Worry in all CAPS
June 05, 2018 3:02 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
By the time you read this (press deadline of Monday morning), “our” Vegas Golden Knights will hopefully be playing in a Stanley Cup Final series for the ages… or will be down 3-1 entering Thursday’s Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena.
For the third time this playoff season, the Washington Capitals lost at least the first game of each series, yet came back to defeat Columbus and Pittsburgh, then took a 2-1 lead on the Golden Knights. Why?
Head coach Barry Trotz was known in Nashville for his videotape work, making necessary adjustments; he just didn’t have the talent pool to go far in the postseason except for goalie Pekka Renne. The Predators finally reached the Final the year after Trotz left. Oh, well.
The Capitals are different, owning something that traditionally creates a Stanley Cup champion: star-power talent. It’s not just a coincidence no-name clubs rarely hoist – thanks, Frank Mahovlich (the first known player to two-hand the Cup over his head; he turns 80 next week!) – Lord Stanley’s treasure.
Besides left wing Alex Ovechkin, the 11-time All-Star with seven Richard goal-scoring trophies, we are witnessing the greatness by members of the Capitals that West Coast fans don’t see too often. Most noteworthy are the D.C. centers – Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller. All are out-playing (barely yet noticeably) Vegas’ triggermen, especially in key, late-game face-offs.
This helps explain why the Knights won only one game entering the second week of the championship series. In Game 1, members of the fourth line of the Vegas offense were responsible for all three third-period goals (including an empty-net clincher).
Trotz may not be skating his No. 4 line much, but with a guaranteed two days between contests for travel – take a hint, NBA! – the fatigue factor doesn’t seem to be a problem.
What is a problem is the play of the goaltenders.
After allowing four goals in Game 1 (including one he inadvertently kicked in after losing his feel for the puck) Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury has been solid.
Fleury is the easy front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) even if the Caps carry off with the Cup. Fleury’s playoff goals-against average remains under 2.00, plus a stellar .937 save percentage. Outstanding.
On the other end of the rink for D.C., Braden Holtby’s play has been riddled with mistakes.
Holtby got lucky in the final seconds of Game 2, over-playing the puck to his left, was forced to dive with the paddle of his stick extended to the weak-side of the net in order to rob Alex Tuch with “The Save,” as called by NBCSN’s Doc Emrick.
Let’s face it, Holtby also should’ve posted a shutout in Game 3, but his own puck-handling blunder led to a quick turnover by Pierre Edouard Bellemare and a slam-dunk Tomas Nosek goal into an unguarded net to give Vegas a shot at again forcing overtime.
It’s the one hole in D.C. – well, besides Congress and/or the ACLU – which could prevent the Capitals from winning.
My major argument with Vegas’ play is worrying too much about countering Washington’s physical play by also being physical with the Caps – that’s not their game.
Even the VGK website ran a story last week, titled “Golden Knights Are Built On Speed And Work Ethic.” Hint, hint.
Two seasons ago, the San Jose Sharks made a similar (yet opposite) mistake. After three rounds of bumps and grinds to finally reach their first Cup Final, they attempted to skate with the Penguins… with disastrous results. Vegas needs to return to hard skating and use its ultra-hyper forecheck to re-gain the advantage on the Caps.
My commentary in Saturday’s VIP selection: either take Vegas and the Over, or take the Caps parlayed with the Under. Many of the sportsbook operators in town, who need Caps money, are still rooting for the Golden Knights – even if the bottom-line payout on Future tickets is approaching eight-figures.
Until the Golden Knights came onto the scene, “no one” in the West watched the Stanley Cup Final unless you were a Chicago Blackhawks fan – at least, according to television ratings.
So in Game 1, when the Caps’ Tom Wilson legally/illegally checked Jonathan Marchessault outside of his Lamborghini, everyone freaked out when no penalty was originally called. The NHL counters by having referees “over-call” the ensuing contests.
Coupled with the strange NBA basketball ruling over the weekend, when a charge-block call was overturned when video replay was used to check on another matter, how far can this go?
One Twitter author suggested an NFL receiver is reviewed to see if both feet are in bounds, but the call is changed on pass interference (offensive or defensive), which was not the original intent of “going to the tape.”
In the NHL, the 1999 Cup Final ended on such a call in triple overtime, when Dallas’ Brett Hull put the puck in the net, yet the goal counted despite one of his skates being in the goal crease before his shot. The rule has since been amended.
Folks, unless you’re a Kansas City Royals baseball fan (or any fan of an opponent playing the New England Patriots), this assault by TV execs worrying about non-fans watching hurts the sport.
Let the boys play.