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Insider Only Penguins – Capitals: What to Watch For

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Penguins – Capitals

Washington Capitals

Mike Sullivan on Tuesday was trying to go away from Penguins – Capitals being about individual storylines and instead being about two good hockey clubs going up against each other.

“Lot of storylines surrounding this series but for me it’s two good hockey clubs going at each other,” Sullivan said. “With all due respect to all the individual players, they’re great players, but for me and our standpoint, this is about two teams playing against one another.”

Sullivan is right.

The most fascinating storyline is you have two teams who believe when they play their way, they are unstoppable.

On Crosby vs Ovechkin……..

While it is Crosby – Ovechkin Part II and no question Capitals – Penguins will be the biggest marquee matchup the rest of the way the NHL is going to see this post-season, the Crosby vs Ovechkin storyline is a story but not close to the magnitude it was in 2009 when both were head and shoulders the two best players in the NHL and the faces of the NHL.

They were the NHL for those first four to five years after the 04-05 lockout.

This years matchup is a lot more about the legacy for Ovechkin.

Darren Dreger was on Trib Live Radio yesterday and one thing that stuck with me was his comment that “I always lean Crosby because he has won.”

Ovechkin in a way gets under-appreciated in some circles because he’s never got past the second round. Fair or not, the lack of a deep playoff run is always going to have an asterisk next to Ovechkin’s name in some eyes.

I’m not one of those.

The combination of the size, skill, all-world scoring ability to go with a physical dimension that’s rarely seen, has made Ovechkin a once in a generation type player and Ovechkin’s consistency to score 50+ goals in this era is something that continues to make him under-appreciated, mainly because so many look at his playoff failures.

Crosby vs Ovechkin might not have the same excitement level as 2009 when it comes to the individual matchup, but from a legacy standpoint it’s big, especially for Ovechkin to change the narrative that he and the Capitals often choke come playoff time.

Things to Watch For Early in the Series

— Everyone is going to be talking about special teams and why not.

Pittsburgh enters Round 2 with a combined Power Play (38.1%)/Penalty Kill (89.5%) percentage of 127.6, Washington with a combined power play (29.6%)/Penalty Kill (95.8%) percentage of 125.4.

“It’s a big challenge, there is no question that they’re one of the top power plays in the league,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of the Capitals. “They have a lot of threats. It’s hard to key on any one particular threat. We have some ideas on what we think we’ll try to do to negate their success, but we have a lot of respect for their power play.”

Special teams is obviously going to be critical in the series but both teams have such good special team units, they’ll likely even each other out.

If this series comes down to 5 v 5 play, who does that favor? Most will say Pittsburgh but it’s not so cut and dry.

During the regular season, the Penguins were the stronger possession team, 52.7 CF%, second in the NHL,and we know how dominant of a possession team they were down the stretch, driving possession at a 55% clip over their last 25 regular season games.

Washington was 14th in the NHL at 51% and they were declining over the final months of the season in their ability to drive possession that had many among the analytics crowd favoring the Flyers in Round 1.

*REGULAR SEASON 5 v 5 PRODUCTION

Pittsburgh 5 v 5 | Goals For: 159 | Goals Against: 129 | +30 Differential | PDO: 100.6 |
Washington 5 v 5 | Goals For: 164 | Goals Against: 128 | +36 Differential | PDO: 101.2 |

What makes Washington so good as a hockey club is that they can play any type of game 5 v 5.

In the first round of the playoffs, Washington was really good 5 v 5 in a number of areas, while the Penguins possession numbers took a major hit against a poor possession team in the Rangers, for various reasons.

*Round 1

Washington 5 v 5 | Shot Attempts For: 281 | Shot Attempts Against: 243 | CF%: 54% |
Pittsburgh 5 v 5 | Shot Attempts For: 200 | Shot Attempts Against: 242 | CF%: 45% |

Washington 5 v 5 | Scoring Chances For: 152 | Scoring Chances Against: 115 | SCF%: 57%
Pittsburgh 5 v 5 | Scoring Chances For: 94 | Scoring Chances Against: 116 | SCF%: 45%

Washington 5 v 5 | High Danger Scoring Chances: 63 | High Danger Scoring Chances Against: 44 | HSCF%: 59%
Pittsburgh 5 v 5 | High Danger Scoring Chances: 45 | High Danger Scoring Chances Against: 39 | HSCF%: 54%

Washington averaged around 25 scoring chances per game during Round 1, an increase of about 3 per game from the regular season.

Pittsburgh averaged 19 scoring chances per game vs the Rangers, a decrease of around 6 scoring chances per game from the regular season.

The key areas that were encouraging for Pittsburgh in Round 1 that backed up what they were doing over the final 25 games of the regular season was 10 even strength goals in the series, and a High Danger Scoring Chance For percentage of 54%.

With the type of goaltending both teams have, possession numbers won’t matter that much. It’s going to be which team creates a greater volume of high danger scoring chances.

Pittsburgh wasn’t beating Henrik Lundqvist with fluke goals that were bouncing off d-men in front. They were beating Lundqvist 1-on-1. That will need to continue vs Holtby.

X-Factors

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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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