Capitals vs Golden Knights: Through three games in the Stanley Cup Final, the Washington Capitals have stolen home ice from the Golden Knights by splitting the games in Vegas to open the series, and then winning the first game in D.C. with a convincing performance.
Considering the fact that after three games, Vegas has recorded 53.2 per cent of the shots on net and 54.3 per cent of the shot attempts, you wouldn’t be out of bounds to suggest the Golden Knights have deserved better than to have lost two games in a row. However, those metrics miss some of the detail that’s made the Capitals so successful in this series.
When you break things down into plays that generate goals, the Capitals are ahead in all categories at 5-vs-5. The gaps in shooting are relatively small, partially due to score effects in the last two games, but let’s not take anything away from the Golden Knights, as they’ve pushed hard when trailing.
However, there is a big separation when we move to passing plays that generate goals, with the Capitals holding a huge advantage in passes to the slot and passes off the rush, though the reasons they’ve been able to accomplish both feats are very different.
When passing to the slot, the Capitals have attempted 82 passes while the Golden Knights have attempted 79. On average this season, teams have been able to connect on about 39 per cent of their passes to the slot, but the Capitals in this series have connected on 50 per cent, exposing the Golden Knights’ gaps in coverage on a consistent basis. Vegas has struggled to find those passing lanes, succeeding on just 30.4 per cent of their attempts passes into the slot.
The Capitals’ ability to close up passing lanes and intercept or at least get a stick on passes that make them harder to handle has loomed large in the defensive end, forcing a Golden Knights offence that has been highly dependent on puck movement to generate goals to shoot more often from static positions, making Braden Holtby’s job much easier.
“You have to have a healthy hockey team, and I think the biggest thing is we’ve won our series in four games, six games and five games,” coach Gerard Gallant told media. “We had a lot of rest between series to heal up some minor injuries, and our team is fresh.
“There’s not too often you can say going into the Stanley Cup Final that your team is pretty fresh, and has very few minor injuries. Having time between series to get ready for the next one is a big part of having a chance to win.”
If injuries do hit, Vegas has some decent options to turn to. Tomas Tatar scored once in two games when he filled in for Perron and if Carrier is healthy, either he would return or Ryan Reaves would stay on the fourth line for a physical presence.
It’s fitting, then, that Ovechkin got this iteration of the Caps to the final, an underdog group with lower expectations than almost any Caps team since they won their first of three Presidents’ Trophies in 2010. Ovechkin’s 12 goals this post-season lead the Caps and he’s the highest-scoring player still alive in these playoffs. Ovechkin has been a playoff player the entire time and is without a doubt the best active player who hasn’t yet won a Stanley Cup. This is his moment.
“Can’t wait. We all can’t wait. We’re all excited. It’s huge,” Ovechkin told Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas in his post-Game 7 interview.