Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will meet in the playoffs once again in 2018. Crosby’s Penguins dispatched their cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers in six games to draw a second round matchup against Ovi’s Capitals, who defeated Columbus in the same number of games. The season series between these two teams was split down the middle with each team recording two wins and two losses. Our Washington plays Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two pick examines who will come out on top when the deadlock between these rivals is broken.
The biggest story in a close opening series against the Columbus Blue Jackets was the play of Braden Holtby, who recaptured his job as the Capitals’ number one goaltender. Holtby struggled during the regular season, leading to Philipp Grubauer starting the first two games of the playoffs. After compiling .837 save percentage and a 4.55 GAA before getting pulled in game 2, Holtby went on to start the rest of the series for the Caps. He looked unbeatable since reclaiming the net, finishing round one with a .932 save percentage and a 1.92 GAA.
Matt Murray appeared shaky at times against the Flyers, especially Game 6, where the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native was very close to getting pulled. Murray finished the first round with a .911 save percentage, a 2.20 GAA, and two shutouts. Despite the question marks with Murray’s play through round one, he has yet to lose a playoff series and should be expected to give his team a chance to get past the Caps.
Containing Crosby and the Pens’ Offense is Key for The Caps
The biggest challenge for Washington this series will be containing Sidney Crosby and the Pens’ offence. Crosby dominated Philadelphia in round one, leading the playoffs in points with 13 in six games, while line-mate Jake Guentzel (6-7-13) had an identical stat line. The Pens have six skaters who have scored at least a point per game, including defensemen Kris Letang (1-6-7) and Brian Dumoulin (1-5-6), and forwards Patric Hornqvist (2-4-6) and Evgeni Malkin (3-2-5). If Crosby is allowed to take over this series, the Capitals will have very little chance at moving on to the next round of the playoffs.
Like Pittsburgh, the Capitals saw impressive offensive output in the first round with Evgeny Kuznetsov being Washington’s top player. The Russian center tied both fellow countryman Ovechkin (5-3-8) and Nicklas Backstrom (2-6-8) for second in points on the Capital’s roster. All three forwards trail defenseman John Carlson who had nine points.
No other player on the Capital’s roster scored at a point per game pace, but Washington was able to average 4.00 goals per game. This trailed only Pittsburgh’s 4.67 goals per game.
Washington comes into this match up with the top power play in the playoffs thus far. With a conversion rate of 33.3%, they are scoring on the man-advantage 13.3% more than the Penguins who have a power play percentage of 20%. Pittsburgh did own the league’s leading power play during the regular season at 26.2%, and still look to be a threat against Washington’s middle of the road penalty kill which is sitting at 83.3%. In contrast, the Pens’ PK is the second best of any team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs, sitting at 90.5%. With the potential of Pittsburgh’s power play to heat up and the efficiency of their penalty kill, the Penguins look to have an advantage on special teams.
Washington Plays Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two Pick: Overview
In a matchup between two of the most recognizable faces in the NHL, the Penguins and Capitals looks similar in many ways. The Caps will need to contain Sidney Crosby if they will have a chance to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. They will also need Braden Holtby to stay hot if Pittsburgh’s road to a three-peat is going to end.
The Caps’ penalty kill will need to be sharp to prevent the Penguins’ power play from getting hot. Our Washington plays Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two pick sees that the Capital’s will to address too many shortcomings in order to stop the Penguins from taking this series.