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Coaches Room

Capitals, Blue Jackets morphing game plans as series progresses

Mullen says penalty kill, defensive-zone play has already changed as Game 4 approaches

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 their 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 who scored 502 NHL goals, writes about what he has seen through the first three games of the Eastern Conference First Round between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals.

 

Looking torward Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round between the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVAS2, FS-O, NBCSWA), I'm hoping to see more of what I saw in Game 3 on Tuesday, which the Capitals won 3-2 in double overtime.

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

That was the best game of the series.

It was a well-played game with both teams really battling out there. Columbus came out strong and enthusiastic being at home in front of their fans after winning the first two games of the best-of-7 series in Washington in overtime.

Washington had the better chances in Game 3. Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby played well.

The Capitals outplayed the Blue Jackets in the first two games and probably deserved to win if not for Bobrovsky. He's been a difference maker so far.

Game 3 was more evenly matched. The hits were great, the skill levels were great and the goals that were scored were hard-working goals and good plays.

Each team adjusted on the penalty kill after power plays dominated in the two games in Washington. The Capitals went 5-for-13 on the power play in the first two games and the Blue Jackets went 4-for-8.

In Game 3 the Capitals went 1-for-4 on the power play, with the goal coming on a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period. The Blue Jackets went 0-for-4, including a missed opportunity in the first overtime.

Video: Holtby Claims the crease for the Capitals

Each team stood up a lot better on the blue line and didn't allow as many easy offensive-zone entries. They also quashed all the plays right away. If the puck was dumped in, each team battled the puck out of the defensive zone quicker.

Columbus did a better job on face-offs in Game 3, going 43-37. Washington was the better team on draws in Game 2, going 52-45.

Winning face-offs becomes even more important during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you're winning those draws, that means you have possession of the puck right away and aren't chasing it, trying to get it back. That can wear on a team. That's key in the playoffs.

It's been exciting to watch all three games go to overtime, but it can take a physical toll on the teams. Although it's early in the playoffs, it still wears you down.

Whether it takes effect in this series or in the next series, that's to be seen. But that's a great part of playoff hockey.
Unlike in the regular season, these games aren't decided by the shootout. They keep going on until somebody scores.

That's the best part about playoff hockey.

***

 

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