Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images
The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will clash in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series Tuesday night with the scene shifting to PPG Paints Arena for the next two games. The series is tied at one apiece after the teams split the first two games at Capital One Arena. The game will be televised on NBC Sports Network at 7:30 PM. Here are five keys for the Capitals to win Game 3 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday:
Holtby has been excellent in the postseason so far. He has won five of six starts and is second in the NHL among goalies who have played at least six games with a save percentage of .932. Only Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (.967) has a better save percentage than Holtby among goalies who have played at least six games in these playoffs. Holtby is fifth in the league with a 1.95 goals against average. Holtby has stopped 54 out of 58 shots (.931 save percentage) faced in the series so far.
Despite Holtby’s success in the playoffs this season, Holtby has allowed 11 goals on 59 shots (.814 save percentage) in his previous two regular-season appearances at PPG Paints Arena and has lost three of his past four starts there. He yielded at least five goals in each of those games. Holtby sat on the bench the last time the Capitals played in Pittsburgh on April 1 in favor of Philipp Grubauer, who made 36 saves on 37 shots in the Capitals’ 3-1 win to clinch the Metropolitan Division title.
In the postseason last year, Holtby was better at PPG Paints Arena, winning two out of three games there, but still had a save percentage of just .894 in those three games. He allowed seven goals on the 66 shots he faced in Pittsburgh during the playoffs last year.
If the Capitals are going to come out of PPG Paints Arena, where the Penguins were 30-9-2 this season, in Game 3 with a win, Holtby needs to be the Caps’ best player on the ice.
2. Road Warriors
The Capitals are 3-0 on the road during the postseason and 7-2 in the past two postseasons. Washington managed to dig themselves out of an 0-2 hole during the last round against the Columbus Blue Jackets with victories in Games 3 & 4 at Nationwide Arena.
On the road during the first round, the Capitals scored 13 goals on 108 shots (12% shooting percentage) at Nationwide Arena and averaged 4.33 goals per game, never failing to score less than three goals in any game. The Capitals were 3-for-10 on the power play on the road in Round 1. They had 21 giveaways on the road in Round 1 but only had 11 during the final two games combined.
The Capitals have also won eight straight games on the road dating back to the regular season, including a 3-1 win at PPG Paints Arena on April 1. The Capitals have not lost a road game since they absorbed a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers on March 18 at Wells Fargo Center. The Capitals have won three of their last five visits to PPG Paints Arena (both regular season and playoffs) and are 7-4-4 in their past 15 (60% winning percentage).
3. Secondary Scoring
Two of the Capitals’ four goals in Game 2 on Sunday came from bottom-six forwards: Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly. In addition, Lars Eller had three assists. While Washington’s top guns are producing, the bottom six has combined for 19 points in eight postseason games.
While the players listed above have been getting noticed, others have been quietly producing. Chandler Stephenson has a goal and four points in eight games, Devante Smith-Pelly has two goals and three points in eight, Jay Beagle has a goal and three points in seven, and Brooks Orpik has three assists in eight and leads the Capitals with a +6 rating in the postseason.
The Capitals must have everybody continuing to contribute frequently in order to steal a win or two in a very hostile building in PPG Paints Arena.
The Capitals have done a good job staying disciplined in the first two games, only taking five penalties, while allowing no power-play goals. In two games in the regular season in Pittsburgh, they took nine penalties and allowed three power-play goals. Despite killing five penalties on April 1 in Pittsburgh, they allowed 12 shots — many of them high-danger scoring chances. Grubauer was arguably the biggest reason why the Penguins didn’t score three or four goals on their power play in that outing.
The Capitals have killed 22 straight penalties, including all five against the Penguins this series, but cannot rely on Holtby and their penalty killing unit to bail them out again and again. Pittsburgh had the best power play percentage in the NHL this season, converting on 26.2% of their power plays, but has only converted on 16.7% of their power play opportunities in the playoffs, the third worst among remaining postseason teams.
However, Pittsburgh could get Evgeni Malkin, who was second on Pittsburgh with 14 power play goals and 38 power play points, back in the lineup on Tuesday, which will make their power play even more dangerous. And a power play unit like the Penguins have will not go dry for much longer if the Caps can’t stay disciplined.
5. Bring the Performances from Games 1 & 2 on the Road
The Capitals played very well in the first two games of the series and probably deserve to be up 2-0 but for that five-minute collapse when they allowed all three Penguins’ goals in Game 1. Washington scored in the first two minutes in each of those games, did a good job of staying out of the box, and had 77 hits in the first two games.
If the Capitals play three more games like they did the first two, they will win the series. Considering that the Capitals are 8-0-0 in their past eight road games and 7-2 in their past nine road playoff games, they should be able to carry their performances from Games 1 and 2 on the road with them.
Washington will definitely have a lot to feel good about and have a good chance of defeating Pittsburgh if they carry over their strong play to Games 3 and 4.
So, no changes.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 28, 2018
Andre Burakovsky, who has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury, will not travel to Pittsburgh with the team.
— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) April 30, 2018
By Harrison Brown