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Coaches Room

Capitals must tighten up against Golden Knights in Game 2 of Cup Final

Defensive breakdowns led to scoring chances, goals in series-opening loss

by Joe Mullen / 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, Mullen, a former assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers and 2000 player inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, breaks down Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals and what adjustments they need to make in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

That was a pretty exciting Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals on Monday, especially from a fan's point of view. 

There were lots of goals and it was back and forth with the Golden Knights making the final push to win 6-4.

 

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

 

The pace of the game was high and both teams came out ready to play. But as good as Game 1 was, I think the series is going to get better as it progresses.

No doubt, there are some areas each team would like to clean up in Game 2 on Wednesday. In the first period, there were a lot of turnovers. 

The most impressive things about the Golden Knights are their tenacity and their willingness to always put their bodies in front of the puck and how quickly they get on the puck and force opponents to make plays they don't want to make.

When they are forechecking, they're so quick they get on you right away. They kind of swarm you. They attack you with two or three players at the same time.

When you are playing against that kind of forecheck pressure, you have move the puck quicker. Washington has the quickness and the talent to do that. It just has to get back a little bit quicker and make the correct read faster.

Video: Jamie Hersch wraps up Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

The Capitals also forced turnovers with their forecheck. The Golden Knights kept rimming the puck around the boards in their own end, and the Capitals read it every time. I'm sure they scouted it out and were ready for that.

The Capitals were getting a lot of pucks, but they weren't getting shots to the net in the first period. They had one shot on goal in the first 13 minutes. 

When the Golden Knights turn over the puck in their end, they quickly get back into position and get either a stick or their body in the way so they block the shot or force the other team to shoot wide. The Capitals had 17 shot attempts that were blocked and another 23 that missed the net.

Vegas and Washington are similar in that each have four solid forward lines and a lot of talent on every line. Vegas' fourth line of Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan Reaves really came through in Game 1. 

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm1: Trotz on team's start, adjustments

That line scored three goals in the third period, one being Nosek's empty-net goal with three seconds left.
One thing that is evident is that the Capitals need to tighten up in the defensive zone. The Golden Knights had players alone in front of the net on three goals and they were pretty easy goals. The Capitals got people back, but their coverage was a little loose.

On Nosek's winning goal 9:44 into the third period, Capitals defenseman John Carlson was in front of the net, but let Nosek go and was kind of watching defenseman Shea Theodore, who moved down from the left point around Devante Smith-Pelly with the puck before passing across to Nosek. Carlson was also caught behind the net on William Karlsson's goal that tied the game at 2-2 with 1:41 left in the first period. 

And on Reilly Smith's goal that gave Vegas a 3-2 lead 3:21 into the second period, he was left alone in front when defensemen Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos were both to the left of the net.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm1: Smith cleans up loose puck in front

The Capitals players were all back and working hard, but, as coaches always say, it's that attention to detail that makes the difference. When you're standing there and you find yourself not covering anybody, something is wrong.

The Golden Knights would probably like to tighten up their defensive zone coverage, too. On Nicklas Backstrom's goal, which gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead with 4:37 left in the first period, he jumped by forward James Neal and was alone in the slot to take a pass from T.J. Oshie and score on a backhand. 

Tom Wilson also was alone in front when he tipped Alex Ovechkin's shot on the goal that gave Washington a 4-3 lead 1:10 into the third period. Although goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made the save and accidentally kicked the puck in, Wilson was left alone, too.

In a lot of ways, the teams were feeling each other out in Game 1, and usually the play gets a little nastier in the second and third games. 

Capitals coach Barry Trotz mentioned in his postgame news conference that although they didn't see the Golden Knights a lot during the regular season (played two games against them), everything they saw in their pre-scout was happening, so there were no surprises. It's just a matter of tweaking a few things and tightening up. 

Washington scored four goals. Usually if you score four goals on the road, that's a good thing. It wasn't in Game 1 because Vegas scored six.

***

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