Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews saw a lot of the Caps’ second line in Game Three. More than half of Matthews’ ice time during 5-on-5 was against Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Justin Williams. It went well for the rookie phenom: the Leafs outshot the Caps 14 to 3, and Matthews scored a goal.
If Caps head coach Barry Trotz wants to help Matthews score more in Game Four, here’s how he should do it.
I know what you’re thinking. But Peter, you say, why would Barry Trotz deliberately deploy his second forward line to help Auston Matthews score?
A-ha! See, that’s where I’ve tricked you. It’s not that Barry Trotz is deliberately deploying the second forward line to help Auston Matthews score. That would be silly. Instead, he’s deliberately deploying John Carlson to help Auston Matthews score.
See? Much clearer now.
In the 25 minutes that John Carlson and Auston Matthews have faced each other in this series, the Caps have been outshot 35 to 19, a terrible possession score of 35 percent.
It seems that, compared to other Caps defenseman, John Carlson makes Matthews a much more potent offensive force, which is why Barry Trotz must keep that match-up, presuming, as we must based on the available evidence, that Trotz wants Matthews to score.
|Caps shots||Leafs shots||TOI|
The playoffs are all about adjustments — it’s a chess battle between coaches over the course of a best-of-seven series.
Trotz’s stroke of genius has been to subvert Mike Babcock’s expectations by assigning Carlson to Matthews. Who would have predicted that Trotz would primarily use the Caps defenseman with the highest rate of opponent shot attempts, opponent unblocked shots, opponent shots on goal, opponent expected goals, opponent scoring chances, and opponent actual goals against the best offensive player to come into the league since Alex Ovechkin? No one!
It’s some next-level game theory.
When Trotz spoke to the media on Tuesday, he reaffirmed his commitment to making Auston Matthews deadly in Game Four. The only adjustments needed, Trotz told the press, were mental.
Barry Trotz says the #caps need a mindset adjustment, more than a systematic or tactical one.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 18, 2017
Trotz, steadfast in his mission to help Auston Matthews score, will not adjust his strategy or deployments. He will not use Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov, the Caps’ best defensive pair, against Toronto’s best forward line.
It’s a bold strategy. Let’s see if it pays off for him.
Headline photo: Graig Abel