Well last week this time I was getting off a plane in Fort Lauderdale and preparing for a week of sun, fishing and camaraderie with 4 of my college buds in the Bahamas. At that point in time the Caps led the Canadiens 3-1 and the series looked well in hand. Wow what a difference a week makes. I'm now home, at work, tanned, happy with the large amount of fish we've caught, and the Capitals, or should I say - the Cardiac Caps, are warming up for a do opr die, winner take all Game 7 with those same Canadiens. I'm not entirely surprised, the Canandiens match up very well with the Capitals and Candien goaltender Jaroslav Halak has apparently been on fire since I left for warmer climates. I'm not sure myself, as I only watched a little of game 5 via satellite TV in the Bahamas and because of the weather while travelling back to DC from Fort Lauderdale on Monday, I only caught the third period of game 6. To be sure from what I saw of game 6 Halak is playing, very, very, very well. Tonight's game should be totally exciting, and great ice hockey. I believe the Capitals will win. Why - well because I'm a Caps fan and you gotta believe.
Will Jaroslav Halak Steal The Series From The Capitals Tonight?
Will Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak be able to turn in a super-human effort again tonight and steal this series for Montreal? Isn't that really the question on every DC hockey fan's mind today? After all when you look at the game 5 summary and detailed statistics it's really only because of Halak's efforts there that Montreal was able to take the series past Game 5. In game five the Caps as a whole did everything they should have needed to do to end the series. Seymeon Varlamov delivered a SV% of 0.9286 and the Caps peppered Halak with 38 shots on goal. The Czech goaltender in Montreal's net rose to that test though stopping 37 of those 38 shots and finishing the evening with a 0.9737 SV%. Or in simpler terms - stealing the game and keeping his team alive. Then on Monday evening in Montreal, Halak was even better stopping 53 of 54 shots on goal for an other-worldly SV% of 0.9815. What can you say, especially when several of the saves in both games were point blank shots.
What Can/Should the Caps Do to Turn The Tide Tonight?
Well that is tough since the Caps have, as has been noted elsewhere, been playing pretty well and we're talking minor adjustments. Keeping in mind I only really saw about thirty minutes of Monday night's game so my recommendations could be off mark but here they are.
1) Recognize that Halak didn't win Monday's game on his own. He had some help from Veteran Canadien players including: Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, as well as Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Andrei Markov. I continue to believe the Caps need to use their relative size advantage on the Canadiens, particularly during the first two periods to wean the Canadiens down and keep them off balance whenever they look to exit their zone. Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez are all under 6' and under 205# - whenever they are exiting the zone with the puck the Caps need to put a body on them and finish their check solidly. I'm not talking about playing dirty or even foolishly, I'm saying there are two things you can do to a guy now when he is exiting the zone and at least 51% of the time during the first two periods the Caps out to hit the puck carrier. Of the two choices I know that in today's NHL that's actually the higher risk option, but tonight they need to do that and when it doesn't work out the Caps goalie needs to stop the first shots when the defender/fore/back-checker misses. There will be a lot of adrenaline flying around the ice at Verizon Center tonight, and the Caps need to play with an edge but not over the edge. Further even though that goes both ways, if the Caps hit and slow down those three forwards as well and defensemen Andrei Markov and Marc-Andrei Bergereon, by the middle of the second period, the Caps first and second lines should start to see a little breathing space as they drive the net.
2) Solid team defense. For the full sixty minutes, no matter the score, the forwards, particularly the wings, need to backcheck, backcheck, nd backcheck - first and foremost. All too often over the past few games the Caps outlet pass and typical breakout play has become too, too predictable. They need to mix some things up in this regard, particularly against any sort of 1-2-2 or 2-2-1 trap.
3) Traffic, Traffic, Traffic - greasy goals and all. However also keep the ever growing confident Halak back further in his crease. You both have a right to the space in front of the net just beyond the crease. Play like a group of possessed men fighting for that small but extremely valuable piece of real estate.
4) Want it MORE. The Caps need to want it a lot more than Montreal and they need to play like that from the first puck drop till the last buzzer. Right now Montreal believes they can win this series, the Caps need to say loudly and proudly - not in out house and play like men possessed.
5) The line-up The coaching staff needs to look at things and put the absolute best available lineup out there and to me that's:
52 - 77
In the last minute of the first and second periods here's the unit I think should be on the ice at even strength: 8-19-28; 52-22 or 21 - that's right I want the Caps to score by driving hard for the net in each of the last minutes of the the first two periods.
Special teams power play - go back to the unit that got them here with a twist as much as possible: 28-19- 22 or 21; 8-52.
Special teams Penalty Kill (where we'll miss Tom Poti most of all tonight): first unit: 15-21, 77-55; second unit: 39-28, 26-74.
I doubt I've even come close to the line-up Coach Boudreau will go with but my point is we need to mix some things up more than folks are talking over at KCI yesterday. The team configuration shelling Jaroslav Halak has to look somewhat different than it did on Monday in order to create the different situations that might expose some "chinks" in his armour.
Before we go any further I want to put a shout out out there to make sure Tom Poti has a swift and complete recovery from his surgery - ouch!
I'm looking for big games by all the Caps but especially by all the Young Guns all of whom except Nicklas Backstrom who I felt were "diss'ed" today by Thomas Boswell in his column in the WaPo..Typicl DC Mainstream media coverage --- poor, ill-informed, subjective....
I'll be Rockin' the Red in Section 103 tonight. Hope to see you at the game.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!