When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals meet in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs it’ll be hard to stay away from all of the Crosby V Ovechkin hype, and rightly so. These are two elite athletes both fighting for the best trophy in all sports, Crosby’s already won it and Ovechkin is desperate and possibly in the best position of his career to go challenge for it.
But this is bigger than the teams two captains, it’s got all of the makings of an incredible series.
Let’s start between the pipes, while the Capitals took longer than they should’ve to get past the Philadelphia Flyers thanks to a familiar face in Michal Neuvirth coming back to haunt them, they still outscored the Flyers 14 – 6 in the series, with Braden Holtby posting a huge .968 save percentage while allowing an average of 0.84 goals against per game. The only goaltender with better stats is Neuvirth.
At the other end of the rink the Penguins looked like they might struggle coming into the postseason, they lost Marc-Andre Fleury to concussion just before the postseason began leaving them with Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff to protect the cage. They began with Zatkoff who didn’t do badly allowing 6 goals in the first two games as they Penguins and Rangers were tied at one through the first two, after they the Penguins rolled with Matt Murray who allowed just four goals in the final three games of the series, shutting out the Rangers in a 5 – 0 win in game four and posting a .955 save percentage and allowing a goal per game. Holtby has really shown he is one of the hottest (if not the hottest right now) goaltenders in the league, but with the rise of Matt Murray he’ll be looking to stop a dynamic Caps offense that features more than just Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom playing as coolly as ever with 5 assists so far in the playoffs and John Carlson being a huge part of the impressive Caps power play with three PPGs so far and three extra assists.
Pittsburgh have a huge array of talent in their line-up too, just look at the names they boast with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, all three have been key contributors to the Penguins 21 goals through five games so far, so statistically they have the better offense but when you come in against Holtby who’s really putting his name out there it’ll be a big ask. But hey, people though that when they came up against Henrik Lundqvist in the first round.
For Ovechkin though this is a big test, he’s never got past this round in his career, in four trips to the second round he and the Caps have lost against the Rangers twice (2011-12/2014-15) the Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-11) and also the Penguins in 2008-09 on route to the Pens first Stanley Cup since 1991-92.
So who has the edge? Both teams have huge offensive potential while the defensive game will be where it’s won. Holtby is undeniable the better goalie in the series (even if MAF was playing) and while the Penguins blueline does have some great talent like Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, the Capitals again have the edge in my view, Carlson is hot and provides yet another power play threat to the Caps who converted 29.6% of their opportunities which included 5 PPGs in their 6 – 1 game three win over Philly.
Over the last few years there’s been a lot of focus on the Caps PP, but while 29.6% efficiency is impressive, they haven’t scored on their last 10 opportunities and come in against the Penguins whose PP units actually operate at 38.1%, scoring 8 on 18 opportunities against the Rangers, so a key for this series is who can stay out of the box, but even the team on the man advantage more isn’t guaranteed goals with the Capitals second for penalty kill with 95.8% and the Penguins fourth with 89.5%.
The Capitals re-wrote history with their game 6 win over Philadelphia yesterday, for the first time since the Lightning swept them in round 2 back in the 2010-11, the Capitals didn’t have a series go to game 7 (But they came close).
For Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, they’ll need to go into the meeting with a clear head, don’t look back at previous playoff experiences in the Ovechkin era, and definitely don’t worry that the Penguins took 3 wins in a 5 game regular season series between the two sides.
This is the playoffs, anything can happen, but both teams will need everybody reading off the same page if they want a chance at advancing to the conference final where they’ll face the Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Islanders.