Just because you expect pain to hit you in the soul doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. That’s basically how I felt after Game 1 last night as Washington once again blew a 2-0 and 3-2 lead over a younger and fresher Columbus team with a changed head coach and different ideas. I mean, Thomas Vanek is a positive relative puck possession player on this team for crying out loud!!!
All you needed to see was the complexion of how the Capitals played as soon as Michael Kempny went down injured from Josh Anderson’s boarding major that got him ejected for the game. Sadly, the trade off is a complete negative on Washington’s part because it meant two things. Head coach Barry Trotz had to play with five defensemen the rest of the way. It was so obvious that John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitri Orlov: all with 29 minutes of ice time each by games end, were seeing their influence decreasing by every shift. Along with that, Jakub Jerabek only saw 13 minutes of ice time all game, so you might as well have said that Trotz played with four defensemen all night.
Tonight’s game was proof as to why I slightly gave Columbus the advantage more than I gave Washington’s. If the Capitals were going to win, it was solely going to be because of its star power and special teams play. If Columbus won, it was solely going to be because of its youth, coaching and even strength play: the latter of which has been the most common of ways to win Stanley Cups.
In fairness, Washington surprisingly were having the edge in this game during the first period with a 9-6 shot attempt advantage and they drew three power play opportunities to Columbus’ one. They looked like the more confident team. They kept their puck on the stick the longest and they were the ones that were imposing their game plan the most. Yes, the Caps’ first two goals were on the power play, but all those goals would not have happened without that shear dominance at even strength
All of a sudden though, Columbus woke up and started showing their might and how they play the game. By the time the third period came around, you knew which of the two teams looked fresher. When it was all said and done, Columbus won the score-adjusted even strength shot attempt battle 22.6-17.9 in the third period and overtime, including a 12.1-4.0 shellacking in scoring chances according to Natural Stat Trick.
To add insult to injury, Washington’s penalty kill was nothing short of a disgrace. Over the course of the regular season shot prevention in those situations was in line with how they performed at even strength by eighth-worst in the NHL at 107.7 shot attempts per hour. Last night, that same team gave up seven shot attempts in 4 minutes and 52 seconds of shorthanded ice time. Do a little bit of PEMDAS and you’ll see that the Capitlas gave up 209.6 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Giving up two goals after 13 and 39 seconds of the start of a Blue Jackets power play will do that to you and they were definitively giving up too much time and space along the half wall for Columbus’ passers to pick them apart.
The most egregious of them all was Vanek’s goal to tie the game at two in the third period. Simply put, Brooks Orpik proved once again who he was: an aging defenseman that has fooled every “hockey man” everywhere into thinking he’s a crease clearing defenseman because he’s as big as Andre the Giant. But like every giant before Orpik, they all find a way to break down easily. Add this to Eric Fehr’s game winner in Game 2 of the 2016 Penguins series to the collection of evidence for Robert Mueller as to why Orpik colluded his way towards a contract that should have been given to Mike Green instead. Remember, this is a Columbus team that had one of the worst power plays in the league. Even with their hot streak coming into the postseason saw the Blue Jacket’s power play only improve from 92.3 shot attempts per hour to 94.3 shot attempts per hour.
Simply put, Washington will get swept if their shorthanded unit plays like that ever again. Fortunately, there were positive signs for them and if they can repeat their performance of the first period into an entire game, they should make this into a series. Still, I picked Columbus to win for a reason and now they are the first to claim a road victory. If Barry Trotz is smart, he will play Christian Djoos with John Carlson (53.3% puck possession in 527 minutes of even strength ice time together) until Kempny returns to full health instead of Orpik (44.9% puck possession in 463 minutes of even strength ice time together) and the team won’t skip a beat as a result. But then again, this is Barry Trotz we’re talking about…