Insider Only Game 6 Breakdown: Capitals have taken over the Neutral Zone

Game 6 Fallout

Key Area Capitals have taken over series

The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost control of the series in a matter of four periods.

“Thought we controlled a lot of the zone time. Thought we won a lot of the battles,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said of his club after Monday night’s 5-2 win in Game 6.

The Penguins have been outscored 8-2 over the last four periods and most glaring is the lack of shots getting on net for the Penguins.

Over the last six periods the Penguins shot totals have been 7, 3, 12, 3, 6, and 9.

The Capitals have figured something out.

“We moved our feet. We stayed in the battle,” Trotz said. “I thought our tracking game was really good. I thought our structure was really good. I thought our communication in terms of responsibilities and our coverages were pretty solid. When you do that, you can contain teams a little bit.”

Mike Sullivan talked afterwards that the Penguins are not dictating pace.

The road block the Penguins have ran into is the neutral zone. Washington has seen something on tape  as the series has progressed that has them stifling the Penguins in the middle of the ice.

Washington is playing a variation of a 1-2-2 and 1-3-1 in the neutral zone. With a Penguins D that is slow in the decision making process to move the puck up, the Capitals sitting back and then closing fast, forcing a Penguins D unable to find an open lane.

If Pittsburgh tried to go to the wall with the puck, this happened.

If the Penguins looked for a stretch pass, more often than not a broken play happened or an off-sides.

The Penguins are an offense that relies so much on clean zone entries and creating grade-A chances off of them. The Capitals have made the Penguins basically a chip and chase team.

This is the pivotal area the Penguins have to try to fix for Game 7 in beating the first wave of the Capitals neutral zone trap. Shorter support from the forwards has to be one adjustment the Penguins make.

Last night I felt like I was watching a Dan Bylsma team with the constant long stretch passes and the forwards hanging out near the blueline.

As the Capitals have taken over the neutral zone, where the Capitals are also excelling is with their aggressiveness in the offensive and defensive zones.

They’re forcing the Penguins to make panic plays all over the ice, especially the defensemen. The Penguins at times live and die with their d-men pinching and it’s haunted them these last couple games.


Self Inflicted Wounds Can Be Fixed

— The good thing for the Penguins going into Game 7 is that some of their issues in Game 6 were nothing more than self inflicted wounds.

As lifeless and bad the Penguins were in this one, it was still a 1-0 game late in the second period.

The Burakovsky goal was something from a blooper video where you have Conor Sheary doing who knows what with the puck on the left side, then Ron Hainsey with a ton of time and space to go off the boards and out of the zone, deciding to turn and take a hit and then Marc Andre Fleury being completely off his angle and letting in a soft goal.

What’s also getting overlooked because of the Penguins low shot totals in Game 6, Pittsburgh held Washington 26 shots in the game and held them to 16 shots on goal through two periods.

Problem was the Capitals scored three times on their first 17 shots.


Tidbits

— Brooks Orpik is a whipping boy among the media and pundits but one scout tells me the change from assistant coach Todd Reirden in playing Orpik and John Carlson together more often has had a major impact on John Carlson in letting him be more aggressive offensively.


— Up 3-2 in the series heading into Monday night’s tilt, did Mike Sullivan make panic moves with the line shuffling?

That’s up for debate.

We saw some panic moves from Sullivan last year in the conference finals when in a 2-2 series, he turned to Marc Andre Fleury in Game 5 and put Beau Bennett on the top line that didn’t work.

Monday night the HBK line didn’t even make it to the third period, not a surprise with how they’ve looked together this season, and taking Jake Guentzel (they were reunited in the third period) off of Crosby’s line was the main head scratcher.

Chad Ruhwedel was not a problem with his play but this team could use Mark Streit and that goes back to even round 1. Jacques Martin is said to not be much of a fan but the Penguins need more skill from their backend to drive the transition game and Streit would give Pittsburgh another element on a power play that couldn’t control the puck last night in gaining the zone.

A forward group that looks to be lacking an infusion of speed all of a sudden, Scott Wilson playing should not be the only consideration.

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About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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