Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins -- The Cousins Weigh In on Game 2

If it is the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins in the playoffs, then it’s overtime, one-goal hockey.  The Caps held a late lead, gave it up in regulation, and lost Game 2 in the first minute of overtime, finding themselves tied with the Bruins at a game apiece as they head off to Boston looking to regain home-ice advantage.  But the cousins cannot let them leave town without imparting their unique spin on what transpired on Monday night.

Guys, let’s get to the big question, will the way the Caps lost this game have any lingering effects on their performance?

Fearless: Certainly not.  This is a team that has been resilient and resolute all season long with a knack for winning one-goal games.  And, being a veteran group, they’ve seen this kind of thing before, giving up a late lead and coming back late when behind.  Keep in mind that the Caps have now played four consecutive one-goal games, going back to the last two games of the regular season, and won three of them, losing one – last night – in overtime.  The Caps have bigger issues than whether the way the lost Game 2 will linger.

Cheerless: I think it was the baseball great Old Yeller…

Peerless: You mean Bob Feller?

Cheerless: Yeller, Feller, whatever…Bob Feller, who said, “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day.”  If the Caps remember that despite being nicked up, losing Lars Eller, and using a goalie who played less than 200 minutes this season, they were less than three minutes from taking a 2-0 series lead against a team most folks said would leave the Caps a pile of road kill on the two-lane, they can put the loss behind them.

Peerless: Speaking of Lars Eller.  Just how big is his absence?

Cheerless: Bigger’n that prize pig at the county fair.  Eller plays in all situations, plays up and down the lines, chips in offense, is counted on for defense.  He is the most versatile skater on the roster.  He’s the “everything bagel” of the Caps.  And that means his absence shakes up the roster in ways perhaps no other forward’s absence would.  It affects 5-on-5, the second power play, defense, and penalty killing.  It's like losing more than one player.

Fearless: The Caps were 27-12-5 in the regular season with Eller in the lineup, 9-3-0 in the 12 games he missed.  On that basis, it is not a panic situation.  But Boston does provide unique challenges, most of all having one of, if not the best forward line in the league.  Eller’s absence means that the Caps are going to be defensively weak down the middle against that line, even if you raise Nic Dowd to that position.  The Caps are already thin at the position with Kuznetsov out (although defense is not his strength), but with Eller out, that problem of stability among the forward lines becomes magnified.  If Kuznetsov is still out of the lineup, and the Caps resort to T.J. Oshie and call-up Connor McMichael in the middle to plug the holes, things get dicey quickly.

Peerless: Is it too early to be concerned about the lack of scoring from the top two lines?

Fearless: I assume by “top two lines,” you’re asking about Alex Ovechkin (0-2-2 in the first two games), Anthony Mantha (0-1-1), and Nicklas Backstrom (0-0-0), with maybe a little Daniel Sprong (0-1-1) thrown in.  Slumps happen, even to elite players.  Backstrom is 1-1-2, even, in seven games going back to the last five games of the regular season and has one goal in his last 14 games.  Ovechkin is six games without a goal (and a minus-5 in the process), although he’s become the author of the redirected puck lately with teammates tipping his shot attempts with some success.  Mantha is a dozen games without a goal, and he has some really good chances last night that he just did not finish.  Spring is four games without a goal, but with him ice time has become an issue with less than ten minutes played in each of the first two games of this series.  Now that this is a best-of-five series, with Boston holding the home ice advantage, the Caps need to get these guys turning on the red lights.

Cheerless: What’s grits without possum gravy?  Yeah, it’s nice that the Caps are getting goals from the bottom six (Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd have combined for half of the Caps’ six goals in the two games to far), but those are the grits guys.  Getting offense from them is helpful (like in the 2018 postseason), but you’re not going to get a regular diet of offense from that group.  The four guys you mentioned, cuz, are 0-for-27 shooting so far.  You’d like to think they are too good for that to continue, but it’s a short series now, and over so few games, it’s possible that they can stay stuck in that rut.  If they do, this series isn’t going to last much longer.  The Caps need that gravy from the top two lines.

Peerless: Is the Craig Anderson feel-good story over? 

Cheerless: Geez, cuz…already?  He stopped 65 of 70 shots in two games (.929 save percentage, third among 13 goalies to play in the postseason so far), including 44 of 48 in the overtime loss on Monday night.  He stopped 39 consecutive shots after Patrice Bergeron scored 9:21 into the first period until the Bruins tied the game off a scrum in the goal crease with 2:49 left in the game.  Anderson kept the Caps in the game.  Don’t write him off just yet.

Fearless:  However you describe Anderson’s story, there is likely much to be written of it in the remaining games.  The Caps have been worked into a corner as far as their goaltending is concerned.  Vitek Vanecek is still day-to-day with a lower body injury, and Ilya Samsonov hasn’t played a minute in anger in almost three weeks (a 23-save 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh on May 1st).  If the Caps can get some other players out of their ruts, avoid the occasional (usually consequential) brain fart in their own end, Anderson has given the Caps enough quality goaltending to be competitive in this series. 

Peerless: OK, guys, it’s a day off, but what’s your soundtrack for Game 3 going to be?

Fearless: I’m going with Respighi’s “Pines of the Appian Way”… the relentless, unyielding march to victory… 

Cheerless: Gotta be Hank Williams and “Settin’ the Woods on Fire”…

“Comb your hair and paint and powder

You act proud and I'll act prouder

You sing loud and I'll sing louder

Tonight we're settin' the woods on fire…”

Peerless: Yeah, well…I’ll just go listen to the general…