Sidney Crosby. Alex Ovechkin. Evgeni Malkin. Nicklas Backstrom. Phil Kessel. Evgeny Kuznetsov. It’s a star-studded series in the East, as the long waited return of the Crosby vs. Ovechkin series commences tonight between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals are looking to conquer their demons, and get past the second round for the first time since 1998, when they went to the Cup Finals and were swept by the Detroit Red Wings, while the Penguins also look to get over the hump and advance to the Conference Finals for only the second time since their 2009 Cup win (and make sure that first round pick in Toronto is as bad as possible). Without further ado, let’s take an in-depth of this Conference Fin…I mean, Semifinals series.
The Capitals and Penguins played each other five times, including three times after the start of March, which might be a good tell of who should win the series. It is important to note the difference between when the Penguins had Johnston, and when they had Sullivan. With Johnston, the Penguins split the two games 1-0, and with Sullivan, they went 2-2. Although, one of the games was Sullivan’s first game behind the bench, so take these records with a grain of salt.
They started off the series on Oct. 28 in Washington. Pittsburgh was 4-4-0 at the time, still trying to solve their scoring problems, while Washington had only lost one game going into the action. All the scoring came in the third period, including two points from Nick Bonino. Washington had a 34-24 shot edge, but Marc-Andre Fleury stood tall and won the game for the Pens, a 3-1 score.
The teams then didn’t meet until Dec. 14 in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was beginning their slump that would result in Mike Johnston getting fired, and Sullivan was making his NHL debut. Meanwhile, Washington was coming in red hot, having lost just four games in regulation since these teams last met. TJ Oshie and Backstrom both had a three point night, while Braden Holtby stopped 44 of 45 for a 4-1 win.
The teams didn’t play next until Mar. 1 in Washington. The Caps were still going strong, having only lost six regulation games since the last game (almost three months!), while the Penguins were started to catch fire with Sullivan. The Caps would start the game down 2-0, but would overcome the defecit to win 3-2. This was Matt Murray’s first game against the Caps, stopping 34 of 37, while Holtby stopped 28 of 30.
Just three weeks later, they would meet again, but it would not fair too well for the Caps, as the Penguins would light up Holtby in a 6-2 win. The surprising MVP was Tom Kuhnackl, who got three points on the night.
They finished off the series in the final week of the season. Pittsburgh would explode to a 3-0 lead, including two Matt Cullen goals, but Washington would tie it, including two goals from Marcus Johansson, but Crosby’s OT winner would give the Penguins the winner.
Pittsburgh would edge out in the season series with a 3-2-0 record. Both teams won games which they were heavily outplayed, but most of their games were decided by the better possession team that night. If you noticed that Ovechkin’s name was missing from this section, don’t worry, you aren’t going crazy. He got shut out all five games against the Penguins, something of note for the series.
On one end of the spectrum, we see one of the top possession teams this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who finished with a 53% Score Adjusted Corsi For, which jumps up to 55.3% after the coaching switch. They boast some of the best even strength scorers in the game, including Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel, as well as Kris Letang on the back end.
On the other side, their is the Washington Capitals. Despite the dominant record, their possession game isn’t the best. They had only a 52% Score Adjusted Corsi For, and had the fourth highest PDO of 101.1, with only the Rangers, Panthers, and Senators being lucky. Now, when you have elite scorers like Alex Ovechkin, and a Vezina candidate in Braden Holtby, that high PDO might be more subject to skill than luck, but the numbers don’t lie.
However, once the playoffs began, the roles switched. Washington finished their series with a 54.3% Score Adjusted Corsi For, while Pittsburgh finished with 47.7%. However, Pittsburgh seemed to handle their series a bit easier, as they averaged two 5v5 goals a game, in comparison to Washington’s one.
However, despite the struggles to score at even strength, they had no issues on the power play in the first round, clicking at a 29.6%, including a 47.05% stretch in the first three games. However, Pittsburgh was even better overall, going 38.1% against Pittsburgh. On the penalty kill, Washington killed an astounding 95.8% of their penalties. Not to put any shame to Pittsburgh’s 89.5%, but that is insane. In the regular season, Washington had a 21.9% PP and 85.2% PK, while Pittsburgh went 18.4% on the PP and 84.4% on the PK.
Washington was much better at generating shot attempts on the PP in the regular season, as their 106.3 PP CF60 was fifth in the league, while Pittsburgh’s 98.1 was 12th. However, if you look closer at the scoring chances, Pittsburgh has the edge with 57.2 SCF60, second to only Toronto, while Washington was eighth with 53. Pittsburgh had the second best rate scorer on the PP, as Evgeni Malkin’s 8.45 PPP60 is behind only Patrick Kane. However, Washington boasts one of the best PP goal scorers in Ovechkin, and one of the best PP play makers in Backstrom.
Switch over to the penalty kill, and we see that both teams are pretty even at shot suppression on the PK. Washington allowed 96.4 PKCA60, while Pittsburgh allowed 98, both middle of the pack in the league. However, narrow it down to scoring chances, and we see a massive difference, as the Caps allowed 43.9 PKSCA60, which was 5th in the league, compared to the Penguin’s 48.5, which is 19th. The Caps best shorthanded scorer was Jason Chimera, who had 1.68 SHP60, while Pittsburgh’s best scorer, Matt Cullen, had a 1.5 SHP60.
The goaltending situation in this series is weird. Of the three goalies that are likely to play (barring injury), one is a Vezina candidate, and he might be the worst goalie of the three. Yes, Braden Holtby, and his record tying 48 wins, might be the worst goalie in this series.
For Pittsburgh, Matt Murray is atop all of the goalies in this series with a 94.18% Adjusted Save%. Since he’s likely the starter for at least game 1 considering how well he did against New York (and Henrik Lundqvist!), he’ll be of more note. However, his inexperience in the NHL is a cause for concern, although his performance thus far in the playoffs shows lots of promise for the Penguins future, at the very least. Marc-Andre Fleury has a 93.25% Adjusted Save%, so if he can return to health, he’ll be a safe backup if Murray falters.
In Washington’s end, Braden Holtby started out of the gate this season red hot, with Carey Price like numbers. However, in the second half he faltered, slowly dropping to a 93.13% Adjusted Save%. However, despite his drop off, he tied the record for most wins by a goalie, so at the very least, his team is capable of picking up the slack, and outscoring the other team if need be.
Regardless, it should be a good series goaltending wise, as no matter who, both teams have a pretty good goalie in net.
|Thursday, April 28||Penguins @ Capitals||8:00 pm|
|Saturday, April 30||Penguins @ Capitals||8:00 pm|
|Monday, May 2||Capitals @ Penguins||8:00 pm|
|Wednesday, May 4||Capitals @ Penguins||8:00 pm|
|Saturday, May 7||Penguins @ Capitals||TBD|
|Tuesday, May 10||Capitals @ Penguins||TBD|
|Thursday, May 12||Penguins @ Capitals||TBD|
This match up is really tough to pin down. Both team’s offense’s are similar, with elite superstars, and quality depth players. Defense is similar in the sense that they have one top end defender, and a bunch of solid to mediocre defensemen, and both teams are strong in net. Special teams are even, even strength is even. So, the only way to decide this is…
The Pittsburgh Penguins, ladies and gentlemen. Obviously, unless one team takes over it will be a close seven game series. In terms of how the playoffs have gone so far, I like Pittsburgh’s offense slightly better, especially since Washington relied heavily on their power play for offense in the first round.
I say Penguins in seven.