Lost in all the hullabaloo of Game 2, namely Evgeny Kuznetsov being forced out of the game with an injury and a miraculous save by Braden Holtby to secure Washington’s win, was Jakub Vrana’s sensational performance for the Capitals. Of course, it was muted if you only looked at conventional statistics, because Vrana didn’t register a point.
With Kuznetsov out in Game 2, Nicklas Backstrom centered Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, while Lars Eller moved up to the second line alongside Vrana and T.J. Oshie. Vrana’s trio promptly created nine shot attempts and five scoring chances — two from the high-danger areas — in just 5 minutes 48 seconds of play at even strength while only allowing two scoring chances against. Vrana created eight of the Capitals’ shot attempts and five of those scoring chances.
Vrana has made his presence felt all season. After Ovechkin, the 22-year-old rookie was the team’s most prolific shot and scoring-chance generator at even strength during the regular season, producing 8.8 shots and 9.8 chances per 60 minutes of play. Among 264 forwards playing at least 800 minutes — Vrana skated 856 minutes at five-on-five — that output ranked Vrana 43rd and 27th, respectively. During this run to the Stanley Cup finals, Vrana is producing a team-high 13.3 scoring chances per 60 minutes, with almost half of those originating in the slot or the crease.
Looked at another way, based on when and where Vrana is creating his chances, we would expect him to have between three and four even-strength goals at this point of the postseason. Instead, he has one. (He has two total goals in the postseason, with the other coming on the power play.)
Vrana skated eight minutes at five-on-five against Vegas blue-liners Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore in Game 2, and he and his linemates enjoyed a 5-to-1 edge in high-danger scoring chances. With the Golden Knights’ top pair of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb tasked with trying to slow Washington’s top line, the second line featuring Vrana should have a huge opportunity to take advantage of a lesser defensive pair in Games 3 and 4.
And while his defense has caused him problems in the past — Coach Barry Trotz scratched Vrana in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Columbus Blue jackets because of “some things we need to clear up in his game and get him reset” — that, too, has improved. Vrana disrupted a pass attempt by William Karlsson to Schmidt with an active stick, a play that no doubt helps him regain the confidence of the coaching staff.
As mentioned earlier, depth is an advantage for Washington in this series, and Vrana’s speed and finesse are a big reason for that. Plus, with the next two games at home, Trotz has the benefit of the last change, allowing him to shelter Vrana’s minutes if he wants.
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