ON PENGUINS 4-0 LOSS TO CAPITALS
The Penguins were throttled by the Washington Capitals, 4-0 on rivalry night as it was another concerning loss to a likely playoff team inside the Penguins division.
The Capitals shutout the Penguins for the second straight meeting and the loss looked very similar to the Penguins 3-0 loss to Washington on Dec 27. The Capitals again Wednesday night played with structure, blocked shots and kept the Penguins to the outside. Pittsburgh had the edge in shot attempts but had very few prime scoring chances.
The second line of Beau Bennett – Brandon Sutter – Patric Hornqvist was invisible, while the Penguins had no scoring threat from their third and fourth lines. The Crosby line was effective at gaining the offensive zone but lost a lot of board battles and were unable to establish much of a net-front presence against the Capitals top pairing of Brooks Orpik – John Carlson.
One-on-one battles, poor faceoff possession contributed to the lack of scoring chances and the Penguins were severely hampered by poor dump in’s that led to no forechecking presence.
For Washington, Alexander Ovechkin netted two goals in the win and now leads the NHL with 29 goals. What stood out just like a month ago when these two teams met is the Capitals big group of forwards were able to again cause the Penguins problems down low and in front of Marc Andre Fleury.
Wednesday night was concerning for this reason: There continues to be no evidence that the Penguins even with a healthy Evgeni Malkin will match up well in a playoff series against the Islanders, Rangers, and the Capitals might be joining those two in some of the matchup problems they can cause Pittsburgh.
Defensively the Capitals are giving the Penguins similar trouble that the Rangers have.
Washington’s third line of Brooks Laich – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward was fantastic and has been all year. Fehr who scored his 15th goal of the season, was 17-22 (77%) on faceoffs, and went 13-17 (76%) head to head against Sidney Crosby. Washington’s bottom-6 is a big group that plays heavy which could give them the ability to really grind out seven game series in the playoffs. Washington is one top-6 scoring winger away from maybe being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Pittsburgh knows how important it is from the Jordan Staal days to have a great third line that is a true difference maker on the ice. Washington looks to have that in Laich – Fehr – Ward.
The Penguins are still being fooled into believing they have that type of player.
For Pittsburgh, as long as they build their third line around Brandon Sutter, it just isn’t going to happen. When Sutter gets opportunities to play with talented players like Patric Hornqvist and Beau Bennett, he gets really exposed to what he is, a poor possession player who doesn’t create a lot of offense himself.
Every coach that gets Sutter thinks he’s more than he really is. Mike Johnston remains infatuated with this idea that Sutter with the right linemates can be a focal point of a great puck possession/scoring third line. Don’t count on it.
Bylsma and Shero finally saw the light with Sutter after a season in a half as they tried to go all in to acquire Ryan Kesler to give them that Staal like third line center and people seem to forget, Marcel Goc was initially brought in to center the third line and bump Sutter to the 4th line.
As the Penguins feel they have a grit problem with the acquisition of Maxim Lapierre and earlier pursuit of Daniel Winnik, they also have a problem in the bottom-6 with too many players who can’t create their own shot. Adams, Sill, Lapierre, Spaling, Sutter among them.
That’s been problematic against a deep Islanders team this season and will be if the two teams meet in April or May.