We know a playoff result is mainly based on a team's ability to come together for four victories.
However, a head coach's gameplan/strategy is instrumental in getting to that final result.
Because Boston is the home team for the first two games, Julien will have the last say in which line combination he wants on the ice for each faceoff. How will each coach match up players?
Here's a look into what each could be thinking.
How should the talent be spread out amongst lines?
In practice this week, Brooks Laich has been centering the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer. (WaPo) One thing we know for sure: Zdeno Chara will be on the ice for every one of Ovechkin's shifts. The Bruins checking line (Pouliot, Kelly, Rolston) will likely be tasked with defending the first line, and have been stellar shutting down the opposing team's top gunners. The three players have a combined plus/minus of 58. However, Hunter has already made an intriguing decision putting Nicklas Backstrom on the second line with Alexander Semin and Jason Chimera. (that line is scary) This creates two separately talented lines that Julien has to worry about over the course of the game. By doing this, Hunter may force Julien to put Dennis Seidenberg on the second defensive pairing and mix-and-match his forwards.
Who to play and who to scratch?
Currently, the five following players are likely to be scratched from game one: Mike Knuble, Cody Eakin, Jeff Halpern, John Erskine, and Dmitry Orlov. With the exception of Eakin, all of these players may have a chance to crack the lineup. Hunter is hoping lightning will strike twice for Joel Ward, who notched 6 goals and 7 assists in 12 playoff games last season with the Nashville Predators. With scorching hot Mathieu Perreault centering the fourth line with Ward and Keith Aucoin, it could become a very dangerous group. However, if Ward/Aucoin fail to produce anything, Knuble/Halpern will have a chance to step in. Things are a little more complicated on the back-end. Jeff Schultz has been paired in practice with Dennis Wideman, which could make for a disaster on the defensive end. If the two struggle together, Dmitry Orlov should see his first NHL playoff action.
Who should play on the first power play unit?
The Caps are stuck in a 2-for-24 slump over their past nine games on the man advantage. Include a 1-for-36 streak on home ice, and you've got yourself a problem. Who should Hunter put together to spark the unit? Today at practice, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich were rotating (thanks, Whyno) at point on defense with Mike Green. Laich should be alongside Green if the Caps want to maximize production. Laich is a good defensive hockey player who isn't a vulnerability on the back-end, and it would free up Ovechkin to play the left wing. With Nicklas Backstrom set up on the half-wall on the right (and Alexander Semin near), it would set up plenty of back-door opportunities for all parties involved.
Which defenders to use against the Caps stars?
As mentioned, it is a certainty that the feared Zdeno Chara will be shadowing Alex Ovechkin throughout the series. However, with the make-up of the Caps second line, he may be forced to devote another defensive asset to play against Chimera-Backstrom-Semin. If there is any part of this Bruins team that is lacking in depth, it's on defense. Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk are both respectable defenders, but the Caps second line may be tough to handle. Dennis Seidenberg, who usually plays with Chara, is the second best defenseman on the team and Julien may choose to mix-and-match his defenders. Seidenberg could see action with either Ference and Boychuk on the second defensive pairing while the other would play with Chara.
Spreading out the talent amongst lines?
Like Hunter, Julien has a bevy of forwards with a ton of talent. While the Capitals second line is mighty dangerous, the Bruins have an extremely talented second line of their own. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin all recorded at least 55 points this season. (only Ovechkin had over 55) While Julien could keep these three together, it is likely that any of the three could be flip-flopping through lines throughout the game. If the Bruins offense isn't clicking at any point, Julien could move Seguin (for example) up to the first line and move either Milan Lucic or Rich Peverley back. Julien could also chose to match up any combination of players against the Capitals top line. Either way, the Capitals defenders will have their hands full with the Bruins top two lines all series.
Tags: Alex Ovechkin, Boston Bruins, Brooks Laich, Claude Julien, Dale Hunter, Dennis Seidenberg, Hockey, NHL, Nicklas Backstrom, Washington, Washington Capitals, Zdeno Chara
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