Game 5 Fallout: Momentum trending towards Capitals?
The Pittsburgh Penguins closing out the series in five games that would have included winning all three games on the road never would have seemed to be in the cards prior to the series starting.
Yet, here were the Penguins Saturday night holding a 2-1 lead after two periods and Pittsburgh’s stifling play defensively had the Capitals lifeless.
Barry Trotz playing Alex Ovechkin on the third line looked like a disaster as Ovechkin was invisible through two periods and Pittsburgh’s opening goal came against the Ovechkin-Eller-Wilson line when an Eller’s turnover in the neutral zone led to the Penguins striking first.
Things, though, would change seconds into the third period.
A big Braden Holtby save on Tom Kuhnhackl early in the third prevented the Penguins going up 3-1 and the Penguins uncharacteristically quit skating on the backcheck and Washington exposed their poor gap control to climb back into the game.
The Nicklas Backstrom game-tying goal, Pittsburgh had the numbers, five players back against three.
Justin Schultz who struggled mightily defensively in the Game 5 loss, takes a poor angle when defending Burakovsky in taking away the outside but giving up the inside. Even with Schultz, though, having poor gap control with the Capitals entering the zone, a scoring chance should have never happened.
The Penguins just played lazy hockey.
With a wall of three players back, Carl Hagelin a faster player than Backstrom, has perfect position on the backcheck but just stops moving his feet.
“We obviously gave them life when they got the first goal [of the third period],” said Mike Sullivan. “We thought we had pretty good control of the game at that point. We talked about being strong at the lines, that’s an important part of winning at this time of year. I thought that goal was avoidable. So we gave [the Caps] life. Give them credit. They’re good players, they scored a couple of key goals to get them back in the game.”
The Malkin line then got hit for another goal against on the Evgeny Kuznetsov goal that opened the flood gates with Ovechkin scoring 27 seconds later.
There’s likely going a fuss that when you play Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel together, this is what can happen if both are not fully committed to their own end but the Backstrom and Kuznetsov goals were more on Carl Hagelin than anybody.
On a play up the wall with John Carlson coming hard, Hagelin failed to get the puck out. He has to read that situation better with Carlson pinching to make the high percentage play and go off the boards than the middle of the ice.
The Ovechkin goal that put the Penguins away was one of the rare times this series where Ovechkin got loose through the neutral zone and attacked the offensive zone from his signature left side at full speed.
Hainsey blocks the initial shot but the Penguins backpressure from the forwards, notably Nick Bonino and Conor Sheary was so bad, Ovechkin’s going to score there from that spot with that the time and space nine out of 10 times on Fleury.
Pittsburgh was puck watching in the third.
Game 5 should be a good wakeup call for the Penguins that when they relax one bit defensively, this is what can happen.
The Capitals have been on the brink of breaking out all series and they finally did.
We now find out whether it’s still too late for Washington or if it’s the start of momentum heading in Washington’s direction?
A good sign for the Penguins was the chances they were still creating in the third period.
“I think a lot of the third period, we had some pushback, we had some opportunities, we had some real high quality chances. We didn’t convert,” said Mike Sullivan.
Although he had just a .909 save percentage as the Penguins fired just 20 shots and scored on two, Braden Holtby showed some signs in Game 5 that he might finally be finding his game.
Most importantly for him, his positioning was finally there.
A lot of the Penguins grade-A chances were pucks hitting Holtby right in the chest, the type of saves when he’s at his best.
Game 6 will tell the story whether there’s starting to be a swing with the goaltenders or not, in that Holtby starts playing up to his ability and we start seeing a decline from Marc Andre Fleury which at somepoint was going to be inevitable.
Fleury’s put the Penguins in great position to be up 3-2 but there’s now pressure on him coming off what he felt his worst performance of the playoffs (I disagree) to close this out Monday night and not let Game 5 be the start of his play snowballing.Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"