The Washington Capitals were outplayed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Three. Sunday, in a conference call with reporters, Barry Trotz made it sound like he was a step ahead of his counterpart.
“We’ll have a good game plan and the guys will be ready for tomorrow,” Trotz said to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. Trotz added that he believed Mike Babcock would stay with the same matchups and the same strategies that the Leafs coach had utilized since the start of the series.
The Leafs did, but the Capitals, including Trotz, had few answers, getting out-attempted 71-52 (in all situations). After the game, CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Alan May criticized the Caps coaching staff on the postgame show, CSN Capitals Extra, for allowing their best player to be gamed into playing only two minutes and one second more than fourth-line winger Tom Wilson.
“Mike Babcock controlled the line changes,” May said. “All game long, he was changing the Caps bench. I see Alexander Ovechkin with just 15 minutes of ice time tonight. Not enough. I don’t care if you are playing for overtime. This is your best player, supposedly you were saving him for the playoffs. Put him on the ice. Let him play the game. Nick Backstrom: let him play the game. TJ Oshie: let him play the game.”
What May is referring to is a plan by Caps management to limit Ovechkin’s ice time this season so that he could be well-rested for the postseason. The Russian machine saw his average ice time drop by two full minutes during the regular season. Ovechkin seemed uneasy about the decision — he had the second lowest goal total (33) and third lowest shot total (313) of his career — but trusted management.
“Of course I want to play more, have more opportunities to be on the ice,” Ovechkin said to Sportsnet’s Chris Simpson in November. “I talk to him and we understand each other. It works right now. I hope it works until the end and we have success.”
In a pivotal Game Three, Ovechkin received three minutes and fourteen seconds less ice time (15:08) than his regular-season average of 18:22. Despite the fewer shifts, Ovechkin still managed to score a goal and lead the team in shots (5). He also finished second on the team in hits (4) and third in blocked shots (2).
May had several other criticisms.
One of the most controversial roster decisions this season has been the benching of Nate Schmidt. May pointed out how much of an impact Schmidt had in Game Three.
“The coaches have to come up with a game plan and they have to make sure the players are getting on the ice are adhering to it,” May said. “And if the players aren’t going to adapt and there are players that aren’t pulling their weight, coaches need to make tough decisions and sit them out. Look at the difference Nate Schmidt made tonight in this game. By getting on his horse, moving the puck down the ice. Very few mistakes from him. Everything’s forward. Everything’s about doing it the best you can but moving [the puck] forward.”
May also questioned how the team has played in the defensive zone and defended Toronto’s forecheck.
“The Caps have to adapt,” May said. “When the puck’s down low — forget about the Toronto point men — everyone’s got to collapse, get back below the hashmarks. You have to have all five Caps players down low blocking the post because all they’re doing is throwing the puck down low. They’re getting it back there, they’re making those quick strike offensive plays, and they’re making the Caps pay. They lost in overtime that way.”
The CSN crew then showed a replay of Kasperi Kapanen’s goal that ended Game Two in double overtime.
Then CSN showed Leafs forward William Nylander scoring Monday night – both were similar goals. The backbreaking tally tied the game up 3-3 right before the second intermission.
“The William Nylander goal at the end of the second period was the exact carbon copy again of puck in the trapezoid, bump it right up to a player, he tucks it behind the goaltender,” May said. “You hate to point fingers, you hate to shine the spotlight, but you know what, these guys played 82 games in the regular season, all of a sudden in the postseason, you can’t have defensive breakdowns. I don’t care how young and how fast the Maple Leafs are. The wingers have to help out. Those two guys didn’t help their team out enough tonight: number ten and number sixty-five. They did a lot of things wrong. They need to be the two best Capitals players next game. This whole team, everyone has to improve. The defenseman need to move the puck quicker. They need to come out with a different game plan and strategy. They came out quick. They came out hard. But after that, they started to blow coverages.”
“The Leafs haven’t changed anything,” CSN Mid-Atlantic analyst Brent Johnson added. “Their game hasn’t changed since the very start of the first game. Get pucks deep. Filter it to the front of the net. If they get in trouble in their own zone – what do they do? High and hard and get it out and that’s it.”
The Capitals must adjust or they could be headed home to Washington on Friday staring down the barrel of an elimination game.
Alan May to the Junks: "This would be the biggest failure in, maybe, NHL history. This is absolutely horrible, what's going on right now."
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) April 18, 2017
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