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Insider Only Penguins – Capitals Game 4 Fallout: A Fortunate 3-1 series lead?

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Penguins – Capitals Game 4 Fallout

The Penguins took a commanding 3-1 series lead on Patric Hornqvist overtime winner in Game 4 but is it a fortunate 3-1 series lead for Pittsburgh or even a lucky 3-1 series lead?

Yes, they’ve had some lucky bounces on goals, but lucky or not, you can’t overlook the championship type quality Pittsburgh is showing in how they’re winning one-goal games.

It’s a special quality the Penguins are displaying that the Capitals haven’t shown through four games or maybe just don’t have.

“I’ve really grown to admire the character in the room, and how much they care about winning and their worth ethic,” Mike Sullivan marveling during a conference call with reporters on Thursday about his hockey club.

It’s all played a part into the Penguins stunning transformation under Sullivan.

This team not even needed coached up, they needed a coach to come in and believe in them and give them the confidence that they can beat anybody by playing their way.

The character in the room compared to year one under Jim Rutherford has also been quite the transformation.

Year one you had guys brought in with no leadership qualities in the likes of Steve Downie, Daniel Winnik, Christian Ehrhoff, among others.

This season what Matt Cullen and Trevor Daley have meant in the room has been almost just as important of what they’ve brought to the ice, those close to the situation say.

Another sign that the last four months have been the perfect storm.

5 v 5 Numbers, Exploiting Structure Breakdowns

As predicted prior to the series, special teams would even out between these two clubs and they have so far with Pittsburgh’s penalty kill 11 of 12 and Washington’s penalty kill a perfect 14-for-14.

At even strength the possession numbers and scoring chances have favored Washington.

On-ice shot attempts, Washington (53.3 CF%) is +28 with a 227-199 edge. Scoring chances Washington is +16, 101-85. High danger chances the Capitals are +7, 38-31.

The Capitals failed to win Game 4 despite a 30-19 edge in 5 v 5 scoring chances, including a 17-7 advantage in high danger scoring chances.

Bad luck? They probably have had some bad luck in this series but that’s an excuse losers make.

The key stat from all of this — Pittsburgh is +3 in 5 v 5 Goals For, 11-8

The Penguins are just so good at capitalizing on defensive breakdowns from the Capitals pertaining to their structure.

On the Hornqvist overtime goal, the Penguins capitalized on Mike Weber running out of position by initially chasing up high when Tom Wilson was waving him back. Weber should have never even been on Matt Niskanen’s side to have an opportunity to play the puck in setting Hornqvist up for the goal.

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Meanwhile, the Matt Cullen goal was more than just Cullen beating Nicklas Backstrom in coverage. What the Penguins love to do in the neutral zone is swing the puck side-to-side in making a cross-ice pass to attack off the rush or chip in to go get it.

The Capitals knowing this, when the puck goes back to Brian Dumoulin, Karl Alzner over-pursues to take away the cross-ice passing lane to Oskar Sundqvist, than you have Matt Niskanen being too aggressive for a pointless hit on Tom Kuhnhackl.

With Niskanen taking himself out of the play and Alzner not able to cover the middle of the ice by being too wide, the veteran savvy Cullen is in all alone after Backstrom was puck watching in the neutral zone in letting Cullen get behind him.

This is the type of breakdown that shouldn’t happen to a No. 1 pairing. The Penguins have torched the Capitals bottom pairing d-men and through four games now it’s pretty much been all of the Caps d-men.

In the last two games, Matt Niskanen has been on the ice for 5 goals against, including all three in Wednesday’s loss. The Alzner-Niskanen pairing has been on the ice together for 4 goals against during that span.

Takeaways

— Most impressive about Matt Cullen’s 3 goals in the playoffs, all three goals have been 1-on-1 shots between him and an elite goaltender — 2 vs Henrik Lundqvist, 1 vs Braden Holtby —

These have not been deflection goals or shots through traffic. Just him and the goaltender.

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Derrick Pouliot is the type of defenseman who’s always going to find a way to put up decent possession numbers, even very good #’s in this system, but his offensive production still doesn’t exceed the threshold where you can live with the defensive lapses and struggles to win puck battles down low.

Going by a game-by-game basis, Justin Schultz earned the nod the stay in the lineup for Game 5.

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Matt Murray looked to be off on his angles at times and fighting the puck some early in Game 4 and the Capitals could still only beat him twice. Murray has an exceptional ability in stopping high danger scoring chances. He’s now given the Penguins a quality start in six of seven games.

A good stat from Ryan Wilson of HockeyBuzz on Fleury and quality starts. From 2010-2013, Fleury had 9 quality starts in 31 playoff games. From 2013/2014 – 2014/2015, some improvement for Flower but still just 8 quality starts in 18 games.

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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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