Secret not so secret: the Toronto Maple Leafs are no longer the Toronto Make Believes or the Toronto Maple Laughs. They are here, fast, highly skilled, and they are pushing the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals to the brink. Both of the first two games have required extra time, and the Capitals have been outplayed in both of them. Mike Babcock is forcing his team to play a hard forechecking style, and their speed is making the Caps look ineffective. Remember last year’s Pittsburgh series? This is a similar scenario.

When Washington hired Barry Trotz a few years ago, the goal was simple. Take a talented bunch of players, fit them together, and find ways to dominate. However, that has not happened in this playoff series yet thanks to Mike Babcock’s superb coaching abilities. Trotz has stated that there will be changes in the upcoming games.

There is potential that the lines could look like this heading into Monday’s game:

Those are not necessarily bad changes, but they are not the ones the Caps need to quash the feisty upstart Leafs. Here are a few that could go a long way to helping. Time to see if Barry Trotz is worth his paycheck.

Switch the Defensive Pairs and play Nate Schmidt

A big thing fans have noticed is the Capitals inability to quickly move the puck out of their defensive zone. This is mostly because the Leafs are using their speed to their advantage using an extremely strong 2-1-2 fore-check. This causes turnovers which leads to, y’know…

The first thing to do would be to break up the Karlzner (John Carlson and Karl Alzner) defensive pairing. Both have looked slow and ineffective, and Carlson’s typically beautiful breakout passes are getting picked off left and right. Enter Nate Schmidt, whose ability to quickly speed out with possession of the puck will drive the Leafs’ crazy. Additionally, his possession at the offensive blue line provides a similar skill set to Dmitry Orlov. We know how that works out.

Brooks Orpik or Karl Alzner need to step down and let Schimdt take over, even if just for the series.

Stop taking stupid penalties

We have discussed this in a previous column, but the Capitals are consistently taking a high quantity of bad penalties. In Saturday’s game alone, they took six penalties. You cannot do that against a team as deadly on the power play as the Leafs. It is hard to change old habits, but something needs to be done, or the Caps will be playing from behind the whole series.

More North-South Play in Defensive and Neurtal Zone, then East-West on Offense

The Capitals break-outs and neutral zone play are typically pretty. A cross-ice pass on defense here. A zig-zagging Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom zone entrance there. Before you know it, the puck is in the net. However, that is not happening as much this series. The Leafs are clogging the middle of the ice because they know that is the Capitals bread and butter. The Caps need to make the not pretty play of simply getting the puck deep, gaining possession, and then going east-west in the offensive zone. When the Caps crank up the cycle game against the Leafs, they tend to clump to one portion of the ice. Notice the board play on Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal.

The Leaf’s get a little too horny for the puck and it costs them. The trick is to do this during even strength. It is not pretty, but any shot in the playoffs is a good shot. Instead of making one too many passes, make the simple play and fire at will. Frederik Andersen cannot save the Leafs on defense forever.

If Barry Trotz can make his tweaks, the Leafs will have issues going forward, especially with the loss of Roman Polak and looming return of Nikita Zaitsev. In the meantime, most fans will be watching the playoffs like this.

Author Details
My name is Julia, and I’m a Bethesda, MD native. I became an ice hockey fan after my dad took me to a Capitals game when I was 7, but quickly realized most 5’2” southern girls don’t become Peter Bondra. I’m a 2015 graduate of Mount Holyoke College where I studied psycholinguistics, which is a fancy way of saying why people talk funny. By day I’m a graduate student at UMD studying journalism.
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My name is Julia, and I’m a Bethesda, MD native. I became an ice hockey fan after my dad took me to a Capitals game when I was 7, but quickly realized most 5’2” southern girls don’t become Peter Bondra. I’m a 2015 graduate of Mount Holyoke College where I studied psycholinguistics, which is a fancy way of saying why people talk funny. By day I’m a graduate student at UMD studying journalism.

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