PIT: Evgeni Malkin 112 pts, Sidney Crosby 103 pts, Marc Andre Fleury 35 wins
WAS: Alexander Ovechkin 110 pts, Niklas Backstrom 88 pts, D Mike Green 73 pts
Advantage ‚Äì Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh: Down the middle, the Penguins are the deepest team in the NHL with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Crosby and Malkin powered the Penguins through the first round combining for 17 points in the series while Jordan Staal has teamed with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy to become the most complete third line in hockey.
While Crosby and Malkin are putting up stellar numbers in the playoffs, they are not getting much help from their wingers. Ruslan Fedotenko was the only top 6 forward to score an even strength goal¬†for the¬†Penguins in their¬†first round series against Philadelphia.
Chris Kunitz has added a much needed physical presence on Sidney Crosby‚Äôs line but he has not proven to be a consistent goal scorer in the playoffs. Kunitz has one goal in his last 27 playoff games. Pittsburgh will need more production from Kunitz against Washington. What the Penguins get out of Miroslav Satan remains to be seen as Satan will begin the series on a line with Evgeni Malkin.
How much production the Penguins get from their top 6 wingers is a major question mark for the Penguins heading into the series. The X-Factor for the Penguins upfront will be Jordan Staal.
Staal was among the Penguins top forwards in the first two games against Philadelphia but he only ended up with one point in the entire series. Staal‚Äôs counterparts in the 2006 draft, Jonathan Toews, Niklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel have taking their games to the next level when it comes to offensive production
and the Penguins need Staal put up more points as the production from their Penguins top 6 wingers has been minimal thus far.
Washington is stronger than Pittsburgh when comparing top two lines but the Penguins third line of Matt Cooke ‚Äì Jordan Staal ‚Äì Tyler Kennedy could be the key to the series.
Kunitz – Crosby – Guerin
Fedotenko – Malkin – Satan
Cooke – Staal – Kennedy
Dupuis – Talbot – Adams
Washington: Alexander Ovechkin is the most electric player in the National Hockey League and leads the Washington Capitals offensive attack.
Ovechkin is surrounded by a well rounded cast, including talented winger Alexander Semin (79 pts in 62 games) and playmaking center Niklas Backstrom (88pts).
Two under-rated players upfront for the Capitals are winger Viktor Kozlov and center Brooks Laich. Kozlov (41pts) did not put up monster numbers this season but complements Alexander Ovechkin very well on the Caps top line.
38 year old forward Sergei Fedorov looked like the player he was in 1996 at times during the Capitals first round series and gives the Capitals a much needed veteran presence on their top two lines.
The Capitals will look to attack the Penguins and generate their offense through the neutral zone with smooth puck moving defenseman Mike Green who scored 31 goals in 68 games.
An X-Factor for the Capitals will be forward Chris Clark. Clark has battled injuries all season but is healthy for the first time this year and the former 30 goal scorer adds a physical element and some scoring punch to the Capitals 4th line.
Advantage ‚Äì Washington
Pittsburgh: The Penguins are 7 deep with Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Mark Eaton, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik and Philippe Boucher
Defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik give the Penguins a #1 tandem that will have the primary duty of shutting down Alexander Ovechkin. Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi have been key components to the Penguins making major strides in the penalty kill department.
The one player who has benefited the most since the Penguins coaching change has been defensemen Mark Eaton. Eaton showed the ability to create offense when he played in Nashville and he has flourished under Dan Bylsma. Eaton and puck moving defensemen Kris Letang will be key components to the Penguins transition game as the pairing gives the Penguins a second puck moving pairing to their lineup.
What to watch for is how long head coach Dan Bylsma sticks with Kris Letang. Bylsma has not been shy about wanting to get Philippe Boucher in the lineup.
Washington: The Capitals are led by defensemen Mike Green who recorded 73 points in 68 games including 31 goals. Green scored more goals than any Penguins forward did this season. Green is the most dynamic defenseman in the game. After Mike Green, the Capitals have question marks on their blueline.
Defenseman Tom Poti is another puck moving presence but the Capitals lack physical mobile defenseman.
They Capitals were successful in their first round series against New York by clogging the middle and keeping the Rangers on the perimeter.
Advantage ‚Äì Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh: Just like the Philadelphia series, Pittsburgh has a clear advantage in goal. Marc Andre Fleury is establishing himself as a top five goaltender in this league and is playing at a higher level than he was last season when the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Where Fleury has taking his game to the next level is how he responds after having a bad game. In game 3 against Philadelphia he gave up 5 goals, came back in game 4 with a spectacular 45 save performance.
Washington: 21 year old Simeon Varlamov is 4-2 in the playoffs with a 1.17 GAA and a .952 save percentage. Varalmov showed great poise, replacing goaltender Jose Theodore in the first round, winning four of six games from the Rangers.
While Varalmov was a difference maker for the Capitals in the first round, he goes against a much different offensive attack in the Pittsburgh Penguins than he faced in the first round against the New York Rangers who struggle to score goals.
The Penguins will look to rattle Varalmov early in the series and the Penguins have already talked how they have a much advantage in goal. Is Varalmov the real deal? We will find out soon
Advantage ‚Äì Pittsburgh
OutLook: This series is being proclaimed as Crosby vs Ovechkin and there is more buzz about this series than there was for the Stanley Cup Finals last season. There will be intense media coverage worldwide and while Crosby and Ovechkin are the centers of attention, these are two great teams who don‚Äôt like each other.
Since Crosby, Ovechkin entered the league in 2005, the Penguins are 11-4 against the Capitals. This season, the tide turned as the Capitals went 3-1 against the Penguins. Anything that happened in the regular season can be thrown out the window.
While Crosby, Ovechkin are getting all the press, Evgeni Malkin has been the best player in the National Hockey League this season. Some people seem to forget that and he is being overlooked.
Both teams have their strength‚Äôs and weaknesses, but where Pittsburgh is going to pull through in this series is due to their experience and leadership.
Washington proved a lot overcoming a 3-1 deficit but they were clearly the better team in their first round series against New York.
This series is going to be a media circus and I see Washington getting sucked into the media hype and it will be their downfall
Pittsburgh in 6