We’ve now had two games of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, and we’re tied at 1 game apiece. So far the series has surpassed all expectations and given us some scintillating hockey. But aside from looking like we have a great series ahead of us, what else have we learned through the opening 2 games?
Golden Knights Are Swarming
Every time the Capitals have the puck in their own end they are harried and harassed by the Golden Knights. They aren’t giving the Caps time to move the puck, and they rarely manage to clear the zone at the first time of asking. These second phase clearances often end up in third or fourth phases. Particularly in game 1, the Golden Knights turned a few of these situations into goals.
This constant pressure on the puck has given the Golden Knights a staggering 41 takeaways in the first 2 games, compared to just 15 for the Capitals. This is nothing new for the Golden Knights, they’ve been doing this all season. The question is can they maintain this level of activity for a further 5 games? It wasn’t enough in game 2, but it is probably the main reason they have outshot the Capitals so far this series.
Fleury Has Gone Off The Boil in the Stanley Cup Finals
After stellar play throughout the regular season, and playoffs, in particular, Marc-André Fleury has gone seriously off the boil in the finals. The 33-year-old 3 time Stanley Cup winner wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice to take a dip in performance. But through the first two games, he has given up 7 goals in just 54 shots against. He had only one game this bad in the conference finals.
Through 2 games he hasn’t posted a save percentage better than .885, a mark he beat in 4 of 5 games in the conference finals. His overall finals save percentage is just .870, a whole 57 points below his season average. It’s hard to see this continuing, but the worrying thing for Golden Knights fans will be the way the goals are going in. The Capitals are moving the puck quickly from side to side after Fleury commits to his position. This is slowing his reaction time and giving them some very easy looks.
Capitals Are Getting Physical
To start game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals tried to be all nicey-nicey, move the puck quickly and enjoy time on the puck. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t going to get them very far. After the Golden Knights took an early lead with their high pressure, double-teaming and rotating defense, the Caps got the message.
Having upped the forechecks and giving the Golden Knights much less time on the puck, things have improved for the Capitals. They’ve out-hit the Golden Knights in both games, and hold an overall advantage of 84 hits to 64. The extra physicality has led to the Golden Knights having more giveaways through the two games, 21-12. A disparity that was even larger in game 2.
If the Capitals can keep up this level of physicality remains to be seen, but without it, they will likely be second-best the rest of the way. If they can maintain it, it’s hard to see them not walking away with the Stanley Cup.