Tonight, the Maple Leafs hope to take a shocking 3-1 series lead on home ice against a Capitals team that should be desperate after two straight overtime losses.
While some of it might be attributable to falling behind so early and trailing for significant portions of the game, the Leafs managed to out-chance and out-shoot the Capitals at even strength in Game 3. There were times throughout the game where Washington controlled the play, especially early in the first and second periods, but the Leafs overall 60-minute effort should be commended as there wasn’t a time during the game where they were down in either scoring chances or shot attempts at 5v5.
After a Game 2 in which debatable penalties were one of the main storylines, the refs were in playoff mode in Game #3. Although they called 12 minor penalties, one was for delay of game, another was for too many men, and five were for roughing. The hooking, tripping and cross-checking went uncalled after eight stick infractions were handed out in Game 2. This is something to watch going forward, as what exactly constitutes a penalty is becoming less and less clear for the players.
You can’t go through a quick summary of Game 3 without mentioning the Matthews line. Overall, they produced at a ridiculous average of 72.2CF% and generated nine shots to go along with goals from Matthews and Nylander and assists from Matthews and Hyman. The dominance of the line has Capitals fans clamouring for more of the Orlov – Niskanen pairing in that matchup as opposed to Schmidt (previously Alzner) – Carlson.
What to Expect
Ovechkin’s low TOI in Game #3 was talked about at length, but it seems the 15:08 that the NHL stat keepers put out may have been misleading:
Know what's fun? Rewatching Ovi's shifts from last night and realizing the off-ice officials had him down for less than he actually skated.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 18, 2017
Either way, Trotz is likely to give Ovechkin more time out there tonight. One of the things that has been eating up some of his ice time opportunity is the line’s zone starts. The Ovechkin line gets the highest offensive zone looks of any Capitals forward line and the Leafs had their highest percentage of offensive zone starts so far in the series in Game 3. Worth monitoring: If the matchups continue to favour the Leafs at home, would Trotz consider moving Ovechkin and Backstrom apart to present Mike Babcock with more of a matchup challenge?
Zaitsev’s big return was disappointing at first, understandably. His mistakes on the first two Capitals goal were well documented, with Zaitsev caught puck watching, and he ended up with the lowest TOI of any of the Leafs top four. He seemed to adjust to playoff pace after the early hiccups, so we’ll see if Babcock increases his workload in Game 4. Morning skate pairings indicate he will remain with Gardiner, who led the Leafs in TOI in Game 3 and continued his fantastic play in this series.
Additionally, we could see Rielly on the PP again tonight instead of Zaitsev after he took some shifts away from Zaitsev on the second unit on Monday. Rielly is an asset on entries, he’s looked excellent moving laterally along the blueline, and he now has power play points in two consecutive. The knock on Rielly’s PP abilities has been his shot, but his ability to put himself in a position to get shots through is equally as valuable, and the defenseman at the top of Toronto’s 1-3-1 doesn’t shoot all that often anyway.
The Bozak line had its quietest game of the series in Game 3. Something Babcock may consider going forward is softening up their zone starts and giving the Matthews line a slightly harder assignment. JVR-Bozak-Marner averaged 28.7% offensive-zone starts in Game 3, higher only than Kadri’s matchup line. Babcock looks like he wants a second line to take relatively heavy defensive zone draws and Bozak is a good faceoff taker in that regard, but he may want to spread those out more than he did in Game 3. The Boyle line has been great in the last few games while directly matched up against Washington’s fourth line without playing a whole lot outside of that matchup. So, it may be up to Matthews’ line to take some of the burden away and help free up what was a great chance-producing line earlier in the series.
You can bet that one of the narratives on the broadcast tonight will be the expected big response from the Capitals, especially in the wake of what the Sharks’ did on Tuesday night after losing two consecutive to the Oilers. The Leafs will need to be prepared for a big push out of the gates from a desperate Capitals team that is now feeling the heat big time.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on heeding the warning of the San Jose – Edmonton result last night:
The games have been tight. Neither team has been able to get away from the other team. I think most playoff games have been tight. You just saw Edmonton and San Jose last night. Obviously, you’ve got to play well. It’s important for us to get off to a good start here tonight. We’re in a good situation. We want to keep it that way. We’ve got to start fast.
There are two parts to that equation. One team relaxes, feels pretty good about themselves, talks to everybody and they tell you how great they’re doing, and the other team gets prepared. We talked about that after Game 1 and after Game 2, and we’ll continue to talk about it. It’s so important to get off to a good start here tonight and prepare to compete. They’re going to compete. We have to compete.
Babcock on Trotz’s comment that he no longer considers the Leafs’ youngsters rookies:
They’re first year players, anyway you look at it. They’re three games into their playoff careers. Anyway you look at it, a lot of our guys — even our veteran guys — are seven games in. I think I’ve coached guys who have played 250 playoff games, so it’s a big difference there. We think we have a good team and we’re gaining confidence and getting better. It’s all about tonight.
Justin Williams on the pressure this Capitals team is under:
I think the whole favourite thing and expectations are things that are certainly put on ourselves more than by anyone else. Everyone will talk about them, but when you feel you have an opportunity — and I know this very well — you want to seize that opportunity. You really don’t know how many more you’re going to get. It’s very rare that you can just waltz your way through these playoffs. Seeding doesn’t matter. We have a tough test here. Sometimes you’ve got to man up and win some games.
Nothing really needs to be said. You’re down 2-1 in the series. There it is. You go back home and make it a best-of-three on home ice. That’s the goal and the one focus we’re on.
Alex Ovechkin on his ice time in Game 3:
I don’t care. I think I’ve played good minutes. Right now it’s not about my ice time. It’s about the series… we have to get this team to play our way, not their way.
Trotz on his team’s response to being 2-1 down:
They’re reacting like pros. They realize that a bounce here or a bounce there and the series could be in our favour, but it hasn’t gone that way. This team is pretty mentally tough. Mental toughness is a daily act if you’re going to be in a series. Sometimes you have to battle through it. The other team is a very good team. You’re going nose to nose. The players you’re going against on a nightly basis, you’ve got to win those battles. Right now some of those battles are epic between guys. There is not much room and it’s going to be all about the will.
Trotz on why Ovechkin’s ice time was down in Game 3:
That’s on me to get him the ice time. Sometimes that’s situational. Sometimes that’s zone starts. His minutes — I can get those up. It wasn’t based on play. I thought Ovi was playing terrific and it’s on me to get him a little more ice time.
There are rhythms in the game where Matthews is coming out in the offensive zone, so that may be a Beagle start, or something like that. You try to get [Ovechkin’s line] offensive starts, just as [Babcock] tries to do with Matthews’ line. We’ve got to get a few more offensive starts here and there, too.
Washington Capitals Projected Lineups
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Nate Schmidt – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Kevin Shattenkirk
Starter: Braden Holtby (1-2, .914 SV%)
Backup: Philipp Grubauer
Injured: Karl Alzner
Scratched: Taylor Chorney, Paul Carey
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews -William Nylander
James Van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Matt Martin – Brian Boyle – Kasperi Kapanen
Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev
Morgan Rielly – Matt Hunwick
Martin Marincin – Connor Carrick
Starter: Fredrik Andersen (2-1, .925 SV%)
Backup: Curtis McElhinney
Injured: Eric Fehr, Nikita Soshnikov, Roman Polak
Scratched: Josh Leivo, Alexey Marchenko