Last night’s come-from-behind double-overtime victory against the Rangers was a win even before it was in the books. Nothing takes the wind out of an opposing team’s sails quite like forcing them to blow a three-goal lead and busting their perfect record when leading after two periods. And with the series returning to Washington on Saturday... well, you know I’m too superstitious to say it, but you can guess what I’m thinking.
But for me, it wasn’t crashing the net to even it up that was fascinating about last night’s game, it was how the Caps approached the overtime periods. To my eye, it included some of the most finessed, controlled play I’ve seen from this team, due in large part to equally finessed coaching from Bruce Boudreau.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about. As the first overtime period began, we saw the Caps settle into what is becoming a familiar set-up: lining up at the defensive edge of the neutral zone, circulating the puck and waiting for the opposing team to commit. Patience may be the hallmark of a defensively-minded team, but to this extent? That’s something new for me, and it depends on discipline, conditioning, and confidence that, when the opportunity arises, we’ll be able to seize it.
Boudreau’s patience-is-a-virtue approach requires discipline because, come overtime, it is easy to develop a sense of desperation that presents in the form of easily blocked or off-net shots. That patience, in turn, demands conditioning. After the first five minutes of overtime, I settled in for a long night, because it was clear the Caps planned to run the Rangers ragged while waiting for the perfect opportunity. And finally, this technique requires confidence — the kind of confidence Boudreau was right to assume the Caps would have after coming back from a three-goal deficit to force overtime.
Because of all these demands, the perfect storm for Boudreau’s new favorite trick doesn’t appear every game. Particularly in the regular season, since these planets are less likely to align in regulation and overtime is short and played 4 on 4. Still, when we do get to see this technique in action, it gives me a great deal of pride in the team our Caps have become: controlled, deliberate, and smart.
By employing this technique, Boudreau is placing a vote of confidence in his players, and especially his netminder. Waiting it out in overtime is only a good idea of you’re going to be able to resist the lazy penalties that can come with exhaustion, and if your goaltender is going to be able to stop whatever shots he may face over the course of 20 or 30 minutes of intense play.
While last night the Caps shifted pretty far away from this system at times, having it as a baseline grounds the team and provides a theme for the overtime period(s): play smart, and that “lucky” bounce you eventually get won’t be lucky - it will be something you orchestrated through a period or more of calculated play.