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Coaches Room

Capitals won Game 3 of Final by moving puck faster than Golden Knights

Corsi says shot-blocking, dominance on face-offs also keys to second straight victory

by Jim Corsi / Special to

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 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals and what adjustments need to be made in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series at Capital One Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

If we can go back to Game 2 for a moment, that's when we saw the pushback from the Washington Capitals. They were the team that adjusted and had a different level. They weren't waiting for things to happen, they were pressuring with speed -- and it was effective.

That's how they won Game 2. The formula stayed the same for Game 3, and that's why they're leading 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.


[RELATED: Capitals lead Stanley Cup Final after Game 3 win | Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]


The real theme here is Washington has moved the puck faster than Vegas, and when it does that, its skillset starts to show.

When you add in the aggressiveness of the Capitals' play as opposed to waiting for things to happen, there lies a bit of the rub that the Golden Knights have had with other teams. They've beaten teams with speed and their energy and scoring by committee. Now they're getting beat by those very same things.

Video: Hradek and Melrose on Capitals' Game 3 win

Two things stood out to me from Game 3 as key reasons why the Capitals were in control of the game for 60 minutes:

1) They blocked 15 shots in the first period and 26 for the game.

When you hear that about the Capitals, you're thinking that's out of someone else's playbook. But it's not. At least not anymore.

There was a play low to high, in the corner to create a look from up top, and who comes out to block it with one knee down? Alex Ovechkin.

Great defensive play. Great defensive positioning. One-knee down. Great block. You know the guys on the bench are looking at that and saying, "Well if he's doing that, there's nowhere to hide."

It's basically playing out of character. That's something Lindy Ruff always talked about when we were together with the Buffalo Sabres.

You get a guy like Ovechkin backchecking, blocking shots, taking guys out, throwing pucks through the seam instead of trying for a shot that isn't there. That is out of character, and that's the key. He's making guys around him better.

Video: VGK@WSH, Gm3: Holtby, Ovechkin on how Caps won Game 3

2) Washington won 63 percent of the face-offs (39 of 62), including 72 percent in the first period (13 of 18).

There's a lot of stuff happening, but when you break it down, you're looking at two out of every three face-offs being won by the Capitals.

It's about controlling the puck. If you don't have the puck, it's like you're playing baseball, waiting for the ball to come to you. You don't get a turn. You're wondering "When is my turn?' When you have the puck, you make things happen.

Beyond blocked shots and face-offs, it was about speed of execution for the Capitals. If Vegas did get the puck in the offensive zone, there was collective determination by the Capitals to really get that puck back. Not just defend, but get it back and move forward.

They put a lot of pressure on Vegas. They controlled the blue lines, the neutral zone and the faceoff dots.

There were a number of times when the Golden Knights tried to make a clever play with a good chance there would be no sustained puck recovery. When they tried to put it behind Washington's defense, the Capitals were quicker to get it back.

What would happen is that the first guy would go in and absorb the hit, but the second man in was usually a Capitals player who also had support with him. He'd turn, find someone and, boom, they're out.

Washington's second-man quick was just faster than Vegas'. It's usually the other way around for the Golden Knights.

When Vegas did get the puck back, the Capitals were blocking shots, so the Golden Knights had no sustainability.

There were a couple of good plays by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, but compared to the acrobatics and difficulty when Washington had chances, Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was way more taxed. Holtby could stay quite composed.

Video: Holtby's Cup Final performance has been strong

Even when you consider Holtby's turnover that led to Tomas Nosek's goal at 3:29 of the third period, his team was unflappable. That's a potential momentum swing, but the Capitals didn't let it become one. It was a bump pass there, a bump pass there. A dedication to defending let the Capitals' skillset come out, and they didn't let that one goal become worse.

If the Golden Knights are going to get back in the series, they're going to have to dump the puck in to get it back, not to turn it over. They're going to have to generate chances that lead to sustained pressure, not one and outs. They're going to have to be quicker into the zone.

If they're going to get back in this series, the Golden Knights have to get pucks through to Holtby to create that chaos where they win the battle for the loose puck.

That second-man quick is everything for them. You can stop the Capitals' speed and execution by getting on them faster. If it's these darting one-and-out chances with no sustainability, it's going to be tough.


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