I know it’s allergy season and all that, but it’s probably not a good idea for every guy on the Lightning to take a Benadryl right before puck drop.
In two straight games, it’s not just that the Lightning — who dismantled both the Devils and far superior Bruins — has been outplayed by the Capitals, but they’ve been brutalized by this Washington team.
It’s now 2-0 Caps in the series, with goalscoring sitting at 10-4 to the underdogs who, I guess, aren’t underdogs any more. There’s not much here that’s worth breaking down except to say that it looks like Tampa didn’t have access to game tape. The Capitals are doing what they did, more or less, against Pittsburgh and it’s working very, very well for them. Better than anyone had any right to expect.
To be fair though, these were two games that, much like Winnipeg/Vegas on Saturday, didn’t feel close even when they were technically close. Tampa being up 2-1 in the first period, for example, felt like something that wasn’t going to last too long.
Scoring 70 percent of the goals in any given two-game set is certainly within the capabilities of a Caps team with this much top-end talent both up front and in net. But to do it looking this good is the kind of thing only an unabashed homer would have said was likely to happen.
Also, of course, the Capitals’ power play is running at such an incredible level as to be unbelievable. When they scored to make it 4-2 right at the death of the second period, it marked the 12th game of their last 14 with a power play tally. If you can get your man advantage running like that, you’re going to put yourself in position to win games.
It’s funny, because Tampa’s power play has also been very good in this series, but if you can’t win the non-special-teams battle, this Washington team also going punch-for-punch on the man advantage has to just be demoralizing.
This is the kind of thing that’s not always easy to write about because it’s like, “Well, look, we all see what’s happening here.” Could [insert player name here] be better for the Lightning? Absolutely, but much like the scoring dried up for the Bruins in the last round, that’s a little bit of what’s happening here. The Bolts have one 5-on-5 goal in the first two games of this series and have no answer for the Caps’ forecheck at the other end of the ice.
The wild thing is that the Lightning were the heavy favorites here and they haven’t been presented with anything they had any right to be surprised by, and yet here we are. The NBC intermission show made a point of praising Chris Kunitz as the Lightning’s best player in the first two games, which normally comes off as “We have to talk about someone and he at least appears to be trying hard,” but in this case it was like, “Yeah, no, Kunitz probably has been one of the two or three best players on their roster.” Which, if that’s not a sad commentary on the state of their series, nothing is.
It should be said here, by the way, that Andrei Vasilevskiy has been rather bad in this series, but if he should have given up, say, three fewer goals I’m not sure it makes all that much of a difference. Too many power play goals (obviously), too many odd-man rushes (obviously), and it’s not just the Backstrom and Ovechkin lines doing it. Lars Eller, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jay Beagle. These are not guys who should be torturing a top-three team in the league and yet here we extremely are.
And look, obviously Alex Ovechkin is playing at such a high level at this point that he cannot go unmentioned, but even his having a goal and an assist in each of these games wasn’t really what was moving the needle. Things are going that comprehensively poorly for Tampa that one of the best players of the era scoring two points a game wasn’t the primary reason they lost. Not even close. Amalie Arena sounded like a mausoleum for most of the third period, and that honestly felt like the fans who stuck around kind of not wanting to pile on their guys.
The really telling stat in all this is that in Game 1, high-danger chances were 13-5 in all situations. The Capitals were getting to the prime real estate with ease and the Lightning were not. Factor in the fact that Tampa trailed by multiple goals for most of that game and the problem becomes almost inexplicable. Things went much better in that regard last night (they tied 8-8) but a good chunk of those scary chances were on the power play — much was being made of the Bad Calls in the early going — and more importantly still not anywhere near good enough to make these games competitive.
So the question becomes what you need to fix if you’re Jon Cooper. The good news is that you have no shortage of areas in which to tinker. The Caps are making your team-that-was-among-the-best-all-year look, in this Eastern Conference Final, look like the tanking Sabres on a Wednesday night in February. You can lean on literally everyone and demand better performances, and luckily they can’t really get worse on you in response.
As mentioned earlier, I don’t know how you get this team to be more Engaged because Washington isn’t doing anything special or tricky. They’re picking off passes in their own end and crashing hard on the forecheck when the Bolts try to break it out. Pretty straightforward hockey and it’s not materially different from their approach at any point this season. It’s just all all all working for them right now.
At some point you just have to ask, “Is it because they got Tom Wilson back from suspension?” It would be hard to prove that isn’t. Checkmate.
What We Learned: Playoff edition
Tampa Bay Lightning: Can’t imagine there are too many higher seeds that lose two straight games at home — regardless of how it happens — and then go on to win their series. This is still a really good team, obviously, but you just can’t get bulldozed like this for two games against a team like Washington. The difference in this series, as it is for the Western Conference Final, was supposed to be depth, and specifically how much of it Tampa has. Not hard to remember how only like a week ago we were saying, “What is Smith-Pelly even doing in the NHL?” and now this. You figure it out!
Vegas Golden Knights: Okay so that game on Saturday night was some real “superhero fights the bad guy for the first time in a movie” stuff. Winnipeg looked like it had played in an entire different league from Vegas this season, specifically a much better one. Let’s put it this way: The Golden Knights trailed by two for basically the entire game and only put 21 shots on goal. They scored once at 5-on-5, only generated eight high-danger chances in 60 minutes of hockey, and didn’t really control the game at any point except for a few minutes here and there around power plays and the like. Compare to: Superhero gets new powers, sees the bad guy doing a bad thing, tries to intervene and gets punched so hard he lands six city blocks away. Turns out the Pacific was the first 20 minutes of Spider-Man Homecoming. They just better hope this series doesn’t end like Infinity War.
Washington Capitals: Honestly the difference in this series comes down to two numbers for me: .929 for Braden Holtby, and .855 for Andrei Vasilevskiy. Again, you can’t put it all on Vasilevskiy because if you face 21 high-danger chances in two games you’re going to run into some problems, but c’mon man. Eight fifty-five. Washington’s all-situations PDO in this series is 107.3. Even as that’s obviously not going to last forever, the gaps in their expected save percentages and the fact that Tampa’s home-ice advantage is torched can’t have you feeling good here. Yikes.
Winnipeg Jets: This was exactly what seemed to be the most likely outcome for the Jets in Game 1: The top line went punch-for-punch with Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith, and the depth lines really cleaned up after that. In particular, it seemed to me that the Tanev-Little-Perreault line just didn’t let anyone from Vegas’s depth group get anywhere near the net. Which was always going to be the problem. Winnipeg is going to score on the power play, that’s unavoidable, so it was important to score with the Jets’ top line off the ice. Not sure that’s gonna happen too much going forward.
Play of the Weekend
This just kinda tells you everything: This 2-on-1 looked so easy it might as well have been a 2-on-0, and that was Anton Stralman as the man back. Not too shabby.
Gold Star Award
Boy you know who was phenomenal on Saturday night? Big Buff. Just great.
Minus of the Weekend
Can we stop celebrating Bobby Hull? Like, Time’s Up and all that stuff. He sucks — here’s one reason and here’s another — and shouldn’t be shown on TV or talked about or honored or anything except “shunned.” Fire him into the sun.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Dornhoeffer” wants to make some moves.
PHI trades Pick 14 and Travis Sanheim and 2019 2nd to OTTA for Pick 4
PHI trades Pick 4, pick 19 and Wayne Simmonds to CAR for Pick 2
PHI selects Andrei Svechnikov
Ahhhh, well, that was wonderful. Good time was had by all. I’m pooped.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)