As the Capitals’ first-round series shifts to Toronto, Head Coach Barry Trotz is considering changes to his lineup ahead of Game Three.
Trotz announced the news during a conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon. The team had the day off for Easter.
“We may move things around,” Trotz said, according to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “We may not.”
“We’re meeting now and going through of the stuff from last night,” Trotz continued. “We’ll have a good game plan and the guys will be ready for tomorrow.”
Despite the Capitals leading in only 14 minutes and 29 seconds of total gameplay (157:08), the team has been playing good hockey. The Capitals have out-attempted the Maple Leafs at even strength 160-138 through two games. The Capitals’ shot-attempts percentage of 53.69 is fourth highest amongst all playoff teams. Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen has just been playing lights out.
The Caps could minimize 28-year-old defenseman Karl Alzner to try and improve their overall play. While Alzner’s shot-attempts difference of 35 for, 39 against is just slightly below water (47.2%), the Canadian has been crushed when matched up against Auston Matthews, the Maple Leafs’ top forward. Alzner has a 35.2 shots attempt percentage (12 for, 22 against) when Matthews is on the ice, suggesting it’s just a matter of time before the young superstar breaks through against the Caps. Speedy forwards Zach Hyman (71.43%) and William Nylander (63.89%) have also seen vast amounts of shot-attempts success when skating against Alzner.
The Capitals could try to lessen Alzner’s ice time or match him up against weaker competition – though Toronto gets the last change in Games Three and Four. Trotz could also choose to dress — not to flog a dead horse — “seventh defenseman” Nate Schmidt, who’s been one of the team’s best defenseman this season.
Tinkering with the forward lines is also an option, but there’s not much evidence that it’s necessary. Sure, through two games, the Capitals have scored only three even-strength tallies. CSN’s El-Bashir notes that the Capitals’ first line only has one even-strength point in the series: Nicklas Backstrom’s third period goal from Game Two. But, overall, the Caps’ first line, consisting of Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and TJ Oshie, has pushed play, highlighted by a ridiculous nine shots on goal from Ovechkin Saturday night.
Meanwhile the Caps’ second line, featuring Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Justin Williams, has excelled when matched up against Matthews. Justin Williams also has two goals in the series, including one tally at even strength.
“This series is about wearing people down,” Trotz said. “I think we’re fine that way. So we just got to keep pounding the rock, if you will, and see if you can wear people down. Their D got extended pretty hard last night in a lot of areas. Those 40-plus minutes, those are hard to recover from.”
The Caps-Leafs series is tied 1-1, but there is no need for the number-one seeded team to panic. The Capitals have been the more dominant team and are doing things right. Just keep shooting. Eventually those pucks will go in – even against a hot goaltender.
And if they don’t, maybe this team is actually cursed.
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