The first three games of the series were evenly matched. In fact, the previous 12 playoff games between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins had been decided by just one goal. For a match-up that has seemed so even this season, game four certainly looked mismatched. So, what happened? Here is a look at what went wrong for the Capitals in Game 4 and how they can correct it moving forward.
A Stunted Offense
The Washington Capitals did not look like a team that led the league in goals for in the regular season. Their lone goal came off a weak shot by Alexander Ovechkin that was tipped in by a Bruins player. The normal offensive energy that Washington brings to the game was nowhere to be found.
The Bruins defense prevented the Capitals from entering the offensive zone cleanly. Struggles in the neutral zone forced Washington to rely on the dump-and-chase zone entry instead of their usual passing plays . Not entering the zone cleanly made the Capitals focus a lot of energy on forechecking instead of setting up plays. Additionally, the Bruins strength in the neutral zone caused Washington to turnover the puck a good number of times, impacting their offensive chances and forcing tired players to take longer shifts.
While Boston’s tactics were harmful to Washington’s chances, the Capitals also had a number of unforced errors. It looked almost like the Capitals weren’t focused on the game, with too many missed passes, off-target shots and clumsy plays. There were rarely shifts where all five skaters looked like they wanted to score or win. Whatever the problem was, it was severe and Washington was only able to generate one high-danger scoring opportunity all game.
Where five-on-five offense was an issue for the Capitals, power-plays were just as troublesome. Out of the seven power-play opportunities the Capitals received, they only converted on one. During the regular season Washington was among league leaders for powerplay percentage. Shooting from Alexander Ovechkin and John Carlson, playmaking from Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetzov, and a variety of skills from TJ Oshie all made the Capitals first powerplay unit so successful. In game four they could not seem to build up their normal zone control or generate creative plays.
Ilya Samsonov excelled in game four. He is the reason that the Capitals entered the third period only down one goal, saving 22 out of 23 shots faced. While the Bruins scored three times in the third period, it was not a result of a lack of effort from the goaltender.
While Samsonov played well, Washington’s defense was lackluster. They let the Bruins make passes across the center of the ice and set up scoring opportunities with little opposition. Open players glided through empty space and were open near the net. David Pastrnak even had enough time and space to retrieve his helmet that had fallen off, adjust his hair and then put the helmet back on.
Defensive struggles were exacerbated by seven penalties for Washington. While the Capitals usually have a successful penalty kill, they struggled in game four. Washington allowed the Bruins to score three powerplay goals. Penalties killed Washington’s chances at winning, or even making the game a close one.
In order to move on to the second round, the Washington Capitals need to win their next three games. After losing three straight this seems unlikely, but is not impossible. There are, however, quite a few changes that need to be made if Washington wants to win.
First, the team needs more energy. If the Capitals want to get past Boston’s defense they need to be motivated and bring their best game. The players need to be energized, motivated and healthy. If Washington needs to change lines or bring in alternate players to give the team some spark, they should. Daniel Sprong was scratched from game four, but he brings strong offense that the Capitals should consider using in game five. Daniel Carr, Connor McMichael and Trevor van Riemsdyk are also options for the Capitals. These players are not injured, like some of the active Washington players, and could provide some much needed energy.
Second, the Capitals need to be more disciplined. A hitting first, puck second mentality followed Washington into game four, where the team recorded nearly twice as many hits as shots on goal. During the play and after the whistle Capitals players let their frustrations get the best of them. Unnecessary penalties need to be removed from the game plan if Washington wants to comeback in the series.
Finally, the Capitals need to want to win. All five skaters and the goalie need to play with urgency and passion. If Washington can put some motivation and heart into their game they may stand a chance at beating Boston in game five.