By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, DCpuckDrop
The Washington Capitals hold a 3-2 series lead going into tonight’s match-up in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. One thing is almost certain about the Capitals’ chances to finally break free of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the Alex Ovechkin era: if it is to happen this week, they need to stay out of the penalty box.
The equation is easy; when the Capitals are killing penalties – against the team that had the best power play in the NHL during the regular season – Ovechkin is sitting on the bench. The same goes for his line-mate Evgeny Kuznetsov and a host of other players who would otherwise be troubling the Pens’ goalie Matt Murray. And, therein lays the problem – a problem that is doubled when Washington’s regular penalty killers are the ones handed the two-minute timeouts as we saw in Game 5 when Matt Niskanen and Devante Smith-Pelly sat a few times.
Capitals’ Discipline Is An Issue
“I can’t have my penalty killers taking penalties,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said on Sunday after his team had pulled itself together for four goals in the third period the night before. “I didn’t like some of our discipline, some of the penalties and the timing of the penalties.”
In the postseason, games are often won or lost by goaltending and discipline. This Capitals-Penguins series has the Caps’ netminder Braden Holtby edging the Pens’ Murray in stats and overall quality of play. However, if the Capitals are finally to proceed to their first Conference Final since 1998, they need to be on the power play, not defending them, because Holtby can only do so much and giving Murray a two-minute respite five times in one game (as in Game 5) won’t do the Capitals any favors.
Nicklas Backstrom ‘Game-Time Decision’
According to the Washington Post, the Capital’s star center, Nicklas Backstrom, is a game-time decision as he mends from an upper-body injury he endured in Game 5. Backstrom sat out nearly all of the third period on Saturday, after it appeared that he got hurt blocking a shot on (guess what) the penalty kill earlier in the game. With Tom Wilson (another regular on the penalty kill special teams) out for the last game of his questionable three-game suspension, every minor foul the Caps commit will be a gold-plated gift for the Penguins who are desperate to avoid elimination in pursuit of a third-straight Stanley Cup.
The Curse of the Washington Sports Teams
Tonight, the Capitals stand on the brink of ending one of the most ludicrous streaks in American sports. The city of Washington, D.C., has failed to put one of its major sports teams into the final four at the national level since that 1998 Stanley Cup Final – one that most millennials don’t remember. The Redskins, the Wizards, the Nationals, and the Capitals have all managed to fail at the ‘quarter-final’ stage or lower, and it’s a curse only found in Washington; no other major city can lament on such an unenviable streak.
So, tonight the game plan for the Capitals is simple for that infamous DC trend to be bucked. Washington must play to its strengths, not give anything away to Pittsburgh, stay out of the box while forcing penalties from the Pens, score goals, defend well, be strong on the back-check and the fore-check…and…wait, this isn’t simple any more. Let’s face it; actually, they just need to stay out of the box!