–The Capitals set a physical and fast-paced tone early, and the Canes never really were able to answer in either regard. Put simply, the Capitals were just better in terms of physicality and pace and that gradually seeped into every other facet of the game.
–In Washington, D.C, the story has been fast Caps starts and the Capitals star players outplaying and outproducing the Hurricanes top offensive players.
–When the forecheck is not going like it was at PNC Arena, the Hurricanes just are not generating much offensively right now, and that includes the sputtering power play. The offense is the forecheck or bust right now.
–With the forecheck not as dominant the Canes had the same defensive issues defending the rush as in games 1 and 2. The Capitals intentionally get the puck out on the wing on the rush and work from the outside in. The Caps carry the puck on the wing and keep the second player to enter wide on the other side. The result is that the Canes defensemen are split wide and Caps players are slashing to the middle for scoring chances. Canes defensemen need to maybe give up more shots from the outside to better take away the passing lane to the center, and the Hurricanes forwards need to make sure they play angles to take away passing lanes to that center lane.
–As ugly as the score was, I do not think it matters much. The Hurricanes know they can win at home and just need a repeat of that to force an ‘anything can happen’ game 7.
Given the results, I will skip the usual chronological recap and try to summarize the night’s events.
Inability to match the Caps first punch
At the most basic level, the Washington Capitals came out early in game 5, punched the Canes in the mouth (as a figure of speech) and dialed up the intensity and pace, and the Hurricanes never really responded. This was the kind of game where early on the Hurricanes needed what Jordan Martinook and Micheal Ferland bring. Some may jump to the conclusion that the effort just was not there on the Hurricanes side, but that is not it. This is the same group that played the most intense hockey of the season only a few days ago. Rather, momentum is a fleeting thing this time of year.
Minimal help from forecheck that fueled games 3 and 4
Past the first point on matching the Capitals intensity, the Hurricanes were unable to slow the Caps with their forecheck. Everything the Hurricanes did successfully in the two wins in Raleigh was fueled by that forecheck. The Caps had virtually nothing for transition opportunities and chances, and the Hurricanes defensemen were almost always defending Caps players who did not have much for time and space. On the offensive side of the puck, the forecheck generated a high amount of offensive zone time, a good volume of decent shot attempts often with traffic and a few grade A chances. Put another way, the Hurricanes scoring in the two wins was not fueled so much by skill and creativity as the sheer force of the team’s puck-hounding style.
Same transition defense issues as games 1 and 2
As noted in the quick hitters, with the Capitals transition game behind the first layer of the forecheck reactivated, the game looked very much like games 1 and 2 in terms of defending in transition. The Capitals again played with a preference to enter with the puck on the wing instead the more common center of the ice. The first player in on the other side, stayed wide. The result is that the Hurricanes defensemen were split wide, and the middle lane was open for Caps to slash into. A couple additional comments…I think the Capitals scouting has noted how aggressively the Hurricanes defensemen try to take away shots even from odd angles. The result is that Canes defensemen defending one-on-one maybe overplay the shooting lane and in the process leave a wide open passing lane to the middle. I also figure the Capitals expected they could beat Hurricanes forwards to that middle lane. Regardless of the details, the Hurricanes need to adjust in this regard in general and especially if they are fortunate enough to return to Washington, D.C. for a game 7 on Wednesday.
A special teams massacre
The Capitals scored on three of four power play opportunities and added a penalty shot tally for good measure. Meanwhile the Hurricanes power play which had a chance to pull them into the game in the second period looked disjointed and overwhelmed throughout the game in failing to score on five chances.
Caps best players trump Canes best players
I said in my game preview that I thought the Hurricanes would still need at least one huge game from their top forwards in terms of production. Saturday’s game was the opposite. The Caps top line generated three goals, while the Hurricanes top scorers were mostly dormant. The chance for the Hurricanes top scorers to rise up now pushes forward to a do or die game 6 on Monday.
It is important to have a short memory this time of year. As ugly as Saturday’s loss was, it still counts as only one loss. That being the case, the Hurricanes still play a game 6 in Raleigh with a chance to force an ‘anything can happen’ game 7. With the effort and results from the first two home games, there is no reason to think that the Hurricanes cannot rebound and win at home. And in team history, the Hurricanes are 4-o in playoff game 7s including the two road wins in 2009.
Next up is an off day before game 6 in Raleigh on Monday.