Rierden’s biggest test to date looms after 5-0 Game 3 loss

If you happened to tune into Monday night’s disastrous 5-0 Washington Capitals Game 3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, you probably find yourself searching for answers this afternoon.

After the first 10 minutes of the contest, the Hurricanes thoroughly manhandled Washington throughout the remainder of the affair. Washington mustered just eight shots on net after the first period in what was the Capitals worst postseason game since the 2-0 clunker that ended the 2016-2017 season.

The only highlight for Washington was Captain Alex Ovechkin’s first period knockout of 19-year-old Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov. For some reason, Svechnikov thought it would be a good idea to fight Ovechkin despite giving up almost 40 pounds to the Great Eight:

Not a wise move. For those out there crying that Ovechkin shouldn’t have fought the kid, wise up here. The two are hacking and whacking back and forth after having a similar exchange in Game One of this series as well. Svechnikov looks at Ovechkin, appears to say something to him, shakes his gloves, and off they go.

Get over it. There’s fighting in hockey. You don’t like it, watch a different sport.

It was 1-0 Hurricanes at the time of the murder on the strength of a Warren Foegele goal. Foegele scored on an odd play but mostly as a result of another Christian Djoos turnover. It has been a series to forget for the young Capitals defenseman who is averaging just 7:37 time on ice per-game and is -3 in the series.

From there, this game was all Hurricanes and it has left many to question what kind of lineup changes could be in store for the Caps when game four arrives on Thursday in Raleigh.

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It has been a rough series for Christian Djoos. A night off would serve him well in Game Four. Image Credit: Washington Capitals

There is one line-up change that should be considered. Insert Jonas Siegenthaler. Remove Djoos.

Not all of the blame for the Caps this series should fall on Djoos, but he has been poor. Given his lack of playing time, there’s no harm in giving him a night off to regroup and to get Siegenthaler some playoff experience. If Siegenthaler is poor in Game Four, maybe you go back to Djoos. Is there any reason to believe that Djoos will play better if given the nod in Game Four? You gotta see what Siegenthaler has to offer.

If this is the only change in the lineup, many Caps fans are likely to be frustrated with Head Coach Todd Rierden. Consider the following suggestion:

There’s a ton of similar thoughts out on the internet about the sweeping changes needed for Game Four. Why on earth would a team that won the Metro Division for fourth time in five years and still leads the series 2-1 need to change three of four forward lines and all three defense pairings? This would scream panic!

Consider that the Caps were down 0-2 heading to Columbus last season in Round One. Coach Barry Trotz made the switch back to Braden Holtby in net, a move that was sorely needed. Other than that, he made only two changes to his lineup. Out came Andre Burakovsky (injury) and Jakub Jerabek (bad). In went Jakub Vrana and Djoos.

Trotz never panicked. He trusted his guys would play better in Columbus and knew that wholesale changes to his line combinations and lineup would do nothing to assist in righting the ship. Two months later the Caps lifted their first ever Stanley Cup.

Washington was awful on Monday night. They were consistently outworked, out-hustled, and outplayed outside of the first 10 minutes. They actually weathered the initial Hurricanes surge quite well early before things changed in the latter half of the first frame.

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There is a new energy at PNC Arena in Raleigh with the new “Storm Surge” celebrations. Image Credit: NHL.com

Carolina hadn’t played a home playoff game in 10 years. They have a newly energized crowd thanks to their new “Storm Surge” celebrations. The building was rocking in what amounted to a must win game for the Hurricanes, as staring at an 0-3 hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs would have been insurmountable. They were the more desperate club. It showed throughout Monday night’s debacle.

There are things that do need to change for the Caps. They have to get back to a better puck possession kind of game. If you spend the whole game defending and trying to get the puck back, you’re not going to win much.

The penalty kill was really bad again Monday night. Brooks Orpik and Carl Hagelin’s main lineup function is to be effective penalty killers. Hagelin was on the ice and out of position on both Carolina Power Play goals. Orpik was on the ice for one as well. Orpik has been solid at even strength but Hagelin has provided nothing.

Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov struggled mightily as well on the second goal for Carolina. This duo had an up-and-down season but was playing good hockey recently until last night.

John Carlson, Washington’s best defenseman, was largely ineffective Monday night as well. He looked inexplicably lost on the last goal of the night for the Canes. It is worth noting that with the injury to Michal Kempny, Carlson has been moved to the left side and trade deadline acquisition Nick Jensen is slotted on the right.

Maybe Rierden can flop that and Carlson can settle back on the right. I’m not trusting Orpik there in first line minutes and I’m not blowing up my second defense pairing to get Orlov there with a guy he rarely plays with. There’s something to be said for continuity. Djoos and Siegenthaler are not options on the first pair.

What went well? Holtby looks locked in to me. This may sound like a tough justification for a guy who just gave up five goals in a game. If you watched Monday night’s affair, you’ll know he didn’t have much help. Unfortunately, this has been a theme at times this season as the Capitals team defense has been suspect on more than one occasion throughout the year.

The Capitals need to change their effort. They need to change their focus. They need to change their commitment level to team defense. Recent history shows that they don’t need to drastically change their lineup or line combinations.

Hopefully Coach Rierden follows the blueprint for success given by his predecessor and doesn’t press the panic button, even if many in Caps nation are already hovering over it.

Image Credit: The Fan DC

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One thought on “Rierden’s biggest test to date looms after 5-0 Game 3 loss

  1. Pingback: Podcast Episode 47: Orioles finding their way while Ravens prepare for a very important Draft | Charm City Bird Watch

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