Caps' Game 3 Lineup Changes and Storylines
Based on reports from Washington Post beat writer Tarik El-Bashir, Semyon Varlamov was the first goaltender off the ice after the Wasghington Capitals' pregame skate today, which nine times out of 10 would indicate he will get the starting nod tonight. Jose Theodore, who was pulled from Game 2 Saturday and has allowed goals on the last three shots he has faced, stayed on the ice for extra work.
In addition, it appears as though Eric Belanger, who has won 80 percent of his faceoffs thus far in the series, will be moved to the second line. If that's the case, the Washington lineup would look like this:
Other Caps' storylines to watch:
1) Will the Green/Schultz combo show up?
While Bruce Boudreau does not seem overly concerned with the play of his top tandem, both players have played tentatively throughout the series and have made costly decisions in the neutral zone that have hurt the club. Green seems to be caught somewhere in limbo, no fully joining the rush and contributing on offense as usual and being indecisive in transition, gambling at the wrong time or sitting back and allowing open shots. Schultz has gotten caught pinching on more than one occasion, and both players sat back and didn't challenge Andrei Kostitsyn's first goal in Game 2. Green described his play as "very average" thus far, but like Alex Ovechkin after Game 1 vowed to return to form tonight.
Boudreau's take on the pair's play in Game 2: "They weren't on for the first goal. The second goal was a giveaway by our forwards. There's nothing they can do about that. The third goal, the behind the net one, that's the centerman's job to go after them, so that was not their fault. The fourth one was a power-play goal and the fifth was one where I'd say Schultzie maybe shouldn't have pinched. These things happen in the regular season and sometimes they don't score. It's just magnified now. Schultz probably went through the last week of the regular season where he was plus-11 making the same kinds of mistakes, but they didn't score and no one notices. Someone scores now and everyone notices it."
2) Will Alexander Semin return to form?
With the Caps' power play unable to dent the twine to this point, Alexander Semin has been an offensive non-factor. Perhaps the fact that Washington has not gone more than three games all season without notching at least one power-play marker bodes well for the team and the 40-goal scorer, who definitely played a much stronger third period in Game 2 than he did in any other period of the series.
3) What's up with the Caps' power play?
See above. Washington, which is now 0-for-14 with the extra man since game number 80 and is 0-for-7 in the series, is just 3-for-24 (12.5 percent) against the Habs this year after leading the NHL in power-play percentage at a better-than 25% clip during the regular season. Just like it was only a matter of time before Ovechkin came to life, it seems as though Washington's extra-man unit is due. The Caps' longest drought of the year was a 0-for-15 skid in October.
Boudreau: "We've gone through two or three tough stretches where we were 0-for-15 or so and the next thing you know we're 5-for-7. (Saturday) we didn't score and our entries weren't what we wanted, but I thought we had some great looks and just missed some chances."
Each of the Caps' eight goals in the series have come during 5-on-5 play, which stands to reason considering Montreal's No. 30 overall ranking in 5-on-5 situations during the season. Maybe the Habs should take more penalties?
4) Will Washington continue to commit to playoff-style hockey and play stronger on the boards, make the simple play and crash the net?
"All 16 teams, every game I watch, are saying the same thing. It's not a secret," Boudreau said. "Sometimes you watch a game and wonder why a guy doesn't go to the net. There's a 6-4 defenseman there ready to hurt you if you go there, and it takes courage to go in front. We ask all of our players to go to the net and create traffic. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Once we got started and were feeling it and the crowd was into it (Saturday), we played with more abandon in going to the net and got a lot more shots."
One noticeable advantage the Habs have had over the Caps has been in the play along the boards - specifically in the Washington end. The Caps' forwards are used to playing high and looking for the stretch pass, so with Montreal trapping and the defensemen often throwing the puck around the boards, Washington's forwards have allowed the Canadiens' forecheckers to get better position and create a lot of turnovers. The Caps have really yet to adjust to this, and the forwards also have lost track their defensive assignments on occasion, with Montreal seemingly capitalizing each time.
"They had eight scoring chances in Game 2 and scored on five of them," Boudreau said. "And all eight were created by our mistakes. If you can hold a team to eight chances, you are not doing a lot of fundamental things wrong ... People are going to look and say, 'Oh yeah, the Washington Capitals can't play defense anymore, but the mistakes we are making are being taken advantage of by Montreal. Our mistakes are being made to the wrong people - Plekanec, Camallerri, Kostitsyn - you can't give those good goal-scorers opportunities."
5) Will anyone other than the top lines start scoring?
If one team's secondary scorers step up it could mean the difference in the series. Montreal has gotten 12 points from its top line of Plekanec, Camallerri and Kostitsyn, while Washington's top trio of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Knuble has notched 11 points. Other forwards have only accounted for five points for each team. In fact, Washington's defensemen have scored six points, and that's without any contribution from Mike Green, the NHL's top-scoring blueliner.
Something has to give soon, and it could play a huge part in determining which team advances to the second round.