Despite its 3-1 final, Game 4 really wasn’t that close when you look at it on paper. It seems that ever since Tom Wilson’s official suspension announcement just a day and a half ago, the Capitals haven’t seemed right.
You have the spreading of false rumors of Sidney Crosby allegedly spitting at Evgeny Kuznetsov, the duo of headshot controversies surrounding Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom showing obvious frustration after yelling the F word and throwing his stick after coming off the ice after Thursday night’s loss, Washington’s media weirdly trying (and failing) to cover that up, and now goaltender Braden Holtby not holding his tongue in his post-game media conferences.
The Capitals possess a few guys on their roster who haven’t necessarily brought tons of negative attention on themselves with memorable quotes and are pretty even-keel when it comes to their personality types. Holtby is one of them. He doesn’t usually spit fire or point fingers after an emotional loss, but Game 4 was a different story for the former Vezina winner. Holtby finally showed a little ferocity about the officiating:
“(Patric) Hornqvist was whacking my pad, not even close to the puck,” Holtby told The Athletic. “Not really sure why that’s allowed, then drives himself right into my hip, so I can’t push up and defend the far side of the net. It’s frustrating because you don’t really know what the call is, you don’t know what’s allowed or not, but you just fight through it.”
Holtby’s referring to the eventual game-winning goal by the Penguins, where an official review was prompted to verify if the puck fully crossed the red goal line paint. He wasn’t upset so much at the puck positioning as he was about Hornqvist’s actions in front of his net beforehand.
But even considering that, Holtby did switch gears once he got the Hornqvist drama off his chest and steered the attention back on his team and the way they played at even-strength, and that’s where he offered a striking quote to sum up the reason for why the game flow was so uneven and, subsequently, why Pittsburgh came away victorious:
“That’s just the way they play in this rink,” Holtby said. “They try and frustrate you, flip pucks (to create breakaways) and everything. I think we’ve done a better job of playing against that. You can see the games are closer and closer in this rink. Throughout the year, a lot of teams have had trouble with that style, because it is frustrating at times and it seems there’s no flow. They know what they’re doing. I think we’re picking up the right way to play. And as you can see, we’re inches away.
“(Our goal) is to keep getting better at those type of things, learning from our mistakes. Next step is analyzing this game, seeing what we can do better and playing in a better Game 5.”
Holtby hit it right on the head. The Penguins held the Capitals in a choke-hold all evening, disrupting game flow and never really giving them ample opportunities to steal the game’s momentum back. Just look at the advanced metrics, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:
The Capitals controlled the game for just a tiny bit of time in the middle of the opening period, and then sigificantly surrendered that control the entire rest of the game. It wasn’t even close. Their even-strength possession numbers suffered, their shot attempts suffered, they recorded next-to-no compelling offensive chances. Washington’s final Corsi For numbers were sub-50%, Fenwick was worse, and its High Danger Chances For were basically non-existent. Even their superstar Alex Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal.
If you need even more evidence of that, check out the heat maps form Game 4:
The Capitals simply didn’t show up to Game 4 at all, and it was their downfall. They scored one goal and generated zero credible offensive chances. It took them until the second period to notch their second high-danger scoring chance at full-strength, and then it took them until the end of the game to add two more (via Natural Stat Trick).
Banking on Washington to continue to sit on its hands for the remainder of the series is silly, but it’s worth noting that the team truly looks out of sorts midway through these seven games.