Sunday, April 30, 2017

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Cousins Sittin' On The Porch Looking Back at Game 2

Fans of the Washington Capitals either were not born, too young, or have had too many ugly things happen in their history of watching the Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins to recall that this history began with a 4-2 Caps win over the Penguins in their very first postseason meeting on April 17, 1991.  Since then, the history has been lopsided in its ladling of happiness, piling it up on the plates of Penguins and Penguin fans and doling it out with an eyedropper to Capitals and Caps fans.  On Saturday night, the Penguins made themselves home in Verizon Center and had six helpings of fun and joy in a 6-2 win over the Caps to put the club down, 0-2, in games as the series heads to Pittsburgh.  The cousins have seen this movie before.

Fearless… Give the Caps credit, they are in uncharted territory here.  Never in any of their previous nine postseason series against the Penguins have they found themselves in an 0-2 hole in games.  Three times they had a 2-0 lead (and lost each time); six times they split the first two games (and lost five times).  If history is a guide (and it is, but that’s all it is, not a manual), this will either end in a sweep for the Pens (the last time the Caps lost Games 1 and 2 at home, they were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning), or they will win the series (the time before that, they beat the New York Rangers in seven games).

Cheerless… Back in 2015, the Caps won five straight postseason games on home ice, tying their longest streak of success at Verizon Center since 2008.  Since those five consecutive wins, the Caps are 6-6 on home ice in the postseason and have lost three of five games so far this year.  Since 2008, the Caps have been a dominating team on home ice in the regular season, a so-so one in the postseason…


Cheerless… It didn’t take long…

Fearless… Alex Ovechkin has had a hand in three of the Caps’ four goals in this series and scored one of them himself.  Sidney Crosby has had a hand in four of the Penguins’ nine goals and scored two of them himself.  The stars are doing their jobs, scoring wise.  Pittsburgh has seven goals from four players not named “Crosby;” the Caps have three goals from three players not named “Ovechkin.”  The second line for the Caps has one goal on 14 shots; the third line has no goals on eight shots.  That which was built for this series looks like a vacant warehouse so far.


Fearless… Over an infinite number of trials, a team with the sort of shooting dominance the Caps have had at 5-on-5 in this series would do very well.  They have out-attempted the Penguins, 141-68 (67.5 percent), out-shot them at fives by a 57-34 margin (62.6 percent).

Cheerless… 5-on-5 goals for and goals against... Penguins 6 – Capitals 3.  The rest is just fancystat porn.


Cheerless… One number no Caps fan would have expected in this postseason: .911.  That is Braden Holtby’s save percentage in the postseason, 13th of 16 goaltenders having played in at least 100 minutes.  He has a .829 save percentage in this series.  He now has a career postseason record against Pittsburgh of 2-6, 2.80, .910.  Not the Holtby Caps fans recognize.

Fearless… “Hot goalie” again.  It being Marc-Andre Fleury makes it especially difficult for the Caps, but he’s got the third-best save percentage of those 16 goalies with at least 100 minutes of ice time and has done it facing the most shots per 60 minutes (37.0).  He’s playing himself into the Conn Smythe conversation.  Sort of the “anti-Cam Ward,” the veteran who comes in as a backup to lead his team to success.


Fearless… Losing the first two games at home in a series is not a death sentence when it comes to winning a Stanley Cup.  The Carolina Hurricanes did it in 2006, dropping Games 1 and 2 on home ice to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round before going on to win the Cup.  The Boston Bruins did it in 2011, coming out on the wrong side of home ice decisions in Games 1 and 2 against the Canadiens in the first round before righting themselves and winning the title.  It has happened before.

Cheerless… Maybe the Caps should have played Montreal instead of the Penguins.


Peerless… A lot is going to be made over the Penguins blocking 33 Capitals shots in Game 2 and scoring two goals as a direct result of blocked shots.  That is being opportunistic.  That is effective counter-punching.  But if the Caps could finish what they started with the pressure they applied on the Penguins early in both Games 1 and 2, the conversation would be very different.  The “blocked-shot-leads-to-goals” comes a couple of steps after “Caps-pile-up-Corsi’s-to-no-effect.”  The persistent thread that runs through the history of the Caps’ postseason since 2008 is a lack of scoring depth, of being unable to translate pressure into points.  Alex Ovechkin has had a hand in 88 of 226 goals scored by the Caps in those nine (and counting) playoff seasons covering 92 games.  Washington is going to need to find other sources for production in this series, as the Penguins have so far (and so, it would seem, in just about every series ever played between these teams), or this is not going to end well for the men in red.