MBetter Team Prevailed in Penguins – Capitals

The Washington Capitals on Monday night finally broke the curse in ousting the Penguins in six games on a overtime goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov, 5:27 into OT.

The Capitals will make their first trip to the Conference Final in the Alex Ovechkin era.

“Finally…..” Alex Ovechkin proclaimed.

The Penguins three-peat chances officially ended on an overtime goal, just like their three-peat quest in 1993 also ended in overtime.

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Pittsburgh was the more talented team on paper in this series but in a number of areas Washington was just slightly better from first-second level scoring, to obviously goaltending, to role players elevating their play at a crucial moments and Washington played with a more efficient defensive structure that kept just about everyone not named Sidney Crosby/Jake Guentzel off the scoresheet during 5-on-5 play.

[hide] “They were just the better team,” Goaltender Matt Murray said. “I thought they played a heck of a game [6]. “It didn’t feel like we really had many chances at all. They deserved to win tonight.”[/hide]

What Went Wrong for the Penguins and why a less talented Capitals team were the better team

1. It was fitting the Penguins season ended off an odd-man rush where Kris Letang was completely out of position to defend the middle of the ice. This is how the Penguins have played for a bulk of the season but no more glaring than this series. Even when the Penguins were having stretches of playing lock down defense, they had continued lapses/no structure of defending the middle of the ice and it happened far too often in this series where Pittsburgh had a d-man not staying in their lane.

Pittsburgh constantly ran into a situation where the d-men were either too aggressive in pinching with no cover help from the forwards or situations like with Kris Letang in the third period of Game 5 or in overtime of Game 6 where there’s no excuses to be running out of position to the point Letang did on those critical plays.

What the Penguins staff has to figure out this summer in their evaluations is whether a tweak to the system needs to happen moving forward next season to implement a more structured defensive system that doesn’t take away from their free willing style or determine if a more disciplined defensemen needs to be brought in among the top-2 pairs.

2. — Beyond Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist, it’s a struggle to point out another forward that had an impactful series, while on Washington’s side you can name about seven who either performed up to expectations or elevated their play above expectations.

Another reason the Penguins are home after six games and were unable to force a Game 7 was Evgeni Malkin never finding his footing in the series.

Pittsburgh failed to get second level scoring after the Crosby line.

In Game 6, Malkin had 0 points, registered just one shot and was at 42% in possession.

Possession Numbers for the Penguins Big Boys in Game 6:

Sidney Crosby (43%), Jake Guentzel (39%), Evgeni Malkin (42%), Phil Kessel (36%), Patric Hornqvist (50%).

3.– Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard’s struggles in the series and how much focus were on those two saw Bryan Rust go under-the-radar of how underwhelming his play was.

That secondary player to play a big part in winning a playoff game, especially an elimination game was not found this series for the Penguins.

Vs Washington:

Bryan Rust (0 Goals, 0 Pts), Derick Brassard (0 Goals, 1 Point), Conor Sheary (0 Goals, 0 Pts)

Bryan Rust is often that player but he was invisible most nights, finishing with 0 points and just 4 shots on goal in the series. Even more surprising with Rust was how you barely noticed him.

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4. — As frustrating as Derick Brassard’s play might have been, Mike Sullivan’s move to install Riley Sheahan as the third line center over Brassard was still a head scratcher and did more harm than good in giving a less talented player in Sheahan 2-3 minutes more ice time 5-on-5 than Brassard who is a superior player than Sheahan.

When you’re a team struggling to score 5-on-5, I’m still a believer in going down with your most skilled players and Sullivan didn’t in Game 6 with Sheahan playing 3 minutes more than Brassard.

This coaching staff has made few bad decisions but there still isn’t enough embracing skilled players in the bottom-6 and hopefully that changes next season.

It’s reached a point where guys like Tom Kuhnhackl, Carter Rowney get replaced with higher upside players who might not be as good away from the puck but can actually create their own play.

Teaching skilled players to become good penalty killers isn’t rocket science.

Sullivan and his staff didn’t make a mistake in not dressing Daniel Sprong this postseason, the mistake was made after the deadline in not letting Sprong get a window with the NHL club and start developing at least some sort of comfort level between the player and coach that would have made Sprong a more serious candidate to play in the Washington series.

What it came down to is the coaching staff didn’t have a good enough trust level with Sprong put him in the lineup, sources say.

That’s on them not the player.

5. Washington Capitals No. 1 defenseman John Carlson was on the ice for 1 GOAL AGAINST IN THE ENTIRE SERIES VS THE PENGUINS during 5-on-5 play.

Kris Letang the Penguins No. 1 pairing defenseman was on the ice for 9 GOALS AGAINST IN THE ENTIRE SERIES VS THE CAPITALS during 5-on-5 play.

There’s your series…..

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