Last week, the word/phrase of the day for the Washington Capitals was “we learned a lot from last year” (click here). This week, it is “game plan” as in “we didn’t stick to our game plan” in Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Part of that game plan was getting to Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson and while it worked at the start, the Caps didn’t continue the pressure throughout the game, which let Roloson settle in.
“It happens,” Jason Arnott said. “The good thing is is that we realized that we have to stick to our game plan for a full 60 minutes.”
After a slow start gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead just 2:12 into the game, the Caps responded less than two minutes when Alexander Semin got enough of his wrist shot to squeak past Roloson for a soft goal. After the goal, the 41-year-old netminder, who has a tendency to be streaky, did not look like the same goalie that gave up only four goals in the three consecutive games that the Lightning won to advance to the second round. Instead, he began to literally flail around the crease, getting out of position and giving up rebounds.
Even after Brooks Laich’s apparent goal was waved off when the referees determined that he kicked it in, Roloson still looked rattled. Eric Fehr struck early in the second period and the Caps had Roloson on the ropes. Yet, they could not land the knockout blow and Roloson got his groove back.
Crashing the net worked for the Caps against the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, who is much more of a surgeon in terms of his movements. Roloson relies more on instinct, which leaves him susceptible to pressure. Roloson has fought consistency issues throughout his 12 NHL seasons. His first two games with the Lightning, who acquired him from the New York Islanders on January 1, provides the best sample. In his first start against the Caps, he stopped 34 shots in 63 minutes in a 1-0 overtime win at Verizon Center. The next night, he gave up five goals on 23 shots, including one just seven seconds into the game, before being pulled after 27 minutes in a 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps Roloson should change his last name to Jekyll and/or Hyde.
The Caps saw both sides of Roloson Friday. In the last 10 minutes of the first period through the first 10 minutes of the second, the rattled Roloson made an appearance. Yet, once the Lightning grabbed the lead, partially because of several missed chances by the Caps, Roloson found his confidence and shut down the Caps for the rest of the game.
“I think that if you want to score goals, you have to go out in front of the net and get those dirty goals,” Nicklas Backstrom said, reminding himself of how he and his teammates won their series with the Rangers.
The Caps know exactly what to do to get to Roloson. In his first starts against the Caps, he shut them out twice in the span of eight days. In their third meeting with Roloson, the game plan (there’s that word again) changed and the Caps crashed the net. Matt Hendricks got the best (or worst) of Roloson, who got so frustrated that he punched Hendricks in the back of the head three times. Washington went on to score four goals on Roloson in a 5-2 victory. Mike Knuble, who watched the game Friday as he recovers from an injury, has made a career of posting up in the crease and took note of what the Caps did right and wrong.
“You make it difficult and you do that in a number of ways,” Knuble said. “One is generating a lot of chances and throwing a lot of pucks on net. If that’s not working, you have to get bodies and make it uncomfortable to see the puck vision-wise and get bodies in the way. I thought we did that early on, but we just got to keep more of that going.”
The Caps will get another chance to figure out Roloson Sunday and it seems that the plan will be no different than what worked in the previous series. Yet, the Caps must take advantage of Roloson’s psyche.
“As soon as you get a lot of shots on net and a lot of traffic, no goalie likes that and especially him, so we just got to do it more,” Marco Sturm said. “We didn’t move much, so we just got to make sure to get pucks to the net and lots of traffic.”