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Capitals look to flip switch to physical game

Slower pace suits Washington better against Pittsburgh

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- One of the strengths of the Washington Capitals this season has been their ability to win playing different styles.

Whether it's a physical, grinding game or a speed-and-transition game, they have a deep, skilled roster that can handle either. They are adept at playing with a lead, as indicated by their 34-2-2 regular season record and 4-0 playoff record when scoring first, and are dangerous coming from behind.

They were the only team in the NHL with a winning record during the regular season when giving up the first goal (22-16-6). They also had the League's best record when trailing after two periods (7-11-4).

In the Eastern Conference First Round, the Philadelphia Flyers tried to punish them physically and the Capitals gave back as much as they took in winning that best-of-7 series in six games. Then, in their 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their second round series Thursday, the Capitals showed they are one of the few teams that can keep pace with the speedy Penguins in a rush game.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm1: Oshie wraps OT winner for hat trick

That is not the way the Capitals want to play, however, and probably not their best way to win this series, which continues with Game 2 at Verizon Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC TVA Sports).

"In the first period, we played more of our game," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought in the middle frame, we played more their game. We didn't manage the puck very well, and if you don't manage the puck well against the Penguins, they've got a quick-up mentality, a quick-counter mentality, so you're playing with fire with that. We just have to manage the game. I thought in terms of some of our execution, in terms of our detail in our game, it was not very detailed as it has been in the previous series, and it's a different series.

"The Philly series was an in-your-face, grind-it-out, physical type of series. This one's a little different animal."

The Capitals would prefer to play puck-possession game and work the Penguins defense in the attack zone, using their size and strength to wear down Pittsburgh and generate scoring chances off of that. As Trotz said, they did that for a good portion of a first period when they outshot the Penguins 15-9 and took a 1-0 lead.

They let the Penguins dictate the pace and style of play in the second and much of the third, though, and were outshot 30-12 over the last two periods of regulation. Thanks to T.J. Oshie, who scored in the second and third, and the goaltending of Braden Holtby (42 saves), they reached overtime tied 3-3.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm1: Holtby makes save as puck goes off post

"We know they're a good team and they're going to take over at points," Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said. "They've got guys like [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby and we've got guys on our team that are going to take over at points. We had some good moments. They had some good moments. It was just an even-fought game. We got away from things a little bit during the game.

"We don't want to trade chances back and forth because it's going to cost you more than it will help you, for sure. They have guys that can hurt you off the rush and we don't want to trade chance for chance."

The Capitals got back to their puck-possession game in overtime and controlled play leading up to Oshie's wraparound hat trick-completing goal at 9:33.

"It was a little bit different type of game for us and you've got to find different ways against different opponents," Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's going to be different styles. It probably could have gone either way last night. We're probably fortunate to be up 1-0."

A key part of playoff series are the adjustments each team makes from game to game. The Capitals know the Penguins will try to move the puck quicker out of their own end to avoid getting hit. Pittsburgh defensemen were targeted on 22 of the Capitals' 43 hits in Game 1, but Trotz wasn't even satisfied with that.

Video: Washington's Wilson is mic'd for OT thriller

"You look at the last few Cup winners: L.A. and Chicago. They get pucks deep," Trotz said. "They're puck-possession teams. They get pucks deep and they work the opposition D. They separate themselves. They keep things alive. It's sort of the [recipe] to win and then if you have a skill level for it, you can make plays off of that."

That formula worked well against the Flyers. If the Capitals hadn't run into a hot goalie, Michal Neuvirth, in the last three games, that series would have been over quicker.

In Game 1 against the Penguins, the Capitals showed they can score on rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who gave up as many goals in one night as he did in winning the final three games in the first round against the New York Rangers. If the Capitals can make the Penguins play more in the defensive zone, that will also help hold Crosby and Malkin in check as they'll have less time to work their magic at the offensive end.

"I don't want to take anything away. Pittsburgh did a good job last night," Trotz said. "They did a real good job in a lot of areas, but we didn't do a good enough job in our own game, so we've got to tighten up our own game. We've got to be a little bit better. We've got to be a little more disciplined in areas of our game where we feel we can control the game in a sense and limit their effectiveness."

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