Photo: Patrick McDermott
There’s been a lot written about the Caps’ play with a lead lately both here and elsewhere. And then there were Barry Trotz’s postgame comments following the loss to the Oilers last week that left some people scratching their heads. It’s a popular topic for good reason. The Caps are fourth in the league in possession when trailing and ninth when tied, but they fall to 17th when they have a lead.
Trotz recently expanded on his thoughts on the team’s play with a lead to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post.
“A good example of that was end of the second period. There’s 20 seconds left, just make a good play or get it out and don’t try to be too fine. That’s to me managing the game and managing the situation.”
Psssssst. Hey, Marcus Johansson. Your head coach is talking about you.
With fifteen second to go, Johansson (the red arrow) gathers in a loose puck in the Caps defensive zone. Evgeny Kuznetsov (the blue arrow) sees some daylight and starts to head up ice.
A sweet backhand dish from Johansson here and Kuznetsov would be off to the races.
Not so fast. As you can see below, Johansson took a split-second too long (0.6 second total) and two Oilers’ players (the purple arrows) are now in better, but far from perfect, position to thwart a late period rush by the Caps.
What’s Johansson to do here?
Johansson goes with option one. The pass is picked off and the Oilers transition into attack mode. Matt Niskanen takes a penalty on the Oilers’ ensuing attack. The Oilers then score a PP goal off the faceoff to pull within a goal in the final seconds of period two. We all know what happened after that.
It’s pretty clear from Trotz’s quote above that he’s against option one. My guess is that Trotz would have preferred option four, or maybe option three.
We have the benefit of hindsight, so it’s easy to criticize Johansson’s choice given the results. No one would be criticizing him if Kuznetosv had been sprung for a breakaway and the Caps went up 4-1.
I’m okay with Johansson’s decision. A part of me wishes he had played it safe, but that’s with the benefit of knowing how this all turned out. But strategy-wise, I’m okay with going for the jugular when you have the chance, rather than playing a Hunteresque “play not to lose” style. Although, there are exceptions. If there’s a place on the ice to not make a risky play when you’re up 3-1, it’s at your own blue line.
What do you think Johansson should have done?
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