photo by Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post Photo
The Caps have tied Montreal in the series at 1-1, but they have played notably poorly in their first two games. What do the Caps need to do in order to win this series? Here are my very own "keys to the game."
Luckily, we already know how to solve Jaroslav Halak, but now the Caps need to actually do it. Eric Fehr's breakaway goal is a perfect example of where Halak is weak - high blocker side. When Halak goes into the butterfly on lower shots, he's near unbeatable. The Caps need to avoid shooting so low and shoot higher in order to best him. Both Carlson's and Backstrom's goals were high glove side. We solved Henrik Lundqvist last year (remember high glove side?) so Halak can be solved too.
Solve the Habs D
Especially after the first two games, it's become abundantly clear that the Habs D is, well, really freakin' good. Hal Gill is a) enormous and b) leads the league in blocked shots in this postseason (he blocked 9 shots in Game 1 alone). Jaroslav Spacek was a major problem for the Caps in Game 1. Andrei Markov has also been excellent thus far. This one is a little bit tougher to solve, but at least in the case of Hal Gill, he's not very fast. Bruce Boudreau may want to consider putting speedy guys like Jason Chimera and Éric Bélanger on the ice against Gill.
While José Théodore was outstanding in Game 1 with some sparkling saves, he allowed 2 goals in the first 2 shots last night. The first goal was embarrassing, and you could chalk up the second goal also to some poor defensive moves. Pulling him in favor of Varlamov was absolutely the right call, but who to start in Game 3? Theo has been solid all year, but many are saying start Varlamov, who has a great playoff record but was shaky during this regular season. Coaches will want to keep an eye on both in practice and definitely rotate the goalies to keep them fresh.
Top Line Must Improve
This definitely improved last game, as Nicklas Backstrom notched a hat trick in OT. Ovechkin had a goal and a helper, but Bruce may want to consider putting Alexander Semin on the top line instead of Mike Knuble. Both Knuble and Semin have not been effective so far in the playoffs, so shaking up the top line might benefit both of them. Obviously Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin can get too cute, but other times, they're outstanding. It could be worth it to try out the line combination and see if it can spark the offense we all know they can produce.
No one knows what Bruce Boudreau and the Caps might do, but they can't continue playing as they are right now and expect to move on in the playoffs. Game 3 is tomorrow night at Bell Centre in Montreal. We'll see what happens.