For a third season in a row, the Penguins will face their rivals from the District of Columbia in round 2. As we all know, the Penguins have got the best of the Capitals the past 2 years, winning those series in 6 and 7 games respectively en route to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. If the Pens have a chance to threepeat, they will have to go through Ovechkin and the Caps once more.
Do the Penguins have enough gas in the tank? Will this actually (no, but actually) be the year the Capitals beat the Penguins? Who is going to make a difference? If the Caps do dethrone the Penguins, how will they do it? Here is what our LTP staff has to say about Pens vs. Caps:
This series is going to be like no other between these teams. Special teams will be so vital if only because I think the officials will be hesitant to call anything lest one of these powerplay juggernauts gets an advantage. With precious few power plays, it means more ice time opportunity. Whichever coach is willing to use the entire bench consistently will give his team the best chance. Whichever team has the best 4th line will come out on top.
Prediction: Pens in 5
There’s nothing better than a good Pens versus Caps round 2 matchup and personally, I’m glad we’re playing the Caps and not the Blue Jackets. I think Columbus gets under our skin more than Washington does and the mental game can cause a team to lose, no matter the skill they have on board. The Pens starting out without Hagelin and especially Malkin is a little scary, but isn’t anything they can’t handle. If anything, this will make Sid and the rest of the team play harder. Washington has some extremely good players, but so do we. The history with these two teams is apparent and I believe in the Penguins and know the level they can play at. As for length, there’s no doubt in my mind that this will be an extremely tough series for both teams and 7 games is highly possible.
Prediction: Pens in 7
It just wouldn’t be fitting for the playoffs to not have Pens vs. Caps. It’s the league’s most advertised rivalry because of the teams’ stars.
Here we are again as the Pens take on the Capitals. The Caps have only beaten the Pens one time in their franchises playoff history, so the odds are already against them. The Capitals have a solid top two lines but don’t have great scoring depth. This series will come down to special teams, scoring depth, and the play of the goaltenders. With those three things in mind, give me the Pens. It won’t be easy but I expect something along the lines of last year and the year before.
Prediction: Pens in 6
Three straight years of second round playoff excitement that only fans of the Penguins and Capitals can complain about, but mostly Capitals fans. Two straight years the Penguins have came out on top in, what seems to be now a yearly tradition, the two teams meeting in the second round of the playoffs. Now, there are a few differences in these teams.
Both teams have made changes to their roster since their last meeting in the playoffs and noticeably a different defense core in Washington. No more Karl Alzner, no more Nate Schmidt, no more Kevin Shattenkirk. This could have attributed to the Washington Capitals no longer being the top regular season team in the league, as the honor was stolen this season by the Nashville Predators. Another note about the Capitals, they are actually pretty hot right now. After falling down 2-0 to the Blue Jackets in the first round, they have won four straight to eliminate Columbus. They could also be a pretty tired team because the majority of games played between Columbus and Washington went into overtime, so they didn’t have an easy ride here.
The Penguins on the other hand, scored 26 goals in just six games in their decisive series against the Flyers. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel sit on top of the playoff league lead in points at 13 a piece. Guentzel, himself, scored four goals in the Penguins’ 8-5 elimination victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Prediction: Pens in 7
The Penguins are 9-1 against the Capitals in their past 10 series played. This is no secret. The Penguins know it. The Capitals know it. This mental block will be the difference in the series.
The Capitals, on paper, are certainly not the team they were the past 2 seasons. They lost multiple key pieces to their team including the likes of Nate Schmitt, Marcus Johanssen, and Justin Williams; but this year they do seem more mentally prepared than they were the past couple of seasons.
They played their first 2 games at home against CBJ and lost both of them, albeit in overtime. The Capitals of old would have choked this one away, and would have lost at least 1 of the 2 in Columbus. But Washington proceeded to win 4 games in a row behind Braden Holtby, who looked much more like the Holtby of a couple of years ago.
All of this said, the Penguins have cracked Holtby before, and can crack him again. He played awful against the Penguins during the regular season, and even in the past 2 playoff seasons, despite playing pretty well, he was not able to make the big save at the right moment. That is what Matt Murray gives the Penguins that Holtby cannot provide. Holtby will need to outperform Murray by a long shot if the Caps are going to win this series.
My biggest concern is coping with the absence of Malkin and Hagelin. Yeah, the Penguins scored 8 goals without both of them in game 6 against the Flyers, but they are much worse defensively and in goal than Washington. Both of these players were ruled out early for game 1, which makes me concerned about their status for the rest of the series. That said, if both do miss significant time, the Penguins will need guys like Kessel, Brassard, and Guentzel to step up. Guentzel certainly did in game 6, netting 4 goals. Brassard had a good series, but did not have the “on-paper” production that he will need to have in Malkin’s absense. Kessel is certainly capable of performing, but had a sub-par series against the Flyers. Look for him to have a big series against the Caps.
With a fully healthy Penguins team, I truly think the Penguins could win this series in 5 games. Washington has by far exceeded expectations this year and just lack the depth that the Penguins have. With Malkin and Hagelin both being question marks for this series, I think this one goes 7 games and becomes a coin flip in game 7. But…can you really bet against these Penguins?
Prediction: Pens in 7