Even though the Washington Capitals will not be playing at Capital One Area, their quest for home ice advantage begins Monday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Welcome to the 2020 version of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where because of the coronavirus pandemic, all games will be played in two Canadian cities.
Eastern Conference teams, like the Capitals, will compete in Toronto. Western Conference teams will compete in Edmonton.
The Capitals, winners of the Metropolitan Division, are one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals will play a round-robin tournament with Monday’s opponent the Lightning, then the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins to determine conference playoff seeding.
The Capitals can finish no lower than fourth seed, and if they finish first they would have home ice advantage throughout at least the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Home ice doesn’t mean what it used to, but it does mean that you get last shift change and that does give the coaching staff an advantage, even if there are no fans in the stands,” said Capitals radio voice John Walton. “That really is what’s at stake here between now and next weekend.”
The last shift change awarded to the home team before a faceoff is a tactical edge for coaches.
Since the visiting team’s players have to be on the ice first before a faceoff, the home coach can then decide on the best defensive and offensive line combinations to go against the visiting team.
Along with strategy, goaltending is an important part of playoff hockey and the Capitals are confident with Braden Holtby between the pipes.
In addition goaltending might play an even bigger role this year in the quest for the Stanley Cup with the games being played in neutral venues and without fans.
“Braden Holtby said the conditions in Toronto in a lot of ways favor a goaltender because the way that the arena is dressed up and the banners are over the seats goaltenders can actually pick up the sight of the puck pretty well,” said Walton.
“It would be my expectation in Toronto that for a guy like Braden, and maybe other goaltenders, it might be easier to get on a roll a little bit if you’re seeing the puck well and you’re playing with confidence. It certainly helps to have a Stanley Cup on your resume, and Braden Holtby brings that into the round-robin today.”
Along with Holtby, the Capitals have Alex Ovechkin.
In the Capitals exhibition game against Carolina last Wednesday, Ovechkin showed no signs of rust from a four-month layoff and scored two goals in a 3-2 win.
And while Ovechkin is without question the Capitals’ leader on and off the ice, the team is more than just the “Great Eight.”
“The thing that’s going to give Washington the best chance for success is that they’ve got the ability to score on all four lines,” said Walton.
“We saw it before the pause, with the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk (443 career goals). Now he’s not the same player he was with Atlanta or New Jersey, but he still can contribute in a bottom six role and he’s hungry to win. Because of that offensive depth, the Caps are tough to defend against and that gives them as good a chance of any team to make a deep run.”