Why this Caps-Pens series will be different (No, seriously)

Chris Russell
April 25, 2018 - 2:06 pm
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

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It’s onto the second-round to climb a mountain the Capitals have not been able to get over since 1997-1998.

The arch-nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins are coming to D.C. Thursday night for Game 1 (106.7 The FAN, Coverage at 6:30 ET).

Here's how the Caps can buck history and beat the Pens... for real this time.

1 – Keep Killing Penalties: The Capitals killed 17 straight penalties from overtime of a Game 2 loss through their Game 6 elimination of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s great. Before that, they were awful, at only a 50 percent kill clip in the first two games. 

Jay Beagle’s entry back into the lineup for Game 2 helped. Chandler Stephenson had a short-handed goal (Game 6) and Tom Wilson, Nick Backstrom, Devante Smith-Pelly and others stepped their game up.

2 – But Stay Out of the Box: Pittsburgh was only 20 percent on the power play in their six-game series win against Philadelphia. However, the Penguins were the No. 1 power play in the NHL during the regular season, at 26.2 percent, which is drastically different than what Washington faced in the opening round. Columbus was only 25th-best in the league, at 17.2 percent during the regular season.

Because of the Penguins' prowess with the extra-man, the Caps must stay out of the box. They were sixth-highest in the NHL in penalty minutes per game at 09:45 during the regular season and took too many penalties in the Columbus series. It's an extra challenge when their top penalty killers (Wilson, Beagle, etc) are the players taking the penalties.

3 – Click on the Power Play: The Penguins during the regular season averaged the eighth-most penalty minutes per game at 09:27. During their six-game elimination of the Flyers, Pittsburgh averaged 11:49 per game and took 27 minor penalties in the series, or an average of 4.5 minor penalties per game. That's plenty of chances for the Caps to get the extra-man advantage going and set up Alex Ovechkin in the "office" as many call it.

The Capitals as of Wednesday afternoon are the No. 1 power-play percentage team in the NHL playoffs at 33.3 percent through the first round, and were seventh in the NHL's regular season at 22.5 percent.

4 – Take Advantage of Evgeni Malkin’s (and Carl Hagelin’s) Absence: Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan announced Wednesday morning that superstar Evgeni Malkin will travel to Washington, but will not play in Game 1, at least.

Malkin missed the final game of the Philly series, but had three goals and two assists in five games, along with 42 goals and 98 points in the regular season. He has 61 career playoff goals and 162 career playoff points in 154 games.

The Capitals must seize this opportunity to grab momentum by winning Game 1 and putting Pittsburgh on its heels. The Penguins will also be without speedy and pesky winger Carl Hagelin, who will not even be making the trip to Washington, so it appears he'll miss the first two games.

Hagelin had two goals for the Penguins in their series win over Philadelphia and has 22 career playoff goals. He had three goals against the Caps in six games two years ago and a goal in the playoff series win for Pittsburgh last year.

5 -  A Long Series: At some point, back-to-back Stanley Cup runs, injuries and long regular seasons, plus free agent defections and trades must set in for the Penguins. Quite simply, they've played a ton of hockey over the last three years.

From last year's championship team, they've lost center Nick Bonino, defenseman Ian Cole, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defenseman Trevor Daley, center Matt Cullen, defenseman Ron Hainsey and winger Chris Kunitz.

Ideally, you don't want to play overtime hockey, but if that's what it takes, the more hockey and the longer the hockey, the better it will probably be for the Caps, who have fresher and younger legs this year.

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