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Position-by-Position Preview: Who has the edge in Caps-Penguins?

Position-by-Position Preview: Who has the edge in Caps-Penguins?

With the Capitals and Penguins set to drop the puck on their second-round series, he’s a look at how they match up:


The Capitals outscored the Flyers 14-6 in the first round, with six of those goals coming in a 6-2 blowout win in Game 3. Eleven of those 14 goals came from seven Capitals forwards (defenseman John Carlson provided the other three). If Alex Ovechkin (3 goals, 2 assists) is the straw that stirs the Capitals’ offense, Nicklas Backstrom (2 goals, 5 assists), Marcus Johansson (1 goal, 5 assists) and T.J. Oshie (1 goal. 3 assists) have been the ice. The Capitals will need far more offense from their second line than they received in Round 1 and that’s a big reason Johansson will replace Andre Burakovsky on that second unit alongside center Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, minus-2) and Justin Williams (2 assists, minus-4).

The Penguins outscored the Rangers 21-10 in their five-game series, receiving goals from 10 different forwards and just one defenseman (Kris Letang). With Sidney Crosby (3 goals, 5 assists) and Patric Hornqvist (3 goals, 2 assists) on the top line, Evgeni Malkin (2 goals, 5 assists) on the second line and Phil Kessel (3 goals, 3 assists) on the third line, the Pens come at you in offensive waves. They would like to see more offense from Chris Kunitz (0 points) and Carl Hagelin (1 goal) but their fourth line of veteran Matt Cullen (2 goals, 1 assist) between rookies Tom Kuhnhackl (1 goal, 2 assists) and Bryan Rust (2 goals, 1 assist) has been tremendous. Another rookie, left wing Conor Sheary, established good chemistry with Crosby and Hornqvist with one goal and two assists, but Sheary missed both Penguins practices leading up to Game 1 because of “maintenance days.” 

Edge: Penguins


The Capitals’ blue line had a quietly efficient series against the Flyers in Round 1, holding  the top line of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds to just one goal. John Carlson opened the series with goals in three consecutive games and is tied for second among NHL defensemen with six playoff points, two behind San Jose’s Brent Burns. The Caps lost two of their three games without Brooks Orpik, who appears to be nearing a return to the lineup, if not in Game 1 than almost certainly in Game 2. Karl Alzner took a physical beating in Round 1 with 13 blocked shots and 10 hits, but is expected to play in Game 1 after missing two days of practice.  His defense partner, Matt Niskanen, delivered 19 hits and blocked 15 shots in the first round and that pair will need to stay on top of its game if the Caps hope to slow the Penguins’ speed. The series could be decided by the two teams’ third pairings, where the Caps are expected to start with Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, while the Pens turn to Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy.

The Penguins’ top pairing of Olli Maatta (18:27) and Kris Letang (27:17) is a blend of speed and finesse, so expect the Capitals forwards to be playing  a lot of dump and chase hockey. The Pens upgraded their second pairing with the addition of Trevor Daley (22:41), who plays alongside Brian Dumoulin (17:41). Dumoulin felt the frustrations of Alex Ovechkin when the two teams met in March. With the Caps on their way to a 6-2 loss, Ovechkin took a run at Dumoulin behind the Pens net and Dumoulin was slow to get to his feet. Simply put, if Pittsburgh’s defense corps commits more turnovers than the Caps’ blue liners, the Capitals will win the series. And vice versa.

Edge: Capitals


Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, 26, has been better in the playoffs (0.84 GAA, .968 SP) than he was in the regular season (2.20 GAA, .922 SP) and that’s saying something considering he’s a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. Holtby even picked up an assist in Round 1, matching Claude Giroux’s point total. Holtby went 2-2-1 against the Penguins this season with a 2.79 GAA and .914 SP. In fact, the Penguins (5-7-1), Rangers (6-8-1) and Stars (0-3-0) are the only three NHL teams that Holtby has a career losing record against.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray, 21, has been a revelation since taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion). Murray went 9-2-1 down the stretch for the Pens and has allowed just four goals in three playoff starts (3-0) for the Penguins. At 6-foot-4, Murray does an excellent job of covering the bottom half of the net but is expected to be challenged far more against the Capitals than he was against the Rangers, who threw 89 shots at him in three games. The Caps have vowed to flood the crease against Murray, who last season set an AHL record with a shutout streak of more than 304 minutes and was voted the league’s top goalie.

Edge: Capitals 


The Capitals went 8-for-27 on the man-advantage in Round 1, but five of those power-play goals came in that 6-2 rout in Game 3. John Carlson (3) and Alex Ovechkin (2) were the Caps’ biggest threats on the power play in Round 1, with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and even Jay Beagle getting into the act. With the Penguins likely to isolate Ovechkin, the Caps will need to get some production from T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Kuznetsov to keep the Penguins’ penalty killers honest.

The Penguins went 8-for-21 against the Rangers in Round 1, getting three power-play goals from Phil Kessel and two each by Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin, and another by Patric Hornqvist. Letang (2 power-play assists) and Daley (1) operate the power play from the point.

Edge: Penguins


One of the biggest reasons the Capitals are in the second round is their dominance over the Flyers in special teams. Led by the forward tandems of Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle, and Mike Richards and Tom Wilson, along with the defensive pairs of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, the Caps killed 23 of 24 Philadelphia power plays, second only to Tampa, which killed off 24 of 25 in its Round 1 series victory over Detroit. 

The Penguins allowed just two power-play goals on 19 attempts to rank fourth among playoff teams. Pittsburgh’s killers are led by forwards Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr and defensemen Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy and Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. With two lethal power plays, the key for both teams will be staying out of the penalty box.

Edge: Capitals


Barry Trotz, 53, has a career coaching record 658-523-60-119, but his teams are 26-38 in the playoffs and, like his captain, he’s never gotten out of the second round of the playoffs. Trotz is considered one of the better tacticians in the NHL and his ability to get the right forward lines and defense pairings on the ice against a well-balanced Penguins lineup will be crucial to the Caps’ success.

Mike Sullivan, 48, has done a masterful job of turning the Penguins into a powerhouse. The Pens went 33-16-5 following his hiring on Dec. 12. Several Capitals said the Penguins became a more tenacious team under the no-nonsense Sullivan, who spent most of his NHL coaching career as an assistant to John Tortorella.

Edge: Even


Alex Ovechkin, 30, and Sidney Crosby, 28, seem to be on a mission to lead their teams to a championship this season but only will move on to the conference final. The Capitals are close to 100 percent healthy going into the series, while the Penguins are counting on a rookie goalie to carry them to the next round.

Edge: Even


The Capitals will need to play much better at even strength and stay more disciplined in Round 2 than they were in Round 1, but they are destined to take that “big step” that Alex Ovechkin keeps alluding to.

Capitals in 7.

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Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?


Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?

It’s happened. The Caps no longer seem to have a No. 1 goalie anymore, they have a No. 1 and 1a.

That’s right, we have a goalie rotation in Washington.

“There's no sense riding one,” Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday. “[Braden Holtby] is coming back and looking better every game and [Philipp Grubauer] played pretty well for a long stretch so why not have both of them going?”

Grubauer got the start Sunday in Philadelphia and Holtby is slated to get the start Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. After that we will have to wait and see.


Trotz has no layout for which goalie he wants to start and when in the remaining ten games. He is not thinking about each goalie splitting five games or which one he wants to use more.

Nope. Trotz has just one thing on his mind. It is all about who starts the next game, that’s it.

“I think you just go with a guy that's hot at the time and your team feels comfortable with and go from there,” Trotz said.

So where does this leave the goaltending situation when it comes to the playoffs? A goalie rotation is all well and good in the regular season, but he has to have one starter for the postseason, right?

Not necessarily.


When Trotz was asked if he philosophically believed in having one starter for the playoffs, Trotz initially said he would not answer, but then said, “Why don't you ask Mike Sullivan what he thinks.”

Sullivan, of course, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins who has led his team to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons despite turning to both goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in both seasons.

While Pittsburgh’s goalie rotation was largely based on injury, however, it still provides an example of how using both goalies can work in the playoffs and that seems to be the path the Caps are headed on at the moment.

Said Trotz, “You just have to go with your gut who you think is going to get the job done.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

We are down to the home stretch. Only 10 games remain in the Capitals' regular season. Those 10 games will ultimately decide if the Caps finish in first place in the Metropolitan Division and who they will play in the first round of the playoffs.

Washington currently sits in first place in the division, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. Of those 10 remaining games, only three come against teams currently in playoff position. The most critical of these comes on April 1 when the Caps travel to Pittsburgh in a game that could ultimately decide the division.

The Caps still hold a narrow lead in the standings, but where do they stand in the rankings? See this week's updated NHL Power Rankings here.