Upon predicting a low-scoring, goalie-dominating showdown in my game 1 preview, the players on the ice decided to completely throw this narrative out the window and scored goals in mass quantities in an electrifying opening night of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Capitals put forth a valiant effort, but with a roaring crowd and relentless team, Vegas simply could not be stopped at the T-Mobile Arena on Monday night. Game 1 is over, however, and the Capitals will look to prove that they can be resilient in the face of adversity, which is something they’ve done all postseason long.
Capitals Outlook: How Can They Recover?
A game that was full of hustle, heart, and determination ultimately ended up in heartbreak for Washington sports fans as the Capitals were the ones who took the loss in a high scoring primary game. While the goal scoring and passing was fantastic for the Caps, an even stronger effort is needed in game 2 if they want a chance at stealing a game away from Vegas on the road.
Despite the loss, NBC Sports Network still named Caps Right Winger and former Olympic hero, T.J. Oshie, one of the 3 stars of the game. Oshie was bestowed this honor because of his great passing and playmaking skills on Monday night. Oshie had two silky-smooth assists, one to Nicklas Backstrom in the first period to put Washington up 2-1, and another to John Carlson in the second, which equalized the game at 3-3. Oshie will need to do more of the same in game 2 if the Caps want to go into Washington with a 1-1 series tie.
With the exception of Oshie and Backstrom, none of the famed Washington superstars made a splash in game 1. Alexander Ovechkin got an assist in the early part of the third period, which was his first point against Vegas all season long, but other than that, it was a “whole lotta nothin’” for the Caps star forward. However, now that the “monkey is off his back” and he finally got his feet wet in an Stanley Cup game, I believe Ovechkin will have a stronger game 2 performance.
Washington’s chances in this series rely solely in the hands of their goaltender, Braden Holtby. Holtby had an awful first game in net, allowing 5 goals, 2 of which were against 4th liners. Hopefully, for Washington’s sake, Holtby returns to form in game 2 and continues his solid .919 save percentage in the playoffs.
Golden Knights Outlook: Slaying The Beast
Man, oh man, how does this team keep doing it? Sticking with an appropriate “knight” theme, Vegas slayed the beast that is Alex Ovechkin for a 3rd time this year. In 3 games vs. Washington this year, the Knights have limited him to just 1 point, which is an impressive feat considering he was second in the league for goals scored in the playoffs this year, trailing only Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele.
One player who certainly didn’t have the Stanley Cup “jitters” was first-liner and winger, Reilly Smith. Smith notched two points in his Cup Final debut and continues to prove to that the Florida Panthers made an awful decision by cutting ties with him in June, 2017. Smith showcased his versatility on the defensive end on Monday as well, gathering a team-high 5 hits vs. Washington.
One of the knocks I put on Vegas coming into the series was their lack of depth and their so called “top-heavy lineup.” Vegas completely refuted this by dominating on almost every line, especially the 4th. The 4th line for the Knights had 3 goals in the third period, two of which were scored by Tomas Nosek.
The incredible offensive output was definitely necessary as Goalie, Marc Andre-Fleury, had one of his worst games of the postseason. Fleury allowed 4 goals, had a .857 save percentage, and allowed some poor shots, including a half-hearted push from Tom Wilson to just trickle in the net. I believe this game will be an outlier for Fleury and he will vastly improve once the puck drops in game 2.
Game 2 Preview
As the goalie battle heats up, experience will prove to be a huge factor.
Game 1 had everything that hockey fans love: early tensions between players, intensity, numerous amounts of goals, and a pre-game show fit for a king. With this being said, I think game 2 will be have the same excitement as game 1, but with better performances from both goalies.
Fleury and Holtby seemed to be the two x-factors coming into the series, but after dreadful game 1’s, they are looking more like the weakest links. If these two goalies can string together the same production they had all postseason long, then the offenses will be tamed and this Cup Final will go the distance to 7 games.
For Vegas, I expect another great showing from Reilly Smith, who truly knows how to get in the heads of the Caps’ offensive and defensive players alike. Another first liner on Vegas to look out for is Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault didn’t have his best performance in game 1, but with a team-high 8 goals in the playoffs, you can expect him to rebound in game number 2.
Washington needs to capitalize on their opportunities and use their playoff experience to hold on to leads. The Caps had a 2-1 lead early on in the game, but let it slip away after William Karlsson and Reilly Smith scored. Early on in the third, Washington regained the lead before watching it fade away behind 3 goals from two 4th liners.
As the goalie battle heats up, I think experience will prove to be a huge factor. The experience that Marc Andre-Fleury has vs. the Washington Capitals is not a stat that you should take lightly. In 38 career games vs. the Ovechkin-led Caps, Fleury has a career 22-12 record and .914 save percentage. Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will try and wake up in game 2, but the effort will fall just short as Fleury will do what he always does: crush the spirits of Caps fans everywhere.