You get game 1 of the Penguins/Capitals series. But on the positive side, Thursday’s best/worst game in the playoffs this year lead to some tremendously surprising defensive hockey by the Black and Gold on Saturday in game 2.
Let’s head over to the editing room and break down some positives and negatives of game 1 and 2 of this series.
Game 1 consisted of some terrible hockey from both benches. But since it’s called Pens Playbook, we’ll just break down what went wrong and state the few positives that can be taken from that game. What went wrong?
As I stated last week, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie were the hot players for the Caps and they would be the ones to watch. But the Penguins took this advice a little too literally as they watched Ovechkin and Oshie single-handedly beat them. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First let us start with goal number 1 for the Capitals. Burakovsky jams home a rebound for the 1-0 lead. The sequence that led to that goal started with a bad turnover in the offensive zone. Star center Evgeni Malkin made a play down the right side pulling up at the half boards. As Malkin looked for an option to make a play to a teammate he saw 3 white jerseys that were his options. As you will see in the photo above, Kuntiz stayed wide as to possibly come in late for a rebound wide or in a soft area in the high slot. However, he was covered by a Capital and was not an option for a direct pass here. In the middle of the picture at the top is Brian Dumoulin joining the rush. Dumo appears to be the option that Malkin was going for. Dumoulin would have a been a great options coming high and late in order to get a quick shot on net. But here’s the problem. As you’ll see just below him and almost parallel to Malkin is Eric Fehr. Fehr’s job on this play is called a center lane drive. The objective is to put your stick on the ice, skate hard down the middle at the net, forcing the defense to respect you as an option and in turn taking them to the net with you. When this happens, it opens up space behind you as a player, in this case Eric Fehr. If Fehr drives to the net down the middle, he would have not only opened up space in the middle for Dumoulin but also given Malkin another option if he chose to shoot the puck at the net. None of this happen and Malkin being the elite player he is, figured that he could force a pass through everyone anyways. He couldn’t and the Penguins turned it over high in the offensive zone with a defenseman pinching, leading to an odd man fast break the other way. While this wasn’t Malkin’s best decision, it didn’t help that his linemates didn’t leave him much on an option.
Saturday 4/31 PGH vs WSH
Saturday in game 2 the Penguins seemed to take a different approach to the game than they had done for the first. This time they were going to be more defensively sound in their zone. In fact, they decide to play so well in their own zone that through two periods the Capitals only had 10 shots. Another great moment was the game winning goal by Eric Fehr. Fehr did exactly what he should have done last game and drive to the net. This allowed Malkin the option to put it at the net instead of turning it over at the blueline. Coaches always say that good thing happen when you put the puck to the net. And indeed it did, as Fehr redirected Malkin’s shot/pass over the shoulder of Holtby. Now everyone thinks that Kris Letang put on a clinic and was one of the best games he’s ever played. This was not entirely true. I’ll get to that shortly. But where 58 did excel at was playing defense (which isn’t a bad thing being a defenseman). Letang was taking the body on players trying to beat him 1 on 1, he was stripping them of the puck, and he was doing it all while playing over half the game. No doubt Letang is a beast when it comes to conditioning. I believe he could push the 40+ minute mark if he had to. On top of it all, Matt Murray stayed sharp after only having 10 shots against him in the first 40 minutes. In the third frame Murray came up big as you expect your goaltender to do. I believe Murray had his first case of real jitters in game one and then didn’t get a lot of shots early in game two. So for any goalie, especially a rookie, it’s not an easy task to regain focus that late in the game. But he did and looked impressive doing it.
The downside of that win was the Penguins powerplay and a few Crosby moments. The Penguins powerplay looked different, it looked a mess, but that’s not was different about it. The powerplay seemed to switch sides and run through Kessel who was running the left half wall. Everyone knows that Kessel will not shoot a one-timer. Heck, his stick blew up just trying to take a wrist shot. So I’m not entirely sure what the Penguins coaching staff was trying to accomplish with this. Eventually the powerplay sort of rotated around to the other side where Crosby ended up on the half wall (the position that 87 and 71 have been battling over for years). Maybe the coaching staff was trying to give the Capitals a different look, confuse them maybe? It’s hard to say, but going 0 for 5 with the man advantage, whatever it was clearly was not working. Also, once again 87 was wheeling and dealing. But numerous times Crosby would pull up on the half wall on the rush and wait to pass to someone coming late. In some instances, no one was coming and Crosby just stood there. Instead Pittsburgh’s captain should have moved, driven towards the net or even around the net in order to create something or at the very least take a shot.
Ultimately the Penguins bad game in the first contest lead to playing better defense in the second game. It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s even better when it takes Ovechkin and Oshie out of the equation. If they Penguins build upon their success and get to the net, they will come out victors tonight. Make mistakes in bad areas and the Capitals will make them pay.
Good talk...see ya out there!
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