Friday, April 29, 2011

Preview: 1 Capitals vs 5 Lightning

Here's how the Lightning did at 5-on-5 against wasn't pretty. The Corsi numbers are from a Pens perspective, so any negatives are good for the Lightning. Not that there were many.

Tampa forwards against Pittsburgh:

Sean Bergenheim had himself a good series, and Simon Gagne looks like did a pretty decent job. Dominic Moore and Steve Downie also didn't get killed by the shot counts. Tampa's other forwards? Not impressive at all. I was impressed with Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis when they played together late in the series, though.

Their D against Pittsburgh:

Nothing much here.

It looks like Guy Boucher wants power versus power. He looks like wants Lecavalier or Stamkos against one top line, and his third line against the other (leaving one scoring line free for softer minutes). Brewer, Ohlund, Clark, Kubina, and Hedman look like they all have Guy Boucher's trust, especially Brewer, who was aggressively matched against Jordan Staal (or aggressively matched with Vinny Lecavalier?).

Granted, the matchups are a bit tough to decipher since Dan Bylsma wanted Jordan Staal against either Stamkos or Lecavalier, too.

I'd wager Boucher wants to load up with Lecavalier, Stamkos, and MSL and put them against Jason Arnott. Tampa Bay's checkers (Moore, Ritola, Bergenheim, Hall, Thompson) played Ovechkin well in the season series, and I expect that to continue. Best case scenario for Boucher, those matchups play slightly in favor of Tampa. Washington's superior depth up front, though, means that should end a push. Best case for Tampa.

From the Caps perspective, I expect Carlson and Alzner to go against Stamkos and Green-Schultz against Lecavalier, or whoever the secondary scoring threat is. I feel good about those matchups--Lecavalier is good and has size and skill, but is slow, and he'll probably be seeing some faster players on the other side.

On the blueline, it's a non-contest. Man-for-man, the Capitals are better than Tampa Bay, and, in fact, probably have three defensemen that are better than anyone Tampa has, in Mike Green, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner. Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman are pretty good, but I'm not sold they can handle truly good offensive players, and the Capitals have such players on two lines. Brewer and Mattias Ohlund do the heavy lifting, and probably will face Ovechkin, considering as they're the most experienced defensemen back there. They aren't, however, fleet-of-foot, and having just been through a long series with five of the seven games down to the final minutes, I expect them to be fatigued, compared to who they're facing, at least.

If the Caps are physical on the forecheck, attack with speed to break the 1-3-1, and stay disciplined (both not taking penalties and not getting frustrated, both of which they've been better with since the system change), this series will be over without much heartache. Even though Tampa is a slightly better possession team, the Capitals have been better more recently. Tampa needs to win the series on special teams as they did against Pittsburgh ("Montreal'ing" Pittsburgh's power play and "Los Angeles'ing" Pittsburgh penalty kill), and with the Capitals' strong power play and penalty kill (by shots), I doubt that will happen. Guy Boucher will no doubt be looking to exploit the pairing of Scott Hannan-John Erskine as much as possible, considering it's the Capitals' weakest, but I trust that Bruce Boudreau can pull that pairing off the ice when Lecavalier or Stamkos is on.

Tampa Bay will still have a chance, though, because of goaltending. Dwayne Roloson isn't elite, but he's decent (although prone to meltdowns and fatigue, given his age), and has shut out the Caps multiple times this season. Roloson finished first in save percentage after one round, just ahead of Michal Neuvirth (2nd). During the regular season, Roloson sported a .924 save percentage at even strength, compared to .922 for Neuvirth and .929 for Varlamov. He had a .914 overall, with Neuvirth at .914 and Varlamov at .924.

Roloson will be on short rest, and with a back-to-back for Games 3 and 4, I think he'll start wearing down later in the series (Tampa does not have a good backup option, unless they want to try below-replacement-level-this-season-and-still-hurt Mike Smith). The Caps' younger, rested duo should give the Caps the edge on the whole, albeit slim. I don't think we can predict a series-stealing performance by either side's goaltending, but if there's an advantage here, it's with the team with the goalie who stops the highest proportion of shots against and the goalie who has not lost a playoff series in North America.

Guy Boucher in his short time has proven himself a very good coach. Tampa Bay is especially good when leading, as they don't let off the gas and stay aggressive. The Capitals are better than Tampa at not allowing goals, are faster than Tampa, are more experienced (recently) than Tampa. Tampa is probably a good bet--I bet the odds underrate them--but I doubt they're better than Washington. It should be a competitive series, but I have a hard time seeing Tampa win this. Actually, it's easy to see Tampa win this. How easy is it to imagine the Caps imploding?

Enough bad imagery. Caps in 6.

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