You can see just how weird hockey is with the two narratives going around right now. Let’s follow them.
This weekend, one team came out of the gate roaring in a playoff game. They first 16 shots at the opposing goalie, and only give up five. But the opposing goalie has an answer for everything, and then their own goalie suddenly forgets how his limbs work for just one period. Suddenly, they’re in crisis.
Another team comes out roaring, also at home. They outshoot their opponent 29-14 in the first 40 minutes of their game. And while the opposing goalie was good, they found a way to get one goal in their period of pure dominance, and that’s the difference.
And coming out of those games, the Capitals are doing it all again and are an utter mess, whereas the Predators are sitting in the proverbial catbird seat. And really, the only difference between the two was that Cody McLeod was able to corral a puck in the air and a bounce off the outside of the net, and the Capitals got no such bounce.
Did they do anything different, really? No. The Caps kicked around the Penguins for most of Game 2. Hell, they kicked them around for most of Game 1 as well. But because it can’t be as simple as Marc-Andre Fleury made one or two more saves than Braden Holtby, everyone’s searching for another “THE CAPITALS ARE DUNDERHEADS IN THE PLAYOFFS” narratives and stories.
You know how many “Holtby can’t get it done” headlines I saw after Game 2? Enough to make my intestines get up and leave. Holtby has a career .934 SV% in the playoffs. He was .924 against the Penguins last year. Holtby is not a choker.
Are the Capitals in general? It’s hard to say they’re not. But the past couple years… I don’t know what else they could do. They’ve been the best team the past two years. Last year they ran into the hottest team and lost on a knife’s edge. This year they’re run into a SECOND-STRING goalie who can’t help himself from stopping whatever he sees. How do you plan for that? The Caps have had the majority of attempts and shots. There’s little else they can do.
Even the weird choice of having Orlov and Niskanen deal with Crosby, which decidedly did not go well, is somewhat defensible with Karl Alzner out.
Meanwhile, Rinne in Nashville wasn’t particularly good in Games 1 and 2, and did everything required in Game 3. But he’s not seeing Allen play at Fleury’s level across the ice, so everything looks rosy there.
It’s on such margins that these things are decided, and there’s seemingly little you can do to swing those margins to your side sometimes.
-Meanwhile in Edmonton, it remains just as simple. When Cam Talbot has been good, they win. When he isn’t, they get smoked. He was brilliant in Anaheim. He was decidedly less so last night. And I don’t know why when at home Todd McClellan still opted to have McDavid run out there against Kesler, who has surprisingly kept him in check in Anaheim, with adjusted Corsi numbers of 43.7, 44.4, and 38.4. Sure, he still had that gorgeous goal last night but overall he’s been snuffed out. I would have to guess this will change in Game 4.
-Over in Ottawa, we got a totally stupid fun Game 2 because neither of these teams are really all that good. Neither Anderson or Lundqvist have been able to find a level to erase that either, so you get this miss. What you have is two teams that have at least fast forwards, if not particularly skilled, and blue lines that are dumb and slow other than one guy. So there’s tons of space and chances, because no one can do anything about it. The Senators could be the worst team to reach a Conference final in years, and if they’re not the Rangers are going to be in that discussion as well.
This probably isn’t the last game that has 10 combined goals in it.