Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs is set as the Washington Capitals are set to take on the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins.
How did the two teams get here? The Washington Capitals were able to hold off the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 1, as they took the series in 6 games. The Pittsburgh Penguins got some revenge in the playoffs against the New York Rangers, as they were able to win their series in 5 games
The Capitals and Penguins are meeting during the 2nd round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 Semifinals. The Penguins were victorious and defeated the Capitals in 7 hard fought games, and the Penguins eventually won the Stanley Cup later that year. It is hard to believe that they have not seen each other in the playoffs in 7 years!
REGULAR SEASON RECAP
The Capitals and Penguins met each other five times during the regular season. The Capitals went 2-2-1 against their rivals from Pennsylvania.
October 28, 2015 – 3-1 Penguins win – in Washington
December 14, 2015 – 4-1 Capitals win – in Pittsburgh
March 1, 2016 – 3-2 Capitals win – in Washington
March 20, 2016 – 6-2 Penguins win – in Pittsburgh
April 7, 2016 – 4-3 (OT) Penguins win – in Washington
— #RockTheRed (@washcaps) April 26, 2016
-Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik is still on the shelf with an undisclosed upper-body injury. The former Penguins defenseman was injured in Game 3 against the Flyers after taking a check from Flyers forward Ryan White. While Orpik has been out of the lineup, Taylor Chorney and Mike Weber have filled in and taken some of the minutes on the Capitals blueline.
-Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen leads all Capitals blueliners in average time on ice in the playoffs (25:32). The former Penguins defenseman helped shut down the Flyers top players in Round 1. The Capitals only gave up 6 goals in the entire series, and 1 of those goals was an empty net goal.
-Penguins forward Eric Fehr was plagued by injury in his first season in Pittsburgh. He recorded 8 goals and 14 points in 55 regular season games. The former Capitals 1st round pick of 2003 scored a goal in Game 4 against the Rangers.
-Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is still fighting concussion issues. He was injured back on March 31 against Nashville and has not played since then. While Fleury was out in Round 1, Jeff Zatkoff and Matt Murray shared net duties for the Penguins.
TEAM BREAKDOWNS (With Projected Line Combinations and Top Playoff Point Producers)
Capitals – Barry Trotz: Trotz advanced past the 1st round for the 4th time in his NHL coaching career. After the Capitals Game 6 victory, Trotz said “we’re comfortable being uncomfortable.” Trotz and his Capitals team did not panic when the Flyers clawed their way back into the series. Trotz has kept the Capitals believing in the script, and there is still plenty of work left to do.
Penguins – Mike Sullivan: Sullivan took over the Penguins head coaching job in mid-December after the Penguins dismissed Mike Johnston. The Penguins responded well under Sullivan and went on a tear in the second half of the regular season. In 54 games under Sullivan, the Penguins went 33-16-5, and stole the 2nd spot in the Metropolitan Division standings. Sullivan is a former assistant under John Tortorella and has been in a coaching position in Vancouver and Boston before his arrival in Pittsburgh.
Penalty Kill: 95.8%
Penalty Kill: 89.5%
HOW THE CAPITALS CAN WIN THE SERIES
1. Play physical against the Penguins defensemen. Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Matta and others tend to turn the puck over in their own zone. They do not perform well if they are constantly getting hit.
2. Slow down the Penguins hot powerplay. This powerplay unit is good, and the best way to neutralize it is by limiting the amount of penalties taken. The Capitals do not want to give the Penguins 5-10 powerplay opportunities per game. If the Capitals can keep the game at 5-on-5, they should be able to wear down the Penguins and play the style that they want to play.
3. Do not make this a track meet. The Penguins are probably a quicker team than the Capitals are. They feed off of turnovers in the neutral zone and transition play. The best way the Capitals can neutralize the Penguins speed is by playing a physical brand of hockey. Good physical play can slow faster teams down, both mentally and physically.
HOW THE PENGUINS CAN WIN THE SERIES
1. Matt Murray needs to continue to shine in net. Murray has been outstanding for the Penguins while Marc-Andre Fleury has been out with a concussion. He won all 3 of his starts against the Rangers in Round 1, and has recorded a 1.33 goals against average and .955 save percentage in his playoff appearances.
2. Keep the powerplay hot. The Penguins have had the most efficient powerplay in the playoffs. They have scored 38.1% of the time with the man advantage, which is pretty darn good.
3. Secondary scoring from the depth forwards is important. Bryan Rust, Matt Cullen, and Conor Sheary can swing this series in the Penguins favor if they can produce consistently. The Capitals will be busy trying to contain Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel. If the Penguins can get some offensive punch from others in the lineup, the Capitals might be in trouble.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CAPITALS – MARCUS JOHANSSON: Marcus quietly had a good series against the Flyers in Round 1. He tallied 1 goal and 6 points in the series, and he was only 1 point shy of Nicklas Backstrom’s production. Johansson played most of the series on the Capitals 3rd line with Jason Chimera and Mike Richards, but he did see some time in the top 6 later in the series. Johansson plays an important role on the Capitals top powerplay unit, as he is usually sniffing around the front of the net for rebounds.
PENGUINS – SIDNEY CROSBY: Crosby continued his point dominance into the playoffs. Sid tallied 36 goals and 85 points in 80 games during the regular season. Against the Rangers in Round 1, Sid tallied 3 goals and 8 points in the series. The Capitals defense will be busy trying to shut down Sid. The 28-year old Nova Scotia native has been one of the NHL’s most productive forwards in the past decade.
By: George Foussekis