For Game Four, Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz made a few subtle changes that had a big impact.
I was snide about his deployments in Game Three, so I must give respect now.
Last time, during 5-on-5 play, Leafs forward Auston Matthews faced John Carlson for 6:49 and Matt Niskanen for 5:10. Matthews wrecked Carlson, getting 80 percent of the shot attempts for the Leafs. (Niskanen didn’t fare much better, but the pace was far slower.)
For Game Four, Trotz smartly preferred the Niskanen matchup. Matthews faced Carlson for just 3:27, but he saw a ton of Matt Niskanen — 11:48. Matthews scored, but that happened during a rare shift against the Brooks Orpik pairing, which has been troubled this series.
The Leafs got outplayed on what should have been their best shifts. Attempts were 19 to 18 during Matthews’ ice time. That’s a stark difference from Game Three in which he had a 20-to-8 advantage.
Trotz prioritized his forward lines better too. The Evgeny Kuznetsov line saw a ton of Matthews, and the Nick Backstrom line squared off against Nazem Kadri. The Caps got a narrow edge in both.
The yellow colors mean the players shared more ice time. Positive numbers where two players intersect mean the Leafs got more shot attempts than the Caps, negative numbers mean the Caps got the advantage.
Trotz shortened the other end of the bench. Jay Beagle played just over 10 minutes, barely two minutes in the second period, and recorded a team-low shot differential (3 for the Caps, 10 for the Leafs). Brian MacLellan’s big deadline pickup, Kevin Shattenkirk took just five shifts in the third period and had 12:54 overall, a season low. He was just ahead of Beagle in differential: 9 for the Caps, 14 for the Leafs.
Finally, moving Tom Wilson from the fourth line to the third paid dividends, obviously. Wilson played the best game of his career, and the third line didn’t lose a step.
Best-of-seven series often become a duel between good coaches. After two rough games, Barry Trotz scored a hit, a palpable hit, on Mike Babcock.
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