Former Capitals coach Dale Hunter liked to say that “video don’t lie” and after Game 1 of the second-round playoff series between the Capitals and Penguins, neither, apparently, does the scoresheet.
The Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin (4 shots, 1 assist, plus-3), Nicklas Backstrom (2 shots, plus-2) and T.J. Oshie (3 goals, 5 shots, plus-3) completely dominated the Penguins’ top unit of Conor Sheary (2 shots, minus-3), Sidney Crosby (1 shot, minus-3) and Patric Hornqvist (4 shots, minus-3) in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime victory on Thursday night.
Or did it?
"You don't like being on for goals, definitely not,” Crosby said on Friday after practicing at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I don't think you ever like being on for them. But I've had a lot worse games and didn't end up (minus) three. As a line you have those nights where it just feels like a line dominates and you could easily be dash three. That didn't feel like one of those nights. I thought we had some good chances and ended up getting scored on a few times. We've gotta move on."
All season, Capitals coach Barry Trotz has not shied away from his top line going head-to-head with opponents’ top offensive players and, at least from a statistical viewpoint, it’s hard to argue with the results. Ovechkin (50 goals, plus-21), Backstrom (20 goals, plus-17) and Oshie (26 goals, plus-16) combined for 96 goals and a plus-54 rating during the regular season.
So far in the playoffs, they’ve combined for nine goals in seven games with a plus-12 rating.
“I think it’s a good challenge with a couple of superstars going head-to-head,” Trotz said. “Everybody knows what I think of Nick Backstrom. Crosby’s had a fantastic offensive year, just a complete year. I thought it was a good challenge for them to go head-to-head.
“You try to outplay them every game. That’s the expectation. Sid’s a proud (guy). His line was proud. I know Patric Hornqvist very well. They’ll respond as true pros. That’s the great thing about the matchup is that they’re two good lines that’ll go head-to-head.”
Hornqvist played six seasons under Trotz in Nashville before both left the Music City in the summer of 2014. The 29-year-old Swede didn’tr mince words when asked about the Game 1 matchup.
“They scored three goals, so obviously they won that matchup,” Hornqvist said. “There’s no question about that. But tomorrow’s our turn to change that and obviously we’re ready to do that because we have to have a good game.”
It will be interesting to see if Penguins coach Mike Sullivan will try to get away from the Crosby-Backstrom matchup in Game 2, something Sullivan called a “possibility” on Friday. If so, would the Penguins like to see Crosby against the Caps’ second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson?
Crosby dominated the faceoff circle in Game 1 by winning 19 of 28 draws (68 percent). Backstrom won just seven of his 27 faceoffs (26 percent), while Mike Richards (71 percent) and Jay Beagle (63 percent) were excellent. Richards and Beagle often went up against Crosby on defensive zone draws in Game 1.
"We think Sid can play against anybody,” Sullivan said. “I think he really takes pride in it. We think he's an elite player. He plays at both ends of the rink. He's got a complete game. He's a great faceoff guy. I really think Sid's game for most of the time that I've been here has been a real complete goal line to goal line game. If he does play against another team's top line he has the ability to force them to have to play defense. He has the ability to make plays and put those guys under pressure away from the puck. Sometimes that can be advantageous for our team."
While Trotz seemed comfortable with the Backstrom-Crosby matchup he also alternated between the defense pairings of Brooks Orpik (25:56) and John Carlson (29:49), and Karl Alzner (27:56) and Matt Niskanen (32:13), pretty much splitting their time between the Penguins’ top three lines.
Orpik spent nine seasons as Crosby’s teammate in Pittsburgh and has learned many of his tendencies as a passer and a shooter.
“Henrik Zetterberg always did a really good job against him,” Orpik noted. “I think just being aware of where he is on the ice helps. With that being said, every time people write him off or doubt him, he finds a way to prove people wrong. Just like this year when he had a slower start and then finished second or third in the league in scoring (third with 85 points). It’s one of those guys that you key on, but he always finds ways to make adjustments.”
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