This Stanley Cup playoffs series has gone basically according to form, with two very close games which could have gone either way. One aspect which has not has been the focal points of the series.
With this East semi-final tied at 1-1, captains Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have one point between them as both defenses have done excellent work to keep these two quiet which has allowed others to step forward. Maybe this becomes the theme of the series, where others take stage center stage. We will learn more in the always important Game 3.
Pittsburgh has started the first two games utilizing their speed and in each case it has taken Washington awhile to catch up. The Penguins ability to create breakaways or get up ice for odd man rushes has made the Capitals a little more cautious on offense.
This was especially in Game 2 where Pittsburgh valued puck possession rather than a large value of shots and for two periods limited Washington to a hard to fathom 10 shots. Of course taking penalties (five in all), also limited what the Caps could do offensively.
Being at home with and with crowd support should benefit Pittsburgh overall and maybe free up Sidney Crosby, who has been shadowed expertly.
The Pens will likely be without top defensemen Olli Maatta, who took a nasty hit from Brooks Orpik, who is suspended the next three games, balancing that aspect out. Thus far rookie goaltender Matt Murray has been up to the challenge and is 4-1-0 with a 1.74 goals-average and will have to continue to come up large.
Since taking a 3-0 lead on Philadelphia, the Capitals are 2-3, been outscored 9-7 and are giving the impression another disappointing end to the season is possible. Washington has been outshot 80-59 in two games and could easily be down 0-2 except for the work of the penalty killers, who have not surrendered a goal in this series and are 30 for 31 in stops for the postseason.
A telltale sign of problems is Ovechkin has not only failed to score, but taken seven total shots. If you follow his Over/Under prop bet during the season, his number is almost always 5.5, thus, he’s not coming close.
What Philadelphia and now Pittsburgh is doing being aggressive in defending Washington and either forcing turnovers or going all out to get to pucks before Capitals players do, which does not allow them to be as physical in forechecking and attacking.
If the top two lines for the Caps do not play harder, they will trail in the series.
What to Expect and Winner
The NHL odds at JustBet have Pittsburgh at -139 with a total of 5 and they take on a Washington crew who is 29-15 on the road and 11-3 away playing with revenge.
The teams split the two contests in the Steel City this season, but the team that won in March was Pittsburgh and that is a better indication of who they are now. Honestly, this too me is a 50-50 choice and while I expect the Capitals to play better, not sure if it will be enough in another every close contest, as the Penguins move to 13-2 after allowing two or fewer goals.
Free Pick – Pittsburgh wins