It hasn’t been an easy road thus far for the Washington Capitals. The Florida Panthers’ high-powered offence, led by superstars Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, looked to be heating up in Game 2. However, in Games 1 and 3, Washington put together two hard-fought wins. Though the Capitals benefited from a strong neutral zone defence, it was netminders Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov who stepped up in those contests and pushed the Capitals to a 2-1 lead over the Panthers.
Washington Capitals Goaltending Biggest Factor as They Lead Florida Panthers
Though the Capitals’ goaltending situation has been tumultuous, having two relatively interchangeable netminders has been an advantage. In Game 1, Vanecek fared well behind a strong neutral zone defence that prevented the Panthers from getting many quality shots. But when Vanecek faltered in Game 2, allowing five goals on a mere 1.25 expected goals against, Samsonov was waiting in the wings. Samsonov took over for Game 3 and backstopped the Capitals to a much-needed 5-1 win. In all, he stopped 29 of 30 shots for a .967 save percentage.
On the Panthers’ end, sticking with veteran Sergei Bobrovsky has been the obvious choice. However, after strong performances in the first two games, Bobrovsky faltered in the third. His positioning looked off at times, and he gave up uncontrolled rebounds that led to dangerous chances for the Capitals. And, of course, there were some shots that simply eluded him, as Alex Ovechkin and Trevor van Riemsdyk both beating him high. Granted, that game wasn’t entirely his fault, as covering for Florida’s patchy defence is far from easy. Regardless, he’ll need to bounce back to prove it was a fluke and not something that might turn into a weakness for the Panthers down the stretch.
Power Play Reversal
Though the Panthers’ 24.4% power play percentage ranked fifth in the NHL, the Capitals have turned the tables in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have converted on 33.33% of their man advantages through three games, putting them behind only the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers in that regard.
However, the Panthers have found themselves struggling on the power play. They have no goals on the man advantage, tied with the Dallas Stars for last among all playoff teams. Without getting anything from their power play, Florida’s offence will not be nearly as effective as it was during the regular season. And that may negate the one weapon the Panthers were relying on to win games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tom Wilson’s Injury Leaves Capitals Offence Stretched Thin
The Capitals’ forwards have been able to get the job done so far, but the absence of Tom Wilson has the potential to take a toll in the long run. Wilson is fourth on the team in points, and typically rounds out Washington’s first line. His physicality, too, makes him a threatening presence on the ice. But with rumours of a knee injury swirling, he may be out of the lineup for at least this series.
That’s a big problem for the Capitals’ offence, which isn’t necessarily a powerhouse even with Wilson. T.J. Oshie will fill the space temporarily, but the move takes him off the second line and diminishes Washington’s depth. The longer Wilson is out, the more likely it becomes that the Capitals’ forward group will begin to falter.
The Series Continues
The Capitals and Panthers will face off again on Monday. With the advantage of the home crowd, Washington will look to take control of the first-round series. For the Panthers, it will be a desperate game of catch-up as they try to regain the dominance that won them the President’s Trophy. They’ll certainly need to make a big push to even up the series. But with four more games remaining, expect plenty more action from this Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers matchup.
Embed from Getty Images