The New York Rangers ended the Capitals’ seven-game winning streak on Saturday night after a late goal by budding superstar Mika Zibanejad.
The goal came with 1:32 remaining in the game off a Brenden Dillon turnover in the Capitals defensive zone. The play garnered vitriol from some Caps fans on social media.
— NHL (@NHL) March 21, 2021
Zibanejad’s goal begins with the Rangers trying to clear their own zone along the boards. John Carlson, at the point, is unable to keep the puck in the zone. Pavel Buchnevich grabs control of the biscuit and lobs it on his backhand to the middle of the ice. As the puck slides into the Caps’ end, Dillon races to the puck first as a hard-charging Zibanejad is breathing heavily down his neck.
There is an obvious next play here: Dillon should reverse the play on his backhand to Nic Dowd who is set up at the blue line ready to accept the pass and transition back down the ice.
Instead, Dillon pump fakes, curls, and tries to go to the other side on his forehand. Perhaps Dillon thought in that split second Zibanejad has already closed that lane off or that he’d pick off a backhanded pass, which is a difficult play to make. Or maybe Brenden’s unclear if a line change is happening behind him.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 21, 2021
Regardless of why, Dillon is now committed to going the other way across the ice. Zibanejad, who did not buy the fake, is now closing with a lot of speed. As Dillon tries to make a play, Zibanejad gets his stick on the Capitals defenseman, whacks him in the ankle, and cross-checks him in the back. Dillon gets bent over and falls to the ice, possibly catching a rut on the ice. He loses control of the puck.
Zibanejad then picks up the loose biscuit and quickly rifles it to the top corner of the net, catching Ilya Samsonov deep in the net. Game over.
“We got the puck out,” Zibanejad explained postgame. “I was basically chasing their D and tried to stay on him. Got a push. I don’t know if he caught a rut or something. He fell and I was able to get the puck, try to get it on net. It went in and it was nice.”
When asked about the play postgame, Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette defended his player.
“It was a tough break,” Laviolette said. “Dilly’s been so good for us and it was one of those bounces that didn’t go our way. We’ll move past it and get ready for the next game. He’s a guy that’s been so strong for us the entire year for so many different reasons and so many different roles. We’ll move past that.”
He added, “I thought we played a better game, I thought we were tighter defensively than last night,” Laviolette said. “I thought as the game wore on, we generated more chances and more looks. We had lots of attempts. They did a good job of blocking shots. We had zone time, we were doing a lot of things we wanted. We were just unable to get it done.”
In hockey, sometimes a big blip overshadows the underlying play of a team, garnering an overreaction out of fans. The most noticeable thing, like a bad turnover or a poor pass, is going to be much more memorable than a team going 0 for 4 on the power play (which the Caps did) and only scoring one goal in the game. And that play is going to be magnified when a team has won seven-straight games and 11 of their last 12 games.
Tonight, what happened was that a great player, Mika Zibanejad, made a great play and that one mistake was the deciding factor because the Capitals didn’t put up enough offense. It happens. We forgive and we forget.
What we should worry about though is Brenden Dillon’s underlying play all season long. Among Capitals’ defensemen who have at least 120 minutes of 5v5 ice time, Dillon is in dead last in shot attempts percentage (48.2), high danger chance percentage (46.1), and expected goal for percentage (48) per Natural Stat Trick.
Brenden Dillon (48.3 SA%) appears to be a passenger, Of the top-ten Washington defensive pairings by ice time, when you rank them by shot-attempt percentage, Dillon’s in last (with TVR), 8th (with Carlson), and 7th (with Schultz). If anyone deserves a night off, it’s not 43-year-old Zdeno Chara; it’s Dillon. I am a bit lost as to what he brings to the table right now. Especially when you consider who’s waiting in the wings.
For how incredibly likable and physical Dillon is, he seems to be struggling in Laviolette’s fast-moving system which requires good skating, good puck skills, and aggressiveness. What the Capitals should or should not do about that fact is what’s more worthy of debate as the team tries to make its second championship run in four seasons.
— KP8 (@KP8Design) March 21, 2021
Update: An earlier version of this post misidentified Richard Panik at the point. It was John Carlson.
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