Sunday, May 08, 2022

Capitals vs. Panthers: The Cousins Weigh In on Game 3

Three games in the opening round series between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers are in the books.  For those math-challenged fans, we are not yet at the half-way mark of the seven-game series, should it go that long.  But the Caps took a big step in Game 3, dominating in a 6-1 win in Washington on Saturday.  And if every game is its own story, what was that for the Caps?  The cousins weigh in.

Peerless:  The Caps are up two games to one after yesterday’s win. Do they have the advantage in the series now? 

Fearless: If you are a Caps fan, you know that no lead in games is safe. But yesterday’s game had a unique feel to it.  Things could have gone sideways quickly, especially after the Panthers whacked the Caps in Game 2. An early goal to open the scoring on what looked like a stoppable shot on new goalie Ilya Samsonov, who not only was making his first start of the series, but was coming into this game without a postseason win in four previous appearances.  Then, the Caps missed a chance to tie the game when they went on a power play four minutes later.  It had the look of another frustrating home performance of the sort that has plagued the team all season.  But then, the Caps killed a power play late in the first period, got one of their own, and an innocent looking lob from Alex Ovechkin gets tipped in by T.J. Oshie with 26 seconds left in the period.  Know how many tip-ins Oshie had in the regular season?  None on 13 tip-in shot attempts (he was second on the team in tip-in attempts in the regular season; only four players in the league had more tip-in attempts without scoring a goal).  It was the first of many goals of the opportunistic variety born of hard work.  Marcus Johansson gets one off a shot attempt from Anthony Mantha that was deflected away by a defender.  Trevor van Riemsdyk gets one off of hard forechecking work, mainly by Mantha.  They take advantage of some odd penalty killing strategy by Florida, who had four defenders on the right side of the ice, none within a time zone of Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer.  It was one of those games where the Caps, especially in the last 41 minutes, didn’t waste the opportunities presented.  That is a repeatable skill that is the product of hard work, and in that sense, yes, they do have an advantage.

Cheerless:  You done, cuz?  Or is there a Volume 2?  Let’s make this simple… Caps won two games, Florida won one.  Two is more than one.  Yeah, they have an advantage.  Just don’t get all crazy about it, though.

Peerless: About Samsonov.  His best game as a Capital?

Cheerless: In the playoffs?  Geez, he was 0-3, 2.99, .899 in three appearances before this series.  He saves 17-of-17 shots in Game 2, which was good, but the Panthers already had the game in hand.  He gave up that early goal that didn’t look good, but after that…yeah, his best game in his playoff career by lots.

Fearless: Given the circumstances – playing at home in a tied series, facing a highly-skilled opponent, getting his first start of the series – if this wasn’t his best game as a Capital, he could see it from where he is sitting.  Me?  I think it was his best game as a Capital.

Peerless:  Assuming it is his net now, what, if any, are your concerns?

Fearless: Same thing he’s battled all season – consistency.  Nine times in the regular season Samsonov posted save percentages of .925 or better in a complete game’s worth of work.  In nine follow-up games to those performances, he was 4-2-1 (two no-decisions), 3.69, .889, with one shutout.  That shutout, against the San Jose Sharks following a shutout of the Los Angeles Kings last November, was the only instance in the nine follow-up performances in which he had a save percentage over .915.

Cheerless: Geez…and I’M supposed to be the guy who brings everything down here.  Here’s one.  Missed shots.  Florida had 65 shot attempts on Saturday; 21 missed the net.  They had only 11 missed shots in 68 shot attempts in Game 2, when they scored five goals (they had six missed shots on 32 attempts against Samsonov in the third period).  If they have better marksmanship, is this going to be a problem for Samsonov?

Peerless:  We asked this in Games 1 and 2, and we will ask it again… was there a turning point?  If so, what was it?

Cheerless:  The Oshie goal to tie the game, but almost more for what went on before.  The Caps suck at faceoffs…Oshie won the draw. John Carlson kept the puck in the zone.  Even though his pass to Ovechkin went between Ovechkin’s legs, Ovi went to track it down.  Oshie goes to the net…Alex lobs a shot, not a slapper.  And Bob looked discombobulated (see what I did there).  The kind of goal that plants the seeds of doubt in a goalie who has had his issues in the playoffs.  He was not the same after that.

Fearless: Mantha’s manhandling of MacKenzie Weegar in the corner to strip him of the puck, skate out, and despite Weegar getting his stick in Mantha’s skates and taking him down, Mantha still got the puck to Nicklas Backtrom to start a flurry of shots in front of Bobrovsky, Trevor van Riemsdyk ultimately getting the goal.  It gave the Caps a bit of a cushion at 3-1 just before the second intermission. 

Peerless: The Caps are now the only team in the playoffs with a perfect penalty kill.  Are either of you concerned about this being unsustainable?

Fearless: Frankly, yes.  This was, after all, the fifth-best power play in the league in the regular season.  But the key here might be chances more than success rate.  The Caps have gone shorthanded only nine times in three games.  Only Pittsburgh has gone short fewer times – eight in three games against the Rangers.  If the Caps can play with discipline, they can keep Florida’s power play in check.

Cheerless: I’m a Caps fan…of COURSE I think this is…whatever that word was you used.  And Fearless…let’s not forget, the Panthers were second in the league in power play chances per game in the regular season (3.20 per game).

Peerless: So let’s wrap this up…Game 4…thoughts?

Fearless: Game 5’s are usually the make or break games in a seven-game series, but this one could be huge.  If the Caps win, they put an incredible amount of pressure on a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience facing the adversity of a 1-3 deficit in games.  If the Caps can score first, get Bob thinking about things, and keep frustrating the Panthers into reckless penalties, things will look good for the Caps.

Cheerless: I’m thinking about that cinnamon roll chicken thing they rolled out on Saturday…

Peerless: You are a strange fellow, cousin.