A battle of National Hockey League (NHL) super powers is set to take place during the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will once again face off in the postseason. Two powerhouses that have talented, deep rosters; superstar Captains; and a drive to win games like no other. This is an ideal storyline for the NHL, while the fans are a bit wearier. Whoever wins this series is assumed to go on to win the Stanley Cup. This is the 10th time they will meet in the postseason. In the previous nine matchups, the Penguins have been the victor in eight. In four of those matchups, the Penguins have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Of the four Championship wins for the Penguins, they have had to go through the Capitals.
Both teams finished the regular season with great numbers. The Capitals finished with 118 points and 55 wins, capturing the President’s Trophy for the second-straight year. As for the Penguins, they ended the season a close second with 111 points and 50 wins. Then came the First Round of the Playoffs. The Capitals ended up facing the Toronto Maple Leafs (the 8th place team in the Eastern Conference). The Maple Leafs gave the Capitals a run for their money, but the Capitals would turn things around to get the series win in six games. While the Penguins ended up advancing in five games after a dominating series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Even with a dominating performance against the Blue Jackets, there are things the Penguins need to improve on going into this series. The most important improvement is their starts. They were outplayed by the Blue Jackets when the puck dropped every game of the series. The Penguins were fortunate in having Marc-Andre Fleury, who was brilliant during the First Round. In this series, they must not play with fire as the Capitals are strong offensively.
In Game One, the Penguins did improve on their starts. They came out with speed and ended up holding the Capitals to only a single shot in the first 10 minutes of the game. However, the Capitals would take over the momentum towards the end and Marc-Andre Fleury was the saving grace. He even got a little help from Jake Guentzel, who made a stretched leg save right at the goal line. It was a bit of a crazy ending to the period for the Penguins after having a strong defensive start to the game. The key is that the Penguins need to continue to have solid starts in this series.
|Marc-Andre Fleury / MF|
The Penguins must also focus on their puck management game and how they handle momentum shifts. In the Blue Jackets series, the Penguins would find themselves on their heels during games and usually when they held the lead. They would sit back on their heels and give the Blue Jackets a chance to get back into the game. The same thing came to pass during Thursday’s game against the Capitals and fortunate the Penguins were still able to grab the win. Once again, the Penguins had some trouble handling the momentum shifts during the game especially after they held the 2-0 lead allowing the Capitals to get back into the game and tie things up. Then the Penguins retook the lead and sat back as the Capitals pressuring towards the end. Fleury was outstanding in the third period as the Capitals were peppering the net with shots and throwing everything they could on the net. Fleury was playing desperate hockey and never gave up on a play, which would lead to the Penguins holding onto the lead and getting the win in the end. This will be critical as the series progresses. The Penguins must clean this aspect of their game up or the Capitals will take advantage. Playing with fire is not good and it will end up burning the Penguins at some point and may end up being the end of the series for them.
For Game Two, the Penguins must focus on what they did well but also clean up their game. They may have gotten the win in Game One, but they didn’t play a flawless game. In addition, the Penguins will have to focus on special teams as the Capitals are due to get a power play in this next match. It will happen and the Capital power play is a lethal one. It will be critical that the Penguins have a solid penalty kill and build off that momentum rather than the Capitals getting momentum off a successful power play.
|Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel celebrate / MF|
This series goes beyond that of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Crosby had a spectacular Game One both offensively and defensively and Ovechkin wasn’t far behind. However, these two teams are filled with quality players that make every line a possible threat. I could sit here all day and compare the two Captains or match up lines filled with star power, but that is not what the series is all about. It’s a storyline that has been written quite a few times. The Penguins led by Crosby have shown that they can move forward and capture the prize, but that is the one thing that Ovechkin cannot claim. For all the offensive talent Ovechkin possesses he lacks the thing Crosby has, which is Crosby is a complete player where Ovechkin leaves something to be desired.
In this battle of super powers want matters is what they are known for when it is all said and done. It’s believed that whoever wins this series will move on to win the Stanley Cup. So that begs the question, which team will be known as Stanley Cup Champions and who will choke? It’s up to the two to decide how they will be remembered.