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Capitals want to take pace away from Vegas in Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final

Aim to settle things down after losing series opener to Golden Knights

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Among the many lessons the Washington Capitals learned in their 6-4 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday was that playing against them is a lot different than watching them on video.

Now that they have a game under their belt, the Capitals believe they'll be better prepared to dictate their style of play in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

[RELATED: Capitals have been in 'tougher positions' than trailing Stanley Cup Final | Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

"We're not as maybe familiar with Vegas," Washington coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday. "In terms of the information we gave the players and all that, they didn't do anything different. But you have to play against that type of opponent. Any opponent that you play very seldom you have to get a feel for."

The Capitals played the Golden Knights twice in the regular season, but not since a 4-3 loss at Washington on Feb. 4. They made their only visit to T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 23 and lost 3-0.

Although they knew how the Golden Knights like to play with their relentless forecheck, it had been a long time since they'd faced it live and it took some time to adjust. The Capitals were able to get the game under control at times, rebounding from 1-0 and 3-2 to take leads of 2-1 and 4-3, but most of the game was played at the frantic pace the Golden Knights thrive in.

That began from the drop of the puck. Vegas outshot Washington 8-2 in the opening 13:48 and took the lead on Colin Miller's power-play goal at 7:15. So starting better is one of the keys the Capitals are focusing on heading into Game 2.

"Even if we're not dominating at the beginning, we've got to find a way to settle it down and calm ourselves down a little bit quicker to be able to re-establish what we want to do," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "I think it starts in the [defensive] zone. The quicker we can get the puck out and we can get out and into their zone, that's the recipe for any game usually, but certainly against these guys that track real hard and make it hard to get it out of our zone."

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

Although the Golden Knights are one of the more aggressive teams on the forecheck, Carlson said the Tampa Bay Lightning came at them harder in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final. The Capitals were able to take advantage of that with quick, clean breakouts that led to odd-man rushes in the other direction, which helped them win the first two games of that series.

They weren't as efficient handling the Golden Knights' pressure in the defensive zone or neutral zone. That led to some sloppy passes and turnovers.

"When the pass is not right on the tape, they get it back right away and go on the attack," Capitals center Lars Eller said. "We just have to be a little sharper with the execution. The key a lot of times is the forwards that don't have the puck, they have to get available right away and show that they want the puck. The guy that has the puck is getting swarmed by one, two or three guys and he has to have options. We didn't always have options last night."

Goaltender Braden Holtby can also help by handling Vegas' dump-ins better. That would give the defensemen a little more time and space to make decisions with the puck against the Golden Knights' forecheckers.

"I could've done a lot better job to make easier breakouts and stuff," Holtby said. "They worked on a bit trying to figure out a game plan. They're little erratic compared to most forechecks. They don't go the same routes every time. They're kind of just free-for-all at times. You need patience. You need to read every forecheck different."

Video: Burakovsky on Game 1 against the Golden Knights

If the Capitals improve their defensive-zone exits and get through the neutral zone with speed, they can take the game to the Golden Knights with extended shifts in their end. That would also allow them to wear down the Vegas defensemen.

That's been part of their recipe for success throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It doesn't matter what happens, we just have to push, we have to play the same way," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "Obviously, last game, it was not our best game. Tomorrow's going to be different day, it's going to be different game."

If the Capitals can dictate their style of play and win, the series will look different heading to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.

"If we bring our game to a level I know we can, as a coach I'm excited about that because I thought we left a lot our elements out that we haven't had in our previous series where I thought we had a pretty complete game," Trotz said. "So if we make the adjustments that we need and everybody gets back to a little more of our foundation, then I think we'll be back in the series real quickly."

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