The Washington Capitals are a great team this year, but they should be worried – really worried – not because the Penguins just left one of the best goaltenders in the league mentally and emotionally shell shocked…… wait, I guess that IS a reason the Capitals should be worried. BUT, it’s more a by-product of everything else.
For starters, the Penguin’s organization seems to have found a somewhat effective metaphorical vaccine to manage the injury epidemic that has plagued the team for over half a decade.
Couple that with roster additions/subtractions over the last 12 months and one could argue that the Pens have more weapons than they had during back to back cup runs almost a decade ago. This overhaul, combined with better coaching and ideal system adjustments has basically locked and loaded the kind of weapons very few teams, if any, possess. So, if the Penguins were going to go up against a loaded Capitals team in any of the years following that 08-09 championship run, THIS is the year!
Now, out of respect for the Capitals, even though I referenced that what the Penguins did to Henrick Lundqvist should be a reason for the Capitals to worry, this reference is not a comparison of the Capitals and Rangers. There can’t be one because the rangers simply aren’t comparable. Doing so would be like suggesting a truck that some of us might buy can compete with the ones competing in NASCAR’s truck series. The two teams may look similar, and both can talk about playing a physical tight checking style. But, the Capitals would outclass the Rangers in a seven game series, almost every time.
There is no denying that these Washington Capitals were the class of the NHL through the majority of the regular season. In fact they were probably one of the most, if not THE most well balanced team in the league.
Because of that, this series will be a huge test for the Penguins. Washington’s coach, Barry Trotz, is going to play matchup chess with Mike Sullivan using better pieces than he ever had consistent access to in Nashville. The “game within the game” as it is often labeled.
I don’t have the acumen or understanding to breakdown the ability of different coaches to line match. But, from what I read from people who do, Mike Sullivan isn’t too shabby at it either. And, Sullivan almost has all his horses back to play this hockey based version of matchup chess. Once again it’s all about timing.
The other thing the Penguins have since Sullivan took over is the distinction of being the only team to have a winning record against the Capitals during the regular season. And late in the year, if the Penguin’s 6-2 drubbing of the Capitals on March 20th didn’t serve notice to the them, the 4-3 overtime win without the services of Evgeni Malkin and Marc Andre Fleury should have.
In fact a common theme we will hear now from media and coaches alike is that the Capitals are banking on their ability to play a “heavy game” to slow down the Penguins and minimize their speed through neutral zone…..Personally, I hope they keep thinking that because they tried that earlier in the 6-2 game, and this happened:
Naysayers may cite the fact that the Penguins were already in playoff mode while the Capitals were cruising to the presidents trophy during both of those previously mentioned meetings……To that I say: “Alright, if you believe that, I’m hoping the capitals do as well.
While it’s cliché, the Penguins simply have to split the two games to start the series in Washington. Accomplish that and the seeds of doubt that were planted in the mind of the Capitals players during those aforementioned losses will begin to sprout roots. The timing will then be perfect for the Penguins to return home to a raucous crowd for games 3 and 4.
The one thing that could make things very interesting is if Fleury has begun to practice again to actually get himself ready for the series. I know, I know……you’re thinking “c’mon, do you really believe they’d allow the player to lie about concussion symptoms?” My answer would be “There’s nothing to stop them from doing so”. Especially with how unique the injury is. That’s why timetables for them are never consistent.
After the way Sullivan handled who started in goal for Game 1 of the Rangers series, I wouldn’t put it past him to use a bit of gamesmanship again. It wouldn’t be doing the Capitals any favors to spend three or four days scouting Murray and then watch the Penguins playoff tested starter step between the pipes.
Timing is everything, and because of all those things; the Capitals should be worried!