You couldn’t script a better beginning to the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the top seed Capitals and the 8th seed Canadiens, that is, if your a Canadiens fan. A 3-2 overtime win over the the high scoring Caps in Washington was delivered thanks to Tomas Plekanec’s slapshot from the slot. The Canadiens have now stolen home ice advantage away from the Caps.
The story of the night was how the Canadiens frustrated and contained Alex Ovechkin to the tune of zero shots on goal. This is just the second game all season that Ovechkin was held with a shot. The last successful opponent to achieve this feat was the Detroit Red Wings. The silver lining is that Ovechkin scored 3 goals and collect 5 points in his next two games. Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, and Hal Gill did a fantastic job of having their sticks on the right place and not allowing Ovechkin to cut through the middle of the zone, or entering the zone at all. Facing the Canadiens defense is a tough task considering Ovechkin makes a living flying down the left wing, and all six Habs defensmen are left handed. So any cut to the middle of the ice is to the defensman’s strong side. This is a likely contributor to five of Ovechkin’s shots being blocked. Just another adjustment Ovechkin is going to have to make.
Big praise to Jaroslav Halak who despite the containment of Ovechkin, faced 47 shots shoving aside 45 of them. Nineteen of those shots came in the first period which was dominated by the Capitals. Unfortunatley, most of the shots the Caps were able to shoot on goal were easy pickens for the Habs netminder. More credit to the Habs defensive game plan and the neutral zone trapping system Jacques Martin is famous for. The Caps will have to generate more quality scoring chances if they want to win this series.
Despite the loss, there is plenty the Caps can hang their hats on as they prepare for the all important game 2 tomorrow night in DC.
–As I mentioned here, the Caps will need quality play from their 3rd and 4th lines. They got it in game 1. Jason Chimera is showing he will really be a problem for the Habs due to his incredible speed and superior forecheck. The speed was on display when drawing a penalty in the first period. His relentless forecheck and grinding ability will wear down the opposition. He may not score many goals, if any at all in this series, but he find way to contribute through his hard-nosed play deep in the offensive zone.
–John Carlson, once again did not look like a rookie. He was arguably the Caps’ best defenseman in game 1. Carlson registered an assist and skated a +1. He joined the rush on a number of occasions and never once looked out of place or uncomfortable in his own zone. Just more proof that Carlson’s future is as bright as anyone’s.
–Eric Belanger could have taken the night’s faceoffs with his eyes closed. Okay not really, but when you have a record of 18-3 in the faceoff dot, you get the idea. Most of which were wins in the defensive zone and on the PK.
–Jose Theodore played well enough to win. With all the talk that Jose was the weak link on the Caps team, he made a number of tremendous saves late in the 2nd and 3rd periods. His stat line won’t blow you away, but he made the saves when he needed to make them. Of course the exception is in overtime, but you can hardly blame Theo when Plekanec is giving free reins to walk right to the slot and fire a slap shot (ahem, Joe Corvo).
So what adjustments need to be made in preparation for game 2?
Bruce Boudreau’s up tempo style of play is quite effective against most teams in the NHL. There are a few teams that consistently give this system trouble. The Canadiens is one of those teams. Jacques Martin’s neutral zone trap is designed to stall and prevent teams from skating free into the offensive zone. This is the bread and butter of the Caps’ top line. Backstrom and Ovechkin love to start in their own defensive zone, gain speed through the neutral zone, and carry that speed into the offensive zone. This proved ineffective in game 1. The top line needs to take a lesson from the bottom two lines. The bottom two lines of Fehr, Belanger, Chimera, and Gordon, Steckel, and Bradley clearly had more of the puck possession. They went back to the basics of the dump and chase, followed by a hard forecheck and cycle. This is the style that is required against a trapping team like the Habs. Mike Knuble will be integral in achieving this. He is the grinder the top line missed during last season’s playoffs. This is why George McPhee acquired him in the offseason. The good news is that the Caps didn’t play their best game and still only lost by one goal in overtime. The Canadiens played about as perfect a game as they could’ve wanted. Just a few adjustments and the Caps will be back on track.
For great Habs coverage and a review of last night’s game one from a Habs perspective, check out Hockey Independent blogger George Prax.
For more Capitals coverage, check out:
About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.