Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals Preview
You couldn’t find many people at the end of the regular season who would’ve predicted that the Caps would need more games to win their first round series than the Penguins would’ve–but alas, the Pens looked and played like the more dominant Metropolitan team in the first round. The Capitals went up 3-0 on Philly, but then allowed the Flyers to get back into the series. They finally closed it out in game six, but the series also exposed some of Washington’s flaws. The Penguins looked like a team with immense depth and had its superstars play like superstars.
Penguins to Watch
Matt Murray- Another playoff series, another young goalie getting the nod. This time, it’s the 21-year-old Murray who is in for Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray had many Pens fans worried, but came through big time with three straight wins against the Rangers. Of course, the Blue Shirts didn’t have Alex Ovechkin or many of Washington’s other weapons, so this series will be an entirely different challenge for him. Murray went against the Capitals on April 7th, a 4-3 Pens win in OT, but that was regular season play.
Sheary/Kuhnhackl/Rust- We all know about the top players in Pittsburgh, but their first round series illustrated that they are also a team with depth. Bryan Rust had two goals and an assist in the series clincher against New York; Conor Sheary scored twice in the series and Tom Kuhnhackl scored the game winner in game one. Nobody is expecting these three to carry the burden for Pittsburgh, but if they can continue to provide consistent secondary scoring, Washington will have to focus on more than Crosby, Malkin and Kessel.
Capitals to Watch
Evgeny Kuznetsov- One of the best players in the league during the regular season, the Russian struggled against the Flyers, posting only one point. He can’t disappear again, especially during five-on-five play. The Caps scored just six goals at even strength in the first round and relied heavily on their power play. Kuznetsov finished fourth in the NHL with 57 helpers, so it’s doubtful the Penguins can shut him down like the Flyers did, but even limiting his production would be huge.
The penalty kill unit- The Penguins power play dominated in the first round, scoring in every game and going 38.1%. However, the Capitals penalty kill also dominated in their series, allowing the Flyers to score only one goal on 23 attempts. Something has to give, and I would have to think its Pittsburgh’s power play. The Caps have some great two-way forwards, including Nicklas Backstrom, and an all-world goalie in Braden Holtby. Washington may also get a big boost if former Penguin Brooks Orpik can return from his head injury.
I picked the Capitals to win the Cup back in September, and despite how hot the Penguins have been, I am sticking to that. Pittsburgh has won 18 of its last 21 games and have their stars getting hot at the right time. However, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Holtby and the Capitals’ defense will be too much for the Penguins to overcome. Washington in 7