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Coaches Room

Capitals won Game 2 of Cup Final with improved defense

Corsi says power-play adjustment also helped even series against Golden Knights

by Jim Corsi / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn his critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Jim Corsi, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Joe Mullen will take turns providing insight.

In this edition, Corsi, a former goaltending coach with the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues, breaks down Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, and suggests what adjustments they need to make in Game 3 of the best-of-7 series at Washington on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

One of the main things that stood out to me as I watched and broke down film of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday was how much better the Washington Capitals were with their team defense, especially inside the hash marks.

The Vegas Golden Knights seemed to maintain sustained pressure in the offensive zone and peppered Capitals goalie Braden Holtby with 39 shots, but they didn't seem to get much out of it. That's a sign of the Capitals doing a good job of tying up sticks in front of the net, keeping that area clean. It's also a sign of Holtby doing a good job with his rebound control.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

Those were key differences in Game 2 for the Capitals, big reasons why they held on for a 3-2 win to even the best-of-7 series.

When the shooter is shooting straight on, rebound control means that pucks are sticking to you, going away from danger, or at worst it's falling in front of you. It seemed to me that Holtby was lined up on all these pucks, but at the same time if there was any loose change, it wasn't as hotly contested as Vegas usually wants it to be.

Video: Jackie on how the Caps won Game 2 without Kuznetsov

We always talk about controlled chaos, the unscripted game, throw pucks at the net, make stuff happen by hunting down rebounds. It seemed the first part was there, but the second part, hunting down rebounds, that was done better by Washington in its defensive zone.

For example, Vegas outshot Washington 14-9 in the second period, but I had the scoring chances at 5-4 in favor of the Capitals. One of them was on the power play, but Washington played with great patience and dedication to team defense.

Vegas even had that 5-on-3 power play for 68 seconds in the third period, but it didn't generate a scoring chance. The Golden Knights set up the play with two men behind the net on the 5-on-3 and generally that sets up one pass, two pass and the one-timer from the strong side. Didn't happen.

Washington played more of a pressing D-zone coverage in Game 2. It was looser in Game 1.

The other thing that I noticed in Game 2 is how the Capitals moved the puck and changed their set up on Alex Ovechkin's power-play goal at 5:38 of the second period.

Often, the Capitals try to go with the high umbrella to free up Ovechkin for the one-timer. I haven't seen it too often when they go from the half-wall to the bottom of the circle to then a cross-crease pass to Ovechkin, who comes down lower in the left circle on a backdoor play.

Vegas seemed a bit stunned by the set-up from Nicklas Backstrom to Lars Eller to Ovechkin. It also looked like the Golden Knights penalty-killers were maybe a hair too compressed lower in the zone too, but still couldn't stop that low-seam pass.

Video: Breaking down the Capitals' Game 2 victory

The Golden Knights looked like they were playing off a potential pass to T.J. Oshie in the slot, but they forgot that left-side defenseman should come up higher and close the opportunity to make the pass down low to Eller.

Once it got to Eller, the Capitals pulled a rabbit out of their hat by going with the cross-crease pass. That probably surprised the Golden Knights to the point where you have to say "Wow" because that's not their traditional play.

That is a new wrinkle in the Capitals power play, and that's the power-play goal that made the difference when you consider that the Golden Knights couldn't generate anything on their 5-on-3 later in the game.

Of course, Holtby also made that heroic save on Alex Tuch with 1:59 remaining in the third period to make the one-goal lead hold up for a one-goal win, but the nature of these playoffs is you're always one mistake or one heroic play from winning and losing.

Looking ahead to Game 3, I think the first thing the Golden Knights will focus on is their dedication to hunt down loose pucks and overall just make Holtby's job more difficult.

Video: Johnson analyzes Capitals' power play in Game 2 win

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant has already said he didn't think his team got inside enough, so you know he's on top of that, as I would expect him to be since he's a terrific coach. They know Holtby saw too many of the 39 shots he faced, and without traffic he was able to have the puck stick to him or stay near him more often.

The Capitals will have to continue with that patient game, especially on offense, but they do need to get more pucks to the net, tax the Golden Knights defense more. They had 44 shots attempts in Game 2. They'll want more in Game 3.

It helps if they get Marc-Andre Fleury moving too. He's aggressive, so if you can get him moving side to side, it can be a long way to go for him. You saw that on Eller's 4-on-4 goal at 17:27 of the first period Wednesday.

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