Photo: Drew Hallowell
A Caps win in Game Five brought the series back to Pittsburgh. Tonight, the Washington Capitals will look to force a Game Seven back in Washington. The Caps must continue with what worked in Game Five, and even sharpen up a few areas, because an elimination game on home ice is one thing, but one in the enemy’s barn is a whole other animal.
Here are my five keys to a Game Six win.
Before Game Five, the Caps had gotten away from what had led them to the playoffs. During Game Five, they seem to have gotten back on script.
Forwards began cycling with the defensemen again. They carried the puck in as much as they could. While they weren’t preoccupied with playing physical, they still set a physical tone. The Caps kept the puck to the outside in the defensive zone and made the extra pass to get a better shot in the offensive zone.
The Caps had 13 shots on goal at 5-on-5 in Game Five (44 shot attempts) and 13 high-danger scoring chances. Sure, some of those scoring chances didn’t count as shots because they were blocked or missed, but comparing it to the Penguins’ six high-danger scoring chances on 22 shots (50 shot attempts), we can see the difference in shot quality. The Caps generated a high-danger scoring chance on 30 percent of their shot attempts, the Penguins on only 12 percent.
The Caps need to continue to stick to that script.
The Caps did a great job in limiting odd-man rushes in Game Five. It becomes difficult for the Penguins to score if they are not generating odd-man rushes, so not allowing them is a priority. The Pens do not have a forward corps built on controlling the puck in the offensive zone, so turnovers and rushes are where they get their scoring chances.
The Caps will need to keep that third man high, but keeping the puck in the offensive zone is an important aspect of limiting odd-man rushes as well. A balance needs to be struck between the defensive first, third man high and the need to keep sustained pressure in the offensive zone. They found it in Game Five. They need to keep that up in Game Six.
If they are smart with the puck in transition and in the offensive zone, that will go a long way to stopping those odd-man rushes. They must win the battles in that five foot area around the blue line.
In Game Five, the Caps scored two power play goals. It was the difference maker, and it must continue.
The Penguins penalty kill is active, so quick decisions need to be made here. Caps players on the half-wall in Game Five were adept at making the quick, smart play, whether it was Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, or Evgeny Kuznetsov. They can play it back to John Carlson or Matt Niskanen at the point or swing it low to the corner man, but the correct pass needs to be made, and it needs to be made quickly. It looks as though they have gotten comfortable with the Penguins’ pressure, and that comfort is going to need to stay in Game Six.
On the penalty kill, control is the name of the game. The Penguins will move guys in and out, but if the Caps penalty kill can play with control in that bit of chaos, they will be able to continue their postseason dominance. They will need to continue to pick their spots to pressure well, and when they have a chance, get it out. Let Holtby see the shots and clean up the rebounds.
If the Caps can be positive in special teams, they will have a great chance at the Game Six win.
In Game Five, Head Coach Barry Trotz elected to defend Sidney Crosby with a combination of lines. Both Backstrom and Jay Beagle saw extensive time across the dot from Crosby, allowing Alex Ovechkin to focus on beating his fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin with his fellow countryman Kuznetsov.
It will be interesting to see what Mike Sullivan elects to do in Game Six with the last change. He could match Crosby with Ovechkin like he did in Games Three and Four or keep the status quo with matching mostly against Backstrom and the three Swedes.
If status quo, the Caps will not need to change anything. If he tries to get Crosby out against Ovechkin as much as possible, Trotz will have a tough choice on his hands. He must either trust Kuznetsov against Crosby or chase the line matchups with quick changes. Caps should be plenty confident no matter the matchups. Don’t chase it.
Brooks Orpik is smart. Brooks Orpik is physical. Brooks Orpik is safe. He needs to be all those things in Game Six. He is coming off a three-game suspension for a late hit. A target may be on his back in this game, so playing under control is paramount. Let them try and cheapshot him if they want. Take the number (and hopefully a PP) and finish him cleanly in the corner next period.
While not taking an unneeded penalty is important, his physical nature is also important. Clean, strong body checks to the softer Pens forwards will continue to slow them down, playing physically but in a smart, safe manner.
The smart and safe plays are even more important with the puck on his stick, and hopefully the three games off can be a rejuvenator for him. For all intents and purposes, Orpik is in for Nate Schmidt this game, so being a net-positive in as many aspects of the game as possible is key.
Do you have any keys to add? Share them in the comments.
Stats compiled from War-On-Ice.
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