Why the Caps lost to Pittsburgh
8 Reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins
BY J.J. REGAN — For much of the season it looked like this would be the year the Washington Capitals finally got over the playoff hump, but a second round matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins proved to be their undoing. What went wrong? Here's a list of reason why the Caps lost the series and find themselves out of the playoffs early yet again.
Here's what's NOT on the list
As you would expect, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are getting a lot of the blame, but it is an easy narrative that many critics will latch on to while ignoring how the players really played. Ovechkin took 33 shots in the series scoring 2 goals and 5 assists in six games. He finished with a plus-2 and looked absolutely super human at times, especially in Game 6. With the Caps trailing by one in the third period, Ovechkin took a shift of 4:43 during the Penguins' run of penalties. That's unreal. His legs should have fallen off. Backstrom was given the daunting task of shutting down Sidney Crosby and was actually fairly successful as Crosby finished the series a minus-3 with only two points. There are plenty of reasons why the Caps lost this particular series, but Ovechkin and Backstrom are not among them.
Lack of speed
Heading into the playoffs, the Caps were billed as a versatile team capable of winning with any style of play. The Philadelphia Flyers tried to play them physically and the Caps responded by pushing them around. The Caps thought they had speed, but they were quickly proven wrong as the Penguins were able to skate circles around them all series long. Considering that the team's fastest player, Jason Chimera, is 37 years old with an expiring contract, the Caps may have to bring in more speed over the offseason.
Raise your hand if you thought Nick Bonino would be one of the key players in this series. Anyone? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin managed only four combined points, but Pittsburgh still got plenty of scoring from their depth players, especially the third line of Phil Kessel (2 goals, 4 assists), Bonino (2 goals, 3 assists) and Carl Hagelin (3 goals, 4 assists). Their production made up for their top two playmakers' lack of. You have to give Mike Sullivan a lot of credit for setting his lines up this way. Most people would not have spread Crosby, Malkin and Kessel out into three different lines, but it has worked wonders in Pittsburgh.
On paper the goalie matchup looked like a clear advantage for Washington, but it didn't play out that way. Though it wasn't a Halak-esque performance, the 21-year-old Matt Murray was steady in net as he turned aside 187 of the 202 shots he faced, including 31 of 33 shots from Alex Ovechkin, for a .923 save percentage.
No secondary scoring
Evgeny Kuznetsov had plenty of chances and in truth, didn't play that badly, but his lack of production killed Washington. He led the team in points in the regular season, but managed just one point in the series. That's just not good enough. Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson also had just one point each. The Caps knew going in that the Penguins' game plan would revolve around stopping Alex Ovechkin, they desperately needed more production from their other playmakers and they didn't get it.
With the addition of Mike Weber at the deadline, the Caps entered the playoffs with eight defensemen at their disposal. It became quickly evident at the start of the playoffs, however, that there were only four that Barry Trotz trusted. The third pair became a revolving door between Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, Taylor Chorney and Mike Weber and the Penguins took advantage with multiple goals and scoring chances. One of the more heart-breaking moments of the series came in Game 4 as Weber tipped the puck right onto the stick of Patrick Hornqvist in overtime who scored the game-winning goal. It would be Weber's first and only appearance in the series.
After the Penguins were able to split the first two games in Washington, the Caps desperately need respond with at least one win in Pittsburgh. Their opportunity came in Game 4 with workhorse defenseman Kris Letang suspended. Letang is Pittsburgh's leader in ice time this postseason averaging 29:26 per game. It was a must-win game for the Caps, but they lost in overtime. The loss put Washington in a 3-1 hole in the series and the Caps could not climb out of it.
Brooks Orpik's suspension and double-minor
Brooks Orpik missed three games against Pittsburgh after getting suspended for a late, high hit to Olli Maatta in Game 2. The Caps played 12 games in the postseason and Orpik missed six of them due to an injury and the suspension. With Orpik in the lineup, the Caps managed a 4-2 record. Without him? They were just 2-4. With Barry Trotz already struggling to find consistency from his third defensive pairing, Orpik's absence meant he had to be replaced by someone the Caps' head coach clearly didn't trust. Orpik finally did return in Game 6...just in time to get called for a high-sticking double-minor which the Penguins turned into two goals.
Slow starts were an issue for the Caps all throughout the regular season and that continued into the playoffs. Twice in the series the Penguins were able to jump out to a 3-0 lead, including in Game 6 when the Caps faced elimination. Not surprisingly, Washington lost both games.