As the Capitals embark on a four-game swing to Western Canada, Barry Trotz has a list of areas where he expects to see some progress.
He wants to see more consistency from his power play and penalty kill.
He’d like more even-strength production from his retooled forward lines.
And, in general, he also wants to see his players operate a tick quicker.
Over the past few days, we’ve touched on the first and second items. Today, we’re going to get into No. 3, which Trotz discussed earlier this week.
“When we’re playing fast, we’re a good a hockey team,” Trotz said. “We can play with anybody, any night. When we play slow, we’re not as good.”
To be clear, Trotz isn’t necessarily talking about skating faster than the opposition. He’s talking about putting stress on the other team by pushing the pace.
For example: is the other team in the midst of a not-so-crisp line change? If so, that’s a great time to force the issue.
“There’s been a couple of times where we’re accepting the slow play and not pushing,” Trotz said. “Like a controlled breakout when we’ve got a team changing. We want to get [the puck] up [the ice] and see if we can catch them on a poor change. [Instead], we’re sort of just going back and reorganizing all the time.”
Pushing the pace, Trotz added, also increases the odds of catching a defender flat-footed and/or a forward out of position.
“We want to push the play,” Trotz said. “When you don’t do that, you let teams reorganize. You want to catch teams when they don’t have their structure, [when] they don’t have all of their details [on point] and [personnel] in their spots. That’s playing fast. You get a puck, get it up quick. Let’s move it quickly.”
But playing faster isn’t just about the transition game. It’s important everywhere on the rink, Trotz emphasized.
“Let’s get to your spot,” Trotz said. “If you’re supposed to be a post-up guy, get there. If you’re supposed to be the guy that’s driving through the middle, get there. If you’re supposed to be the F1 on the forecheck, get there. If you’re the [F2] or [F3], make sure you get there quick. And then the game happens quicker.”
Trotz reiterated that he doesn’t mean outskating the opposing team, he means making a conscious effort to do everything at a higher RPM. Think the game quicker. React to changing situations faster. Push. The. Pace.
“At times we’ve played very quick and other times we’ve played slower,” he said. “If it becomes a continual mindset, then you’ll play quick all the time. ...It’s nothing to do with speed. It’s just a mindset. Get the puck, move it and let’s go. Play north. When we’re playing north, and we’re on top of the other team, we’ll get our chances and we’ll get our opportunities and we’ll be hard to handle.”
MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ SEES VALUE IN AN EARLY SEASON ROAD TRIP
Asked about the challenges of facing a player of Connor McDavid’s caliber, Matt Niskanen made an interesting point about today’s young players. In Niskanen's estimation, the next generation of NHL superstars are taking risks and resisting the urge to play everything safe.
That’s what makes them special. And hard to defend.
“Young kids nowadays, they got the guts to try things,” Niskanen said Tuesday before the Capitals’ embarked on a four-game Western Canada trip that begins in Edmonton. “They’ll try a one-on-one, try to make a play in tight spaces, where it hasn’t been coached out of them yet. They’re a little unpredictable. That makes it challenging.”
Indeed, McDavid is one of the NHL’s most exciting players. He’s also one of the league's most productive. Through the season’s first six games, McDavid is tied for the NHL lead in points with nine (four goals and five assists).