What Game 1 gave, Game 2 took away for the Washington Capitals. The 4-2 win in Game 1 gave Capitals Nation hope that the 22-point regular season deficit the Caps had compared to the Florida Panthers could be made up with experience, discipline, and grit. But Game 2 was a splash of cold water, reminding Caps fans that experience, discipline, and grit takes you only so far if you can’t finish, not to mention that the Panthers are, well, a really good hockey team. So, what did the cousins think? Let’s find out…
Peerless: Let’s get right to it…goalie controversy, yes or no?
Fearless: Among Caps fans? Indubitably. It’s just the normal course of events for fans. Something goes wrong, blame someone…the coach, the power play guy, the defenseman who coughed up the puck, the goalie who gave up a soft goal or three. And that’s why fans aren’t general managers or head coaches. So yes, there is a “controversy” as far as fans are concerned. Just not this fan.
Cheerless: Fire Fearless. Ilya Samsonov stopped all 17 shots he faced...gotta think about him for Game 3.
Feerless: Seventeen saves when the competitive portion of the game is over? I'm not putting a lot of stock in that. If you picked Vanecek as the number one from the start, he needs to learn how to grow a thick skin and develop a short memory. Same would go for Samsonov if he started the series and had this result. Can't do that from the bench.
Peerless: Was goaltending the reason the Caps lost last night?
Cheerless: Five goals on the last 15 shots Vitek Vanecek faced over 21 minutes? It didn’t help.
Fearless: No, at least not until it was. The Caps started like gangbusters last night, pinning Florida in their own end, outshooting them, 8-4, before the Panthers scored first. They couldn’t finish. They get a goal or two out of those eight shots, it could have been a very different game. But then, when Florida got two late first period goals, the air went out of the Caps’ balloon pretty quick.
Peerless: Tom Wilson missed last night’s game. Did it make a difference?
Fearless: Look, Wilson had a career year this season. He kind of slowed down at the very end of the regular season, but he had a late stretch with six goals in ten games. He scored the first goal of the series. The Caps could have used him on the power play, even though the Caps did get a power play goal. But it was in the other end of the ice where his absence might have been more keenly felt. He’s not the goon he might have been at the start of his career, but opponents need to be aware of him when he’s out there. He can still wreak havoc within the rules. But without him out there to put opponents’ heads on a swivel, the Panthers got fatter and happier as the game wore on without that threat. And it allowed their talent to shine though.
Cheerless: Wilson’s numbers might be a bit overrated, at least when it comes to its relationship to winning this season. The Caps were 13-7-2 in the regular season when he scored a goal. That’s pretty good, but not outta sight. They were 2-2-0 when he had a power play goal. They were just 14-11-5 when he had four or more hits. They were 11-8-6 when he skated more than 20 minutes. But they were 25-10-4 when he had a point, so there was that. Maybe his offense wasn’t missed all that much, but I think Fearless is on to something with his absence allowing the Panthers to be a little too fancy free out there.
Fearless: He’s come so far, hasn’t he cousin?
Peerless: Yeah, he made the Kessel run in less 12 parsecs…let’s move on. Alex Ovechkin…healthy, not healthy?
Cheerless: Yeah, yeah…two games, no goals, nine shots. He’s gone consecutive games without goals before. But he has 35 goals in 73 career home playoff games…the Caps are going to have to have that Ovechkin when they return home. If he gets shutout at Capital One, then maybe his health is an issue, not to mention the Caps might he heading back to Florida facing elimination.
Fearless: I don’t see any particular indications that his health is an issue. But he has just two goals in his last seven games on home ice since the Caps won the Cup in 2018. He’s got to be more frequent in finding the back of the net.
Peerless: Back to last night. Was there a turning point, and if so, what was it?
Fearless: The four-minute power play. That could have been an elevating moment, if the Caps could have converted both ends of it and tied the game. They had four shots on goal, three by Ovechkin, but all of those from distance. It was a power play that just lacked any sense of urgency, and the Caps ended up being outshot over the remainder of the second period, 8-3 (two of Florida’s shots ended up as goals), and 17-3 in the third. That power play failure just sucked what life they had out of them.
Cheerless: No turning point, more like turning ooze. That start. Looked good, felt good, but no finish. It was like, wow…that bridge is great…gorgeous…well put together….too bad it’s 50 yards short of reaching the other side. Too many times, when you dominate early and don’t finish, it comes back to haunt a team. It did for the Caps.
Peerless: We said that this game might be a “coaches’ game,” specifically whether Andrew Brunette could make adjustments after a loss in this, his first NHL postseason. Did he succeed?
Fearless: I don’t think “adjustments” had much, if anything, to do with the result. Wilson’s absence giving Florida less worry, but more the depth/talent deficit the Caps have against this team. That was the difference. The Panther players played the game on their terms after the first ten minutes, and they won this game.
Cheerless: Florida won, didn’t they? So, Brunette had to do something right, even if it was just letting his players play.
Peerless: On to Game 3…thoughts?
Fearless: The goalie “controversy” aside, I fear fans will look at Game 3 as a “must win” game. I don’t subscribe to that notion until an opponent has won a third game. The Caps have dominated at the start of both games so far. Results were mixed. Now they get to go home, where a team should shine. But the Caps were just 19-22 (six losses in extra time) at home this season, and they are just 2-5 on home ice in the playoffs since they won the Cup, outscored by an average of 3.29 to 1.86 per game. That has to change. Quickly.
Cheerless: I think I’m done thinkin’ for the day. Let’s just play some hockey.
Peerless: Works for me.