Capitals Force a Game 6
The Washington Capitals forced a Game 6 with a 3-1 victory in Game 5 on Saturday night. Alexander Ovechkin had a goal, assist, and Braden Holtby made 30 saves as the Capitals staved off elimination.
Game 6 is Tuesday night in Pittsburgh with another two-day break.
It’s been a series where the depth players have shined, at least more on the scoresheet, but in Game 5 Washington’s best players were better than Pittsburgh’s.
The Capitals in finally breaking out on the power play with two power play goals, were led by Ovechkin on the man-advantage and at 5-on-5.
Ovechkin was a force with a game-high three high danger scoring chances at even strength, including two more on the power play. He has out-played Malkin and Crosby in the series, especially the last three games.
The move to flip Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom also worked for Washington in a must-win situation as the move seemed to jump start both.
Washington finally solved the Penguins’ penalty kill for one night. A big key was Washington possessing the puck off of faceoffs. Pittsburgh was 0-6 on draws while on the penalty kill through the first forty minutes.
“Our penalty kill, we couldn’t seem the win the first faceoff,” Mike Sullivan said. “When you get that first clear, I think that’s when our penalty kill has an opportunity to be at its best, and we couldn’t seem to get that first faceoff win. And, as a result they got some zone time.”
Where the Penguins are often so good at on the PK is pressuring the opposition and forcing them to throw the puck around the boards off of zone entries. Washington getting key possession off draws limited that strength for Pittsburgh.
What this series has also been about is which team capitalizes on an egregious defensive breakdown or turnover. Pittsburgh has often been the team on the positive side of those.
Not last night, though, when a brutal Brian Dumoulin turnover led to a Justin Williams goal to put the Capitals up 3-1. It was not long before that when Washington capitalized on a behind the play penalty from Ian Cole. Cole would only play three shifts in the third period.
Cole wasn’t the only player who was nailed to the bench for the most part in the third.
Trailing by two goals, Mike Sullivan shortened his bench in the third period in going with three lines and nine forwards. What was interesting out of that is every forward had at least 8 shifts in period three except Tom Kuhnhackl (2), Eric Fehr (3) and PATRIC HORNQVIST (2). Sullivan denied Hornqvist was injured.
Who was the Better Team in Game 5?
The Penguins after their Game 5 loss felt they played a very strong game, from the coaches to the players.
“I think for long stretches of the game we were the better team,” Sullivan said. “I thought we had the puck more. I thought we controlled territory. I thought 5-on-5 our play was pretty strong.”
Pittsburgh out-shot Washington 31-19 in the game, including 22-13 in 5-on-5 shots with a +6 edge in even strength shot attempts at 50-44.
Yet, as one NHL assistant coach told me a long-time ago, when facing an elite goaltender shot totals are often overrated in a playoff series.
You could make an argument they were in this one and maybe have been the whole series with both teams getting excellent goaltending.
The team that has been out-shot is 4-1 in the series.
One key stat that also met the eye test from Game 5 was Washington with a 13-6 edge in high danger scoring chances (5 v 5). Scoring chances 5 v 5 were near even at 24-23 Washington.
Time for a Goaltending Switch?
Matt Murray had an .842 save percentage in the Game 5 loss and I’m sure with the two-day break, Marc Andre Fleury’s media friends will be in full steam calling for him to be the Game 6 starter.
Murray faced just 13 shots at even strength but the Capitals also having 13 high danger scoring chances gives you a sense of what type of quality chances he was facing. One that stood out was Murray making a point-blank save on Johansson in the third period to keep the Penguins hanging around.
When the Penguins have had disastrous Game 5 losses in the past when up 3-1, 8-2 loss vs the Lightning in 2011 and 5-1 loss vs Rangers in 2014, the goaltending wasn’t good enough to keep the game from getting out of control.
The shot totals might have been low but Murray made several key stops in Game 5 from becoming the type of loss that has haunted the Penguins in the past.
Sources close to the situation say one of the reasons the coaching staff to this point has felt Murray is a better option than Fleury for this particular opponent, is Murray’s superior ability in controlling rebounds that limits second chances against an opponent that has more size and strength to crash the net-front area. It’s why the Penguins look like a better team in boxing out in front, despite having a ‘D’ that should be getting pushed around more than they area. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"