Washington Capitals: Keys To Round Two Victory

Mar 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz (4) and Washington Capitals center Mike Richards (10) chase the puck during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz (4) and Washington Capitals center Mike Richards (10) chase the puck during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins begin a compelling round two match-up tomorrow night. Here are five keys to a Capitals victory.

The Washington Capitals were successful at escaping their playoff demons in round one against the Philadelphia Flyers, but the team will be put to an even bigger test when they enter a fight with the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two. It will be much more than Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby, episode two.

The Penguins are arguably the league’s hottest team, storming all the way into second place in the Metropolitan Division before the close of the season. They quickly dispatched the New York Rangers four games to one in their first round series.

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Make no mistake, these are the two best teams remaining in the Eastern Conference. It is going to be a bitter fight, and one that could very well go the distance of seven games to determine who comes out alive.

For the Washington Capitals, there will be several keys to the match-up in order for them to be successful and keep their hopes of a Stanley Cup alive.

Keep Winning The Possession Game

The Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the best possession teams in the entire league over the course of the regular season – especially so once Mike Sullivan took over as head coach. The Washington Capitals have been middle of the pack all year. They turned this around against the Flyers, however.

The Penguins were expected to dominate a New York Rangers team that, in the regular season, struggled to keep control of the puck. Oddly enough, despite winning the series handily, the Penguins struggled in the puck possession department.

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Since the beginning of the postseason, the Penguins have been below 50% Corsi For. The Capitals made a quick foray south of the same mark, though their utter domination of possession over the final three games against the Flyers brought that back up in a big way.

Now, we know that Corsi isn’t great at predicting individual results over a small sample size. Many things can mask poor possession, such as hot goaltending and a high shooting percentage. It does, however, do a better job of giving us an indicator of potential future success.

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Since we can see that the Penguins have been middling for quite a while, it makes you wonder what we can expect in this series. The only reason that the Washington Capitals did not sweep the Flyers is because of hot goaltending, and the Rangers actually put up a bit more of a fight than one might think.

If the Capitals are going to win this series, they have to keep the puck off of potent Penguin sticks, and continue to trust their elite netminder.

Win The Special Teams Battle

With two such loaded teams, it is a safe bet that whichever team owns the special teams battle will move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

If round one was any indication, we are going to see a lot of power play goals in this series. The Penguins converted on a ridiculous 38.1% of their power play opportunities in round one, while the Washington Capitals sat at a more than respectable 29.6% despite their man advantage cooling down later in the series.

On the reverse, both teams have exceptional penalty kills. The Caps are ranked second among playoff teams with a 95.8% penalty kill, while the Penguins are at 89,5%.

Realistically, each of those four numbers are probably inflated. The Rangers power play once again struggled in the postseason, while the Flyers really only had one unit with scoring potential on the power play. The Washington Capitals likely will not be killing penalties at 95.8%, while the Penguins will not be scoring on almost 40% of their man advantages.

However, we can expect something more towards the middle. Whichever way these numbers lean, however, will play a huge role in each individual game. One power play goal or one huge penalty kill could be the difference in what is likely to be a very close series.

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  • Battle Of The Bottom Sixes

    Here are what the bottom two lines for each team will likely be, based on the indications were are getting now.







    The Penguins clearly have a much more potent bottom six in terms of offensive potential, but the Washington Capitals also have a better shutdown bottom six than the Rangers.

    The Evgeni Malkin line is absolutely terrifying, quite frankly, because when would you ever see Malkin on a team’s third line? The Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel line could also be considered a third line in some ways, but they have done nothing but produce since being put together. That is why we find Malkin in the bottom six.

    One player to watch in the bottom six for Washington is Andre Burakovsky. He didn’t record a point, but had more than a handful of scoring chances. If he continues to get those chances, the production will come.

    Really, this battle will be about if the strong defensive bottom six of Washington can slow down probably the best bottom six group remaining in the playoffs.

    Limit Turnovers

    One thing is certain, and that is that the Penguins will shred any team that gives up the puck.

    This is largely because of their tremendous speed and excellent finishers, something that can open up a game extremely quickly. This team thrives on other teams’ turnovers, specifically players like Conor Sheary.

    The Capitals are a team filled with crafty playmakers, but it is going to be pertinent that they don’t try and do too much. A lost puck at the blue line while entering the offensive zone is a bad thing against any team, but it is the worst thing you can do against the Penguins.

    This quick strike ability is something that could have masked the recent deficiencies in puck possession for the Penguins, so that is something to focus on if you are the Capitals. If they make smart, simple plays instead of trying to make a fancy move, they will both increase their own offensive output while limiting Pittsburgh’s.


    With such a huge gap in experience, you wouldn’t expect the goaltending match-up to be quite as close as it seems.

    Matt Murray has played in just 16 NHL games, including three in the first round after Jeff Zatkoff held down the fort due to injuries.

    Murray and regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury both suffered through concussion, the latter of whom still isn’t expected back in game action yet.

    Braden Holtby is as steady as they come in the playoffs, so the one to watch here is Murray. At the ripe age of 21, his accomplishments are already impressive, though it will be important to see how he does against a sustained attack that the Washington Capitals offer.

    If Murray falters, health permitting, do they turn to Fleury, a guy with noted postseason struggles? Goaltending will be the backbone of both teams, and with the offenses involved here, whomever’s back breaks first could make the difference in the series.