In the first round of the playoffs, the Capitals looked as though everything had finally clicked in their play under Coach Dale Hunter. They made simple, correct decisions, took care of the puck, played a devoted team defense that supported their netminder, and established grinding forechecks to wear down their foes.
Before the seven games against Boston, though, the Capitals were often inconsistent in their execution. They would force plays, causing turnovers. Miss defensive assignments or fail to communicate on switches, leaving themselves vulnerable. Game 1 against the Rangers looked like the latter.
“Last night you saw more of a Washington Capitals from the regular season than Capitals from the last couple games and playoffs,” Karl Alzner said Sunday. “We had a couple… mistakes and mental errors and they scored goals. That team’s too good to have that and it’s frustrating when that creeps back in.”
There was little flow to the series opener against New York. The teams combined for 32 shots, each spent eight minutes in the penalty box, but there was more rapid, back and forth play as Washington committed turnovers and spent time trying to recover.
Jay Beagle said that the game felt “weird” because no matter what the Capitals did they couldn’t get going. He said his line, on this particular night a combination with Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera, couldn’t establish its usual game because it spent so much time in pursuit of the play.
“From our line, we felt like we were chasing the puck the whole night,” Beagle said. “We couldn’t really get a lot of hits, as much hits as we wanted to, or puck possession like we wanted to. We’ve got to find a way to get the puck and keep it, and not chase it.”
In the first round Washington’s patience helped it outlast the Bruins. The Capitals stuck with the game plan no matter how long a stalemate continued, no matter how long it took to gain offensive traction.
Against the Rangers, who play a similar game to Washington’s, that persistence will be even more critical.
“We’ve just got to be patient,” Joel Ward said. “I think last series at times we tried to hit the home run on certain plays and you’ve just got to be patient. It’s going to be the same thing here.”
The Capitals know how maddening New York’s style of game can be, after all they used some of the same practices to drive Boston batty. They need to keep that in mind as they look to counteract the Rangers. When New York blocks their shots, takes away shooting lanes, forces turnovers the Capitals can’t allow themselves to become rattled.
“I think they’re the style that we’d like to play and are trying to play,” Alzner said. “It’s a style that frustrates teams, but you got to stick with it for 60 minutes if you’re going to have a chance to win or get a goal, even. And yesterday we got too frustrated. We had a tough time playing against our own style.”
More on the Capitals:
— Beagle’s playoff diary: Game 1 is in the past
— On Hockey: Ovechkin knows what he has to do
— Caps lacked intensity in Game 1 vs. Rangers
— Holtby’s Game 1 peformance puts Caps in bad spot
— Graphic: Track every Caps shot in the postseason
— Semin demoted to fourth line in practice