Photo: Justin K. Aller
It was the best of games, it was the worst of games. Okay, maybe that was forced, but it still holds true. Game Three began with a grope, but ended with a 3-2 loss on enemy ice. The Caps absolutely outplayed the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday night, but still walked away down 2-1 in the series.
Even so, there are positives to pull from the game. It was the first match of the series that the Caps unquestionably controlled the play against the Penguins. The Capitals probably never expected to come into Pittsburgh and take both games, so while it makes Game Four on Wednesday all the more important, it is not a backbreaker either.
The Caps are rightfully feeling pretty good about their current play going into Game Four. This was a game of bounces. The Pens got them. The Caps didn’t.
With that said, there were still a couple of plays that stood out.
This is where the Tale of Two Passes title comes in. The Penguins’ first and final goals were both primed by passes. The first was a good one from Kris Letang. The second was not quite as good from Nate Schmidt.
There are a couple key elements in these two passes that make them so different. In the first, Letang is aware of the positioning of all of the Capitals on the ice. The pass is actually quite safe provided it doesn’t tip off the shin guard or skate of the forechecker, Andre Burakovsky.
On Schmidt’s pass, I do not believe Schmidt was aware of where Phil Kessel was. That alone does not make it dangerous, but he may have preferred a safer play if he had known exactly where Kessel was.
The second element that changes a good pass to a bad one is the position of the passer on both plays. Letang is positioned at the start of the curve of the boards in the corner and is stationary while Schmidt is located deeper into the corner and on the move. This means that the angle of the pass is more severely thrown across Schmidt’s body as well as originating closer to the half-wall where Kessel waited.
Jason Chimera was in a similar position, but was not close enough to affect the Letang pass. It may be a stretch to think this played a huge role. Every little bit counts on these types of plays, however.
The last difference is the position of the partner of each defenseman. On the first goal, Letang’s partner is sitting safely at the net front. On the Pens’ third goal, John Carlson can be seen prematurely joining the rush.
It is tough to fully blame Carlson here, with the Capitals down 2-0 and a good chance at an odd-man rush if a good play is made by Schmidt. Still, there is no doubt that it contributed mightily to the goal. Perhaps Schmidt should have been more aware of the vacating Carlson and made a safer play.
Before we go and give the guillotine to Schmidt’s ice time, there are a couple things that I did not notice watching the game live that need to be pointed out.
Schmidt may have been trying for Evgeny Kuznetsov here and not the hero pass to the top of the zone. That may have been the best play he had, even if the execution was a bit sloppy. I still think a pass up the boards to Justin Williams would have been better and would still have achieved an odd-man rush, but the Caps like to hit the center when Kuznetsov is open and he was.
Also, is it just me or does Hagelin slew foot and trip Schmidt here a bit?
Finally, let’s take a look at the Letang hit on Marcus Johansson compared to the hit that resulted in a three-game suspension levied against Brooks Orpik. Tuesday afternoon, the NHL announced Letang would be suspended one game.
Let’s run down the questions from my Game Two post.
#1 – Was there an injury on the play?
Yes for Orpik. Sort of for Letang. Johansson missed some shifts, but returned to start the next period. Later, however, the Caps announced that Johansson suffered an upper-body injury.
Caps announce that Marcus Johansson suffered an upper-body injury (presumably on Letang hit) and will not skate today.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 3, 2016
#2 – Was the head the principal point of contact?
Yes for Orpik. Eh, kind of for Letang. It looks to me like his shoulder made contact with Johansson’s chin first, but there is a lot of body contact as well. I think he was trying for shoulder, but then again so was Orpik.
#3 – Did the offending player launch into the hit?
Orpik did not. Letang did. It looks like he leaves his feet prior to the hit, but even if it was concurrent and because of the hit, he still goes at him with an upward motion. This could be considered launching.
#4 – Did the player receiving the hit do anything concurrent with or just prior to the contact to put himself in a worse position to receive the hit?
Maatta did move, stopping and turning just prior to the Orpik hit. Johansson did not move. Both hits were late albeit Orpik’s was later.
Letang’s hit was high. It was late. Johansson did not move to make the hit worse.
The Department of Player Safety decided not to take into account the Caps announcement of an upper-body injury for Johansson in their ruling. I assumed a one-game suspension would rise to two if they incorporated the injury. They apparently did not.
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