Best of three - Game 5 Tonight Caps better TakeWarning - No Oshie
The Washington Capitals have found themselves in the same position this year as last after 4 games of the opening round vs the Carolina Hurricanes. However, this year the Caps seem to have their frustration level raised a bit as the Hurricanes have stifled the Caps 5 on 5 game and all but buried the Caps power play since game 1.
This is nothing new for Washington, as 5 of their last 6 series have been knotted up at 2 games apiece.
Another key injury has struck the Caps who are already playing without Michal Kempny as it has been announced TJ Oshie will be out indefinitely when he suffered an upper-body injury after being hit from behind by Carolina’s Warren Foegele during game 4. "He is meeting with our team doctors, and we'll have a little bit more of a timetable as the day goes on Reirden said on Friday. “But as of right now, he is out indefinitely." The hit, while penalized for 2 minutes, has drawn the ire of many on the Capitals side. I am not sure the player meant to hit Oshie into the boards as he did, but it was at best a reckless play on a defenseless player and should have warranted supplemental discipline by the league in my opinion.
The Caps have faced injury adversity before with Nicklas Backstrom missing time in last years playoffs and Tom Wilson also missed 3 games in the Pittsburgh series due to suspension. They went 10-3 without Oshie in the regular season.
Last years playoff unsung hero Devante Smith-Pelley has been recalled from AHL Hershey as Todd Reirden will look to shift his lineup to combat the injury to Oshie. Smith-Pelley has played well in Hershey helping the Bears to a playoff spot. In 20 games, the gritty winger, scored 6 goals and 14 points with only 2 penalty minutes.
The Caps forecheck has not been to where it needs to be, as coach Reirden commented on yesterday and he hopes the insertion of Smith-Pelley on the 4th line will provide a spark in that regard. If the Caps can get some of those goals he was scoring last year in the playoffs it would be a huge bonus with Oshie out.
The Caps lineup for tonight will feature a roadrunner line with Jakub Vrana and Carl Hagelin being paired up with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Their speed should help the Caps in their offensive zone entries as they have been having trouble breaking the Canes defensive system. Kuznetsov has to be better as he has looked at times to be frustrated and outside of some stretched in games 1 and 2 we haven’t seen the best of Kuzy yet. The Caps need it…..now.
Another issue the Caps are not dealing with well is on the power play. Since scoring in their first two chances on the power play, the Caps have gone 1-13 on the man advantage with Alex Ovechkin’s pp goal last game. While the Caps have learned they can’t rely on their power play to win games they also can’t have it become negative. Oshie’s loss as the right-hand shot in front of the net is a huge loss as he would provide cover as the “c” option for Backstrom as he sets up. Look for Brett Connolly to fill in here.
A major issue on the power play has been the zone-entry as the Caps have consistently tried to ring the puck around the boards to the opposite corner. The Canes are seemingly waiting on the puck on the opposite side the Caps are entering. Backstrom or Kuznetsov need to carry and hold onto the puck to have a better chance in my opinion.
The Capitals are averaging only 25 shots per game so far in the playoffs after 4 games placing them last in that stat. While it’s not entirely surprising as the Hurricanes allowed the 3rd least amount of shots in the regular season (28.6). The Capitals were 22nd in the NHL during the regular season with 30.4 shots-per-game so they are definitely having trouble with the Canes system.
Possession is so important in tight games and series, and it starts with the face-offs. Since the Caps loss Jay Beagle last summer to free agency, they have struggled as a team to gain an edge on the dot. This is playing out in the playoffs as well. The Caps 46% efficiency on the draws is second last of all playoff teams left. Interestingly, the Colorado Avalanche won their series over Calgary 4-1 with the worse face-off percentage at only 40.7%. The Canes are now the best-ranked face-off team left in the playoffs at 54%.
The Hurricanes will be without forward Jordan Martinhook as he was injured last game joining Andrei Svechnikov and Michael Ferland on their injured list. Aleksi Saarela will draw in for Rod Brind’Amour’s squad tonight.
Braden Holtby will again get the start for the Capitals. His playoff numbers over his career are spectacular. The Caps will need every bit of that from him to win this series. Holtbeast comes into tonight with a career playoff record of 25-16 at Capital One Arena with a 1.95 goals against average and a .930 save percentage and has won five straight home playoff games.
Gametime is 8:00 PM EST from Capital One arena in Washington, DC.
The Capitals also recalled G Ilya Samsonov from Hershey and reassigned G Vitek Vanecek.