Washington’s first-minute collapse in the first period and last-minute collapse in the second period doomed them to a 2-1 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Both of the plays that led Carolina’s goals were preventable on the offensive and defensive end, and reviewing the tape should help the Caps in Games Five and Six.
In hockey, the five to ten feet in front of and behind both blue lines is dangerous territory. It’s the focal point on the ice for turnovers. It’s where the majority of puck battles are won or lost, and it’s where critical defensive and offensive decisions are made.
My coaches called this area the “grey zone” or “grey area,” which is how I’ll refer to it here. The Colorado Selects Girls 12U program has great diagrams of what this area looks like, although their “grey areas” are delineated in blue.
These images show where a typical lineup will play and what each player is responsible for covering.
Image two is when the players are exiting their defensive zone; image four is when the players are entering the offensive zone. Notice that this area is where every player on the ice has overlapping responsibility, making it important for both offense and defense.
Both of the Canes’ goals resulted from the Capitals’ lack of communication in this area. Cleaning it up for Game Five will be crucial.
Carolina’s first goal of the game is due to a miscommunication error when a defender pinches along the boards in the offensive zone.
To start the game, the Caps dump the puck into the Carolina zone, and the Canes get the puck and ring it up the boards, where Nick Backstrom and TJ Oshie are trying to intercept it.
Matt Niskanen pinches in to help. Niskanen is on the strong side, he has at least a 50/50 chance to win the puck battle, and Oshie and Backstrom can get the puck down low for support and help him out, so this is not a bad decision.
Niskanen also has support from Dmitry Orlov, who slides over to cover for Niskanen jumping in. Orlov cedes the blue line once the Canes get possession, but look how far back Orlov comes to account for the pinch and Carolina’s speed. He’s at center ice.
The problem is Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom not communicating to cover for Orlov on the opposite point. Backstrom is deep in the offensive zone, so Ovi should back up to the blue line to Orlov’s old spot. Ovi sees this play developing but stands at the top of the circles, guesses that the Caps keep possession, but when they don’t he takes a circuitous route to recover once he sees the Canes breaking out.
Once the Canes get this puck up ice, they shift it to the opposite side of the ice and Orlov has to slide over to cover the impending 2-on-1. By that time it’s game over. Ovechkin and Oshie can’t back check fast enough, and Niskanen and Backstrom are beaten to the middle of the ice.
This play starts again with the Caps dumping the puck into Carolina’s zone. This time it’s so the forwards from the first line can change for the third line.
Brett Connolly, who just got on the ice, flies into the zone to try and hem the Canes in.
Connolly fails to keep the Canes in their zone, which is fine, because there’s an extra layer of support in Ovechkin.
Except–instead of offering true support–Ovi whacks at the puck, misses, then leaves for a line change while Andre Burakovsky takes his place to backcheck.
But all is still not lost! Orlov is in good defensive position checking Nino Neiderreiter, Brooks Orpik is holding down the middle of the ice to ensure no passes come that way, and Lars Eller is furiously backchecking Sebastian Aho.
Then the breakdown happens: Orpik slides over to help Orlov.
This is either due to a miscommunication in who was supposed to play which side (both are lefty defensemen), or Orpik thinks Orlov has ceded too much ground to Neiderreiter and Orlov will lose his man. Orpik goes over to help cover Neiderreiter.
The problem is that Teuvo Teravainen was wide open coming down the center. Eller and Burakovsky, who just got on the ice, should have been screaming at Orpik to let him know who to cover.
Y’all know how this play ends.
The easy–and maybe best–remedy is also what my parents say is the hallmark of a good marriage (and they should know; they’ve been married for almost 30 years.) Communicate with each other.
Hockey is a team sport; it’s not enough for any one player to see a play develop, think, and react. Their teammates also have to know what they see and what they’re going to do about it. Better communication between offense and defense, between players on line changes, and between members of different defensive and offensive pairings, could prevent these costly “grey zone” errors.
If the Caps talked to each other, they could be up 3-1 right now instead of tied 2-2.
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