The Washington Capitals came back from the dead last night, crawled back into the coffin in the last two minutes, and then sprung back to, if not full vim and vigor, into a more or less upright position with their 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. It was your standard 60 minutes of regulation with a short, by NHL postseason standards, overtime, but it was as if the teams put on a production of “The Ring of the Niebelung” in Pittsburgh. The cousins found it an interesting game, to say the least…
Fearless… OK, let’s get right to it. Dirty or not?
Cheerless… Kunitz should be kicked out of the country for that hit on T.J. Oshie.
Fearless… Funny. Of course, we mean the attempted assassination of Sidney Crosby by Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen with the game barely five minutes old. First, Ovechkin clocks Crosby in side of the head, dulling his senses, then he slewfoots Crosby, kicking out his left foot to put him off-balance as he heads through the low slot. Then, in the coup-de-grace, Matt Niskanen, encamped on the grassy knoll of the right wing faceoff circle, cross checked him in the face, snapping Crosby’s head back, and to the left…back, and to the left…back, and to the left…
Cheerless… I ain’t the sharpest knife in the chandelier, but from the time Crosby came across the blue line to when he collided with Niskanen, it was about four seconds. Hockey is a fast game. Do you think Alex Ovechkin told himself… “I must break him,” circled in behind him, recollected that Crosby had a history of concussion issues and thought, “hey, if I whack his head, maybe I turn his brains into pirozhki,” whacked him, then slewfooted him on purpose, knowing Matt Niskanen was 20 feet away looking to deliver the kill shot… all in four seconds? Who are you, Rob Rossi?
Cheerless… Back to the actual game, what is with this team and horking up leads? Last night was the fifth time in nine games in the postseason that the Caps had a lead and lost it. They are 3-2 in those games, but really…stop doing that!
Fearless… It is part of a bigger problem. Only the Ottawa Senators have allowed more second period goals (12) than the Caps (11), and no team has allowed more third period goals than Washington (9). Shoot, no team at all has allowed more goals than the Caps (27), period. They have more overtime goals scored than any team in the playoffs so far (four), but that’s in no small part a product of losing leads. The Caps have a fine plus-4 goal differential in the first periods of games so far, but they have a minus-five in the second periods and a minus-3 in the third periods of games. If they don’t end that nonsense, start thinking about tee times.
Fearless… This was just the third time in ten tries against the Penguins that the Caps won a Game 3 and the first time they did it since 1995. The only time they beat the Pens in a series was when they won a Game 3 on their way to the win. It was the first time in six tries that they won a Game 3 in Pittsburgh.
Cheerless… Yeah, how ‘bout that? Since Ovechkin has been in the league the Caps are 2-2 in series in which they win Game 3. Let’s not read too much into that, okay? Game 4 doesn’t seem to matter much, either. The Caps are 4-3 when winning Game 4 in those same years (including a series win against Toronto this year).
Cheerless… Three games in this series, the third and fourth lines have a total of one point. And even that one – an assist by Lars Eller – was recorded skating with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie (Ovechkin got the goal). Last year against the Pens, the Caps third and fourth lines recorded four points by four different players in six games (Jay Beagle and Andre Burakovsky had goals, Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera had assists). Haven’t we seen this movie? Are we expecting it to end any different if it’s just a remake of the same movie?
Fearless… The Eller-Wilson-Burakovsky line is a 72.73 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 in the postseason. Of 167 forwards having skated at least 50 5-on-5 minutes, Burakovsky has the best individual Corsi-for at fives in the league (66.01). Wilson is tenth (60.48), and Eller is 12th (60.00; numbers from Corsica.hockey). Either these guys just forgot how to get puck to and into the net, or they have had the worst luck imaginable from a fancystats perspective.
Fearless… Talk about worst luck imaginable. The Caps have a two-goal lead late, and the Pens get one on a shot from Evgeni Malkin that looked to nick the heel of Karl Alzner’s skate, altering the trajectory of the puck upward enough to clear Braden Holtby’s left pad, then they get another when a shot hit T.J. Oshie and changed direction past Holtby. But he was solid before that and sucked it up after for his best performance of the series and one of, if not his best of the entire postseason to date. Just in time, I’d say.
Cheerless… In nine games so far, Holtby has allowed fewer than three goals in consecutive games just once (Games 5 and 6 against Toronto, in which he allowed one goal in each). Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and pronounce him “cured” of whatever yips he had.
Peerless… The dominant story over the next two days is going to be the health of Sidney Crosby and the likelihood of his return for Game 4, or perhaps even the series. There are a lot of ways this can play out in terms of whether his absence advantages the Penguins (steely team resolve, Malkin doing well over his career in Crosby’s absence) or the Capitals (not having to face the game’s best player in addition to the absence of Pittsburgh’s best defender in Kris Letang and their number one goalie, Matt Murray).
The way we see this is a situation that provides the Caps with another opportunity to demonstrate the difference between this team and its predecessors. They have to be a team with no memory and no conscience. They just need to stick to business, play the team in front of them, assert their will, and stand on their throat. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yeah, if it was, I’d be centering Fearless and Cheerless for an NHL team. Don’t see that happening soon. Let’s just hope the Caps find a way to find their inner ruthlessness and come home with a tied series that looks more like one to their advantage.