 109 blocked en route, and they’ve missed the net altogether with 77 other bids.
My podcast partner Brett Leonhardt summed this problem up neatly yesterday. “They’re shooting to score,” he said. Meaning that they’re trying to pick a corner, and more often than not missing, only to have the puck rattle around the glass and careen out into the neutral zone, where once again the danger exists of a Philly counter-attack. Brett recommends shooting on net, and getting traffic in front to create screens or having guys driving the net for rebounds. Makes sense to me, and I’d like to see some of that on Monday.
Game 6 will be a war, a battle of wills. The Flyers don’t want to come back to the District for a Game 7 on Tuesday, and the Caps want nothing more. If the Caps can bottle up that first period on Saturday in Game 5 and reproduce it a few times in Game 6, they can win it and even the series. But if they play the way they played in the third period — when too often it looked like they’d be content to get it to overtime even though they led throughout the frame — they’ll be in trouble.