Penguins – Capitals What We Learned
PIT 5 – WSH 3 (F)
Goaltending: Matt Murray (38 SV, .927 SV%) | Braden Holtby (25 SV, .862 SV%)
PIT Goal Scorers: S Crosby 2 (33), J Guentzel (35), P Kessel (23), J McCann (17)
WSH Goal Scorers: J Carlson (11), J Vrana 2 (21)
The Washington Capitals through the first 30 minutes of the game, were putting on a methodical performance and as each minute kept passing by, looked to be putting the Penguins to a slow death. Pittsburgh just never seemed to have the puck, couldn’t establish much of any zone time below the dots and Washington looked well on their way to going eight points up on the Penguins in the standings.
Until Jared McCann happened in creating an Evgeni Kutznetsov turnover just inside the Capitals blueline, blowing by Brooks Orpik who looked like was walking into a nursing home and dishing a backhand pass to Jake Guentzel for a tap-in goal.
If Pittsburgh goes on to win the division or even get home-ice in round 1 in a 2-3 matchup, the takeaway from McCann that led to the Guentzel goal can’t be understated in what a major four point swing it was for the Penguins.
The Penguins were dead in the water until McCann delivered the momentum changing jolt. If Kuznetsov late on his shift makes the simple play of getting the puck out and that Penguins rally isn’t happening. McCann’s elite level ability to track pucks was on display again.
47 seconds later, Sidney Crosby strikes with a breakaway goal as Braden Holtby lost his mind and decided not to play goal. Crosby then struck again a 1:01 later as Pittsburgh’s furious surge saw the Penguins scored three goals in a 1:58 span.
Washington was the much better team Tuesday night and their performance met the eye test and the underlying numbers. Washington possessed the puck at 63% to Pittsburgh’s 37% and were +12 in 5-on-5 scoring chances. Before the game from this point of view, it was lean Washington in a seven game series and after the game it’s status quo.
Pittsburgh was missing two very important players in Kris Letang and Bryan Rust and both who will be back before the playoffs, but there’s a still a little more to like with the Capitals when you break things down for a likely looming playoff matchup
But, the Penguins again showed like they often do in these matchups of their special ability that they have to completely change a game with one opportunity. The Capitals overcame their demons last year but Tuesday night should have been reminder to Washington the Penguins are still around and you don’t want them hanging around a game you’re completely dominating. You have to wonder about Pittsburgh possibly still having a mental edge if these two rivals meet again.
— In shipping out Riley Sheahan and Derick Brassard, the Penguins feel another element that’s paying off big time with the Jared McCann and Nick Blugstad additions is that it’s made the Penguins a quicker team in transition when possessing the puck. Pittsburgh had great disappointment in the lack of breakaway speed Derick Brassard had as a puck carrier. Since his groin injury last spring, Brassard showed no separation ability and while no one will look at Blugstad as being a great skater, he continues to show above average separation ability when carrying the puck combined with the size to fend off defenders. When teams are looking to add speed, that’s a primary thing scouts monitor is a players speed with the puck compared to without it. Pittsburgh knew McCann was this quick but there’s been a bit of a surprise element of Blugstad being a better skater than expected when he gets moving with the puck.
Meanwhile, Brassard has 3 goals, 6 points and a minus-12 rating in 18 games since being traded from Pittsburgh. He continues to look physically shot to evaluators.
— The happiest man in Penguins circles right now has to be Jim Rutherford. Penguins had sheltered Erik Gudbranson big time until last night, where Gudbranson held in his own in the Washington game and is getting some positive press out of it (Rutherford cares about that stuff). The Gudbranson addition to the lineup has worked out okay so far, but few should draw conclusions with a small sample size. Let’s see it play out but from a results standpoint, so far, so good in that the limitations that are very obvious in Gudbranson’s game haven’t crippled the Penguins on the ice like they did so often for Gudbranson when he was with the Canucks.
— Winger Bryan Rust just hit the two-week mark in his recovery from injury and the good news is the Penguins remain optimistic it’s a three week injury. [/hide]