As the Washington Capitals head back to the District for Game 6, head coach Peter Laviolette knows things will have to go much differently on Friday against the Florida Panthers with the season on the line.
Laviolette explained that he saw two different games against Florida in Game 5, as the Capitals started strong and jumped out to a 3-0 lead for an impressive first half before falling apart and surrendering five unanswered goals in the second half, which ultimately led to a 5-3 defeat.
“We will go back and look at it… there was the game to push it to 3-0 where I liked everything we did, including the power play and the penalty kill and 5-on-5 play. And then, there was the game that took place after that, where if you play against a team like Florida that is a high-octane team, we are just feeding them, and we can’t. We got to get back to that first part of that game, and you got to play it consistently for 60 minutes.”
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When it comes to what exactly went wrong for Washington in the loss, Laviolette cited puck possession and poor defensive coverage. He also discussed Ilya Samsonov, who stopped 33 of 38 shots (.868 save percentage) and took a step back following a strong first half of the game. Though Samsonov did let in five goals, Laviolette isn’t fast to put too much blame on the 25-year-old for the lackluster loss.
“Those goals last night on Sammy were tough,” Laviolette said. “We left him in tough situations. And on those particular instances where the puck ends up in the net, I think there’s things we could’ve done better. I don’t necessarily sit there and say it was goaltending last night that let us down. We shot ourselves in the foot. So again, that’s what we’ll look to clean up.”
Samsonov had relieved Vitek Vanecek, the team’s initial starter for the postseason, in the third period of Game 2 and has since taken over the crease with his impressive play. He has a .923 save percentage through four games so far these playoffs.
When it comes to what the team needs heading into the elimination game, Laviolette wants to see a better net-front presence and defensive coverage, while also continuing to improve when it comes to control and puck management.
“I thought we did a better job of possessing the puck and staying in the offensive zone and hunting for offense. That’s the game we need to play,” Laviolette said, adding, “We have to take care of things against a high-powered team that scored a lot of goals this year. So when we’re on it, we do a better job inside the game. When we’re not on it, then that’s when they get their looks and they get their opportunities,” Laviolette said. “We scored some 5-on-5 goals, we scored some power-play goals. I think it’s a constant reminder that we always have to think about the defensive side of things.”
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Washington faces Florida on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Game 6 at Capital One Arena. Going into the must-win game, Laviolette’s message to his group is simple: move on, focus on the positives and bounce back.
“We’ve got to win a hockey game. There’s things we’ve done well in this series, and there’s things we haven’t done well. Last night was no differnet. We’ve got to take those things that we did well and the positives and bring that for a more consistent amount of time.
“A lot of these guys have been here… everybody’s still feeling last night. I’d mentioned it, the day in-between is the day to kind of get it out of your system, move on and recover. There should be a lot of confidence from the things that we have done well in the series. The games that we have won, the times that we played well. But you really have to work for a clean game against a team like Florida, who’s dynamic with what they do. Again, those will be the points of emphasis going forward.