Caps Fans Can be a Sensitive Lot, Time to Think Brave Thoughts

The Capitals have a chance to do something special today, they have a chance to take this series by the throat, with their screaming faithful there to root them on.

They will be back in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center, in an even series, holding home ice advantage. They are yet to play a complete game and have not gotten their offense or their power play going. And here they are, tied and ready to drop the puck in front of their own fans. If they can finally come out with urgency, and put a few goals on the board, they have a chance to push the New York Islanders to the brink.

I have rarely written about the Boys in Red because I am weary of writing like a homer and to be certain, there have been glaring weaknesses and there are obvious possibilities for things to go wrong.

The Islanders have come out stronger every game so far, attacking with energy and speed that Washington has not yet been able to match early. In the last game, one in which we scored first and won, Holtby still had to stop five shots in the first five minutes, and watching it felt worse than that.

They race to kill icing calls when we should have the angle, they fight harder for 50/50 pucks with a desperation we have not seemed to possess, they have made clearing the defensive zone a helacious endeavor and they have applied more pressure more often to start each contest.

Can we match that speed and intensity? Can we bring the desperation to match their hustle without giving up risky chances the other way, it’s not like we’ve done a stellar job of preventing their opportunities off the rush as is.

But Capitals fans know all that. I know that I can envision things going to crap as they have in the past, I think most Caps fans have every bit the cynicism and fear of a terrible reality to balance any optimistic hopes. Capital’s fans are well aware of the ways this could all end poorly, but this could be different and yesterday’s defeats do not dictate today’s outcome any more than hopeful star gazing. Some of us need to remember that one day things can end differently, as they do for only 1 of 30 NHL teams every year.

Maybe we’re not supposed to outrace this young team, flying up and down the ice may not be the path to victory in this series. Despite the early pressure, starting with game 2, things have been evening out by the second period and the Isles have petered out by the final period each of last 3 games. These Capitals are not the Caps of 2009 and 2010, they may not have the burst and firepower to outrun this opponent.

New York is young, when they are on their game they sometimes remind me of Caps of years gone by, high talent and a breakneck pace. But those Caps aren’t remembered for their deep playoff runs. Maybe these Caps need to weather the storm.

It reminds me of playoff basketball sometimes the experienced, solid teams need to control the flow, prevent the fast breaks, while keeping pace with a young team expending their energy making runs, and then take over the game late.

The 2015 Capitals are built big, they have experience, and they play a hard hitting game that can wear down their opponent. Game one was pretty tough, the goaltending was not amazing the skaters didn’t perform much better. Since then, the Caps defense has been responsible for much of the damage done against them, and while the Islanders have taken advantage at time, it should be easier to cleanup sloppy play than prop up outmatched players.

We have had two games with only one opportunity with extra man and have seen three less shifts with the man advantage over the course of the series. Though it is difficult to bemoan the numbers there too much when the unit is not doing an amazing job with the chances they get, neither players nor the guy deciding the line-up, though that is a complaint for later.

Also, to be fair, the lone opportunity in game 4 was pretty strong: so close Mo Jo. Back to the point, in no game have we looked totally cohesive.

Over the past week the Capital’s passes have frequently been lacking accuracy and our goal scorers have not had a big game yet. We have only scored eight goals in total, and one less in regulation, that’s not even two per a game two per a game.

The good guys have scored more than 1 goal in regulation in only a single game. Despite that, here we stand, tied in the series heading home for two of three games on friendly ice. They have shown mental strength, rebounding from being embarrassed on home ice, again from a crushing collapse mere seconds into OT and then fighting through 3 minor penalties in just over 5 minutes, refusing to fold.

If not for some very questionable decision making, the caps should have had a chance to win game 3 in OT, merely a short rest after dominating the majority of the third and scoring the final period’s lone goals. Now that is not to say they couldn’t have lost the game five minutes later, they absolutely could have, but a poor pass and a lazy shoulder were the difference between where we stand today and the Caps chance at playing for what could now be a 3-1 lead. That and a hell of a shot by John Tavares.

I don’t mean to disregard that shot, it was a great play at a small target and he killed it, but it should not have been there. It could be argued that it was just luck that allowed the Backstrom to get a light shot past Halak, right after the got a shot through that same John Tavares, who was at the time without his stick. Just luck, and to be fair there’s definitely an element of luck in many hockey goals, although I’m unsure about how much luck it takes for an Ovechkin face-off missile to break a twig.

The two situations are simply not the same. Backstrom’s shot came in an OT where the Caps had outshout the Isles by a margin of 2:1, Washington had zone time, strong chances and opportunities against a worn down team and it ended with the game winning goal. The same way the Capitals scored at least six of their eight goals, zone pressure and traffic in front of the net.

Things could go terribly today, the Capitals could come out slow, comfortable winners of their last contest on the ice at home and on the road. Complacency could lead to odd man rushes that lead to heartbreaking goals. But they don’t have to, this team has not played their best and they still have the chance to take the lead in this series and give themselves two chances to move on. It’s time for an inspired effort.

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