Washington Capitals: The Daunting Task Of Stopping John Tavares


Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In case you’ve been living under a rock, let me alert you that New York Islanders center John Tavares is an outstanding player. If it wasn’t for Carey Price‘s borderline historically good season in goal for the Canadiens, Tavares would be a strong Hart Trophy candidate. So much of what the Islanders do depends on Tavares. The Islanders love to play fast. Tavares plays his best hockey when the Islanders play fast. 

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The Washington Capitals must do everything in their power to try to stop Tavares, or at least minimize the inevitable damage that he will cause. The best way to do that is to make sure that he isn’t creating scoring chances. The best way to do that? The Washington Capitals must suppress shot attempts and create scoring chances against Tavares. Granted, the Islanders still have two other productive forward lines, but shutting down their best one is clearly in the best interest of the Washington Capitals.

This is where home-ice advantage helps the Caps. Part of the advantage of being the home team is that the home team gets the last line change. That allows the Washington Capitals to be able to match up against Tavares’s line however they want.

Washington Capitals Forwards Vs. Tavares

Usually, Trotz has not been afraid to match up his first line (led by Alex Ovechkin) against Tavares and his line. That has worked to some degree. In 32 minutes and 50 seconds against Ovechkin, Tavares has a 49.4% zone-start adjusted even strength CorsiFor% and he hasn’t scored a single goal with Ovechkin on the ice. Against Joel Ward, Tavares has been even worse with a 30.8% zone-start adjusted even strength CorsiFor% in 13:25 of ice time (but that was while Ward was on the third line). Still, nice numbers to see. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov has seen less than ten even strength minutes against Tavares, so Tavares’s numbers with him on the ice are irrelevant. It’s a small sample size and Tavares’s numbers against Kuznetsov are not listed, but I think the Washington Capitals first line actually matches up pretty well against Tavares.

The next option? Eric Fehr and the third line. Today at practice, the Washington Capitals had Brooks Laich, Fehr, and Jay Beagle skating together on the third line. Since 2012, Laich and Tavares have shared the ice at even strength for 21 minutes and 35 seconds. Tavares’s zone-start adjusted even strength CF% against Laich is 45.7%. Beagle, however, is an issue. In 25 minutes and 19 seconds at even strength against Tavares, Tavares has a 60% zone-start adjusted even strength CF%. In 16 minutes and 49 seconds at even strength this season against Fehr, Tavares’s CF% falls to 43.9%. FWIW, in 11 minutes and 56 seconds at even strength against Jason Chimera this season, Tavares has a 45% CF%. I think a Laich, Fehr and Chimera line would go a long way to helping shut down Tavares while keeping Ovechkin and the first line fresh.

Washington Capitals Defensemen Versus Tavares

Finding the right forward lines to shut down, or at worst minimize, Tavares is only half three fifths of the battle. There’s two more guys who the Washington Capitals have to consider when matching up against Tavares: the defensemen. Brooks Orpik has been better than I expected him to be this season. For now, I’m not worried about his salary because he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing: being defensively responsible and not being a complete possession anchor. He’s played a lot of tough minutes which allows the rest of the blue line (namely Mike Green) to face weaker competition.

However, he hasn’t been good against Tavares. In 39 minutes and 53 seconds of even strength ice time against Orpik, Tavares has a 53.3% CF%. That’s not surprising because Tavares is extremely fast and Orpik, well, isn’t. On the bright side, that’s 0.4% less than Tavares’s 53.7% zone-start adjusted even strength CF%. John Carlson has a respectable 50% CF% against Tavares, but keep in mind he’s consistently with Orpik. Karl Alzner, on the other hand, has done quite well. He has held Tavares to zero goals against and a 48.8% CF% in just over 18 minutes at even strength. Matt Niskanen has been the least efficient against Tavares in terms of puck possession. Though he has allowed zero goals to Tavares, Tavares has a 57.1% CF% against Niskanen in 16 minutes and 59 seconds of ice time at even strength.

The Washington Capitals could probably get away with using Orpik and Carlson, but I’d prefer to see Alzner and Carlson reunited against Tavares, especially during any close situation. I don’t think Green will or even should be in the equation because he’s clearly a guy who the Washington Capitals like to use during favorable situations. Tavares being on the ice is not considered to be a favorable situation (at least not for the Washington Capitals).

Shutting down Tavares will be an extremely difficult task for the Washington Capitals, but I think that they have the pieces to be able to at worst minimize the damage he does.

Next: Washington Capitals Vs. New York Islanders: Score Adjusted Possession and Pace

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