It seems as though history is repeating itself for the Washington Capitals and their fans. They have a great regular season, end the first round in 6 games, and get put out by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. It seems as though it’ll be last year all over again. That’s not acceptable anymore. With a number of contracts coming due this off-season, the Caps windown to win is now. Players will be lost, and age will take its course.
The Capitals are down 3-1 in their series against the Penguins, and it is not over yet. It seems impossible, but it is possible to win the next three games and the series. To do this they need to take it one game at a time. Here’s what the Washington Capitals need to do to win Game 5.
Washington Capitals Game 5 Keys To Victory
Get Shots (and Traffic) to the Net
Washington has been out-shooting Pittsburgh all series. They’ve dominated most of the play. In Game 4, they out-shot the Pens 38-19. That’s dominant enough, but it could’ve been much more intense in the Penguins crease. If you’re going to win games you need to be taking smarter shots. To help get those shots past the goaltender and into the net, you need traffic. It seems every Pittsburgh shot hits a body or a stick of a Penguins forward before reaching the Washington net. The Capitals need the same kind of traffic and carnage in front of the cage. That’s the only way their shots from the point will find the back of the net.
Beat The Backup Veteran
This one seems obvious enough for anyone to understand — score more goals. But it’s not as simple as that. Pittsburgh lost their starting goalie, Matt Murray, to start the playoffs and Marc-Andre Fleury has had to step up and man the net. Fleury is a veteran goaltender but has recently lost his starting position to the rookie Murray. The Capitals need to exploit this. No matter how hot he has been playing, they need to remind everybody that Fleury is now a back-up goalie and a rookie has taken his position. A few smarter shots, and a bit of screening and they should be able to find the twine easily on him as they’ve done in the past. Earlier in the season when the Caps played the Pens and won 6-0, they put five past Fleury. It’s a very possible task.
Holtby Needs to Step Up
Marc-Andre Fleury has stepped up in his relief role, but 200 feet away from him in the opposing net, Braden Holtby needs to play like the starter he is. He was nominated for the Vezina for the second-straight year and it wasn’t by some fluke. He’s one of the best goalies in the world. That’s why his .909 save percentage just isn’t enough for a net minder of his caliber. He’s let in some soft goals (and yes some were defensive lapses) that just shouldn’t and normally wouldn’t go in on him. He’s playing against the highest goal-scoring team in the league. If the Caps want to go deeper and prove everyone wrong, Holtby needs to play the most important part.
All season the Washington Capitals have been praised for the depth they’ve built on their third and fourth lines. All season they were difference makers. It seems as though they’ve vanished from these playoffs entirely. Bottom-six difference makers like Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik have no points at all.
Their depth is what is supposed to carry them through these tough games and if they aren’t showing up to play, they can’t do that. These guys are the key to playoff success. To keep this team alive, these vets needs to dominate when they take the ice and run the cycle game they have all season
Ovechkin Needs to be Ovi
There’s no need to clump the entire top line into this section because T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom are point-per-game players so far. They didn’t really show up last game, but they’ve been there throughout the playoffs. The one top-line player who has not done much so far in this series is Alex Ovechkin. Ovi has not scored a goal in the last three games. He has one goal and three assists this series and is at a point-per-game, but for Washington to win, they need him to score goals. Ovechkin can be a difference-maker. His team erupts when their captain does. He needs to lead them on the ice, as well as in the room. He took the blame for his performance last game, so we should expect to see him more zoned-in for Game 5. Ovechkin needs to score the way he’s proven he can.
Take Advantage of the Beaten Up Penguins
Pittsburgh looks like they have gone to war. They are missing their best defenseman, Kris Letang, they’re missing their starting goalie, and their best (and arguably the league’s best) player, Sidney Crosby. In Game 3 the Capitals did a good job of running the show with Sid out of the lineup, but they need to pressure more. They need to tire out the depleted roster. They need to make Pittsburgh look like a team with major injuries. Right no it isn’t slowing them down. They need to stop them in their tracks.
Washington has been haunted for their entire existence about their playoff shortcomings. The Stanley Cup has always been so far out of reach. Since the beginning of the Ovechkin-era, it’s only gotten worse. This is their chance to change their image. In their final year of dominance, they can demonstrate their growth by conquering the dragon that is the Pittsburgh Penguins. The same demon that’s haunted them for years is haunting them once again. To overcome that demon, they need to take it one game at a time.
Also, it may help to not score on your own net.
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 10: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after scoring a third period goal against the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center on October 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Washington Capitals won, 5-3. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)