To Beat Tampa Bay, Washington Needs to Capitalize

After the top seeded Washington Capitals dispatched of the New York Rangers in five games, they looked like a team that was more than up to the task of taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.

However, two games in, the Capitals find themselves in a big hole after dropping both of the weekend’s games on home ice.  The Capitals are generating offensive chances, but can’t seem to solve veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson.  Roloson has long been considered a solid playoff performer, as he was Edmonton’s most valuable player during their run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.

Games one and two of this series have taken on an identity that appears to be eerily similar to the final three games of Washington’s first round matchup against Montreal in 2010.  Washington gets shots, primarily from the perimeter of the offensive zone, while their opponent plays a ‘trap’ style of defense and waits for their chances.

Like Montreal, Tampa Bay has a number of skilled forwards who only need one chance to change the outcome of a game.  The Lightning are sticking tightly to their game plan of forcing the Capitals to dump the puck in rather than carrying it, and Washington needs to find a way to beat it.

The wrong way to go about that would be what the Capitals did last year.  Washington’s skilled forwards continued to shoot from the outer regions of the offensive zone (see Alexander Semin’s 0 goals on over 40 shots against Montreal in seven games last year), and Montreal’s fast-break offense capitalized on their opportunities.

Washington needs to get back to playing the way they did against New York, by sticking to their defensive systems and waiting for their chances.  They’ve had their opportunities to score, and while Dwayne Roloson is playing extremely well, the Capitals need to bury the quality shots they get.

Tampa Bay’s scorers are delivering, as Martin St. Louis and Lecavalier accounted for all of the team’s goals on Sunday night.  To say that Washington’s problem is that the Capitals’ top scorers aren’t performing well enough is unfair, because Alex Ovechkin has been scoring clutch goal after clutch goal, but some of the other offensive weapons are still missing in action.

Nicklas Backstrom, a 100-point man a year ago has been a different player all season, and the Capitals need him to rediscover his scoring touch if they’re going to climb out of the hole they’ve put themselves in.  On the flip side, Alexander Semin has been much better than he was in the playoffs a year ago, and he appears to be the only Capital who can beat Roloson from outside of the slot.

Fortunately for Washington, they’re a more skilled team than Tampa Bay from top-to-bottom, and they’re clearly capable of coming back and winning this series.  However, if they’re going to do that, they need to make a statement on Tuesday night in Tampa Bay, and show they can beat the Lightning’s defensive schemes by out-hitting and out-working their opponents.

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  • Clifford

    Excellent analysis as usual, Ryan. Unfortunately I have a dark suspicion that–starting with Bruce Boudreau– the Caps just don’t have what it takes between the ears to dig themselves out of the smooth walled pit they now find themselves in. And you’re doubly right about their center Niklas Backstrom. What the hell is the matter with him offensively? Is he another Mikko Makela? Whenever the Caps fall behind they begin pressing and playing “every man for himself” hockey–which makes them far easier to play against despite their (erstwhile?) offensive prowess. Put that together with some of the stupid things their players do at the most inopportune times and what you wind up with is another underwhelming post season performance by a club which–on paper anyway–seems capable of a lot more…

    • ryan.davenport

      I think tonight’s game is going to tell us a lot about what the team’s made of, especially the guys who haven’t produced lately such as Backstrom. If they can put together a statement win tonight, maybe they’ll regain their swagger in time to avoid another early exit.

      • CLIFFORD

        Oh well. Now we know how THAT game turned out…Not shocked that Ted Leonsis kept “Double B ” as coach–after all, he also signed off on an extension for Alex Semin. Perhaps one more early round exit and Boudreau will be coaching somewhere else…