For only the second time in Matt Murray‘s career, he lost consecutive playoff games. And for the first time in a long time, Murray isn’t the same goalie the Penguins have effusively praised and enjoyed over their past two Stanley Cup runs. His .906 save percentage isn’t horrible although it’s far from inspiring but he isn’t necessarily the problem right now.
What are some things the Penguins need to tighten up if they plan on winning three of the next four and winning the series?
Murray still needs to improve
Murray is still a problem. He has been beaten glove side very often this postseason reinforcing the criticism that has often plagued him at various times over the early onset of his career. Murray had actually seemed to improve his glove side during the regular season but the problems have reemerged in the first nine playoff games.
Tuesday night’s third Washington goal was a classic example. A point shot from Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen looked to be going wide. Instead, Murray tried reaching out and getting a glove/pad on it. The shot deflected off of Murray and into the cage. It tied the game at three.
It’s hard to deny Murray hasn’t made some athletic saves this series, a rarity due to his square-to-the-puck type game. But for every athletic save, the goalie has to make a timely save. It seems more like Murray has given up a soft goal for every athletic save he’s made as opposed to another timely save. Allowing goals when the timely save is needed deflates a team.
The 23-year old has been one of the most dominant playoff performers for the Penguins in the past two seasons, he needs to become even half of that again in this series for the Penguins to crawl back in it.
The defensive lapses have gone way too far
The theme of a lot of the goals against the Penguins so far have come from 2-on-1 rushes.
Kris Letang has made a lot of mistakes that have turned into golden chances the other way. He is the Penguins star defenseman. It’s been a trying season for him in his return from neck surgery last season. He started off sluggish and making inexcusable mistakes. Those mistakes did begin to become of lesser frequency in the last two and a half months of the season but they have again come back for the postseason.
He has been indecisive at times with the puck and then taken a penalty because of that. He hasn’t made the best decisions moving the puck.
Letang is only one culprit. Olli Maatta made a horrific pass in Tuesday night’s game before being slew footed by Tom Wilson. Their four other starters have made mistakes as well. Nobody is perfect but some of the mistakes are puzzling. The Penguins blueliners will need to cut down on these over the course of their remaining playoff games.
Next man up
Obviously, we all saw Wilson’s blatant head shot on forward Zach Aston-Reese that resulted in a “broken jaw and a concussion” according to Mike Sullivan. Aston-Reese will need surgery and likely will miss the remainder of the playoffs unless a miracle happens.
This is going to result in a next man-up mentality.
With Aston-Reese being a prominent penalty killer on the Penguins’ team, they will have to replace him with something of the sort. That likely will move Carter Rowney back into the lineup at wing. The collective groaning from the Penguins fan base should be loud enough for all to hear but it should be noted that Rowney’s best hockey came playing the wing last postseason.
Sprong likely wouldn’t take Aston-Reese’s spot because of the penalty killing factor but could he be a candidate for a lineup spot?
Sprong has the ability to change a game with his scoring. With Dominik Simon looking wildly outmatched and unready for the rigors of playoff games, maybe Sprong eventually factors into his spot.
Listen, the Penguins have one line right now. I don’t think I need to go much further with this one.
Finding an answer for Ovechkin
He’s one of the best scorers of all-time. His release is so pure and his shot is even more lethal. It’s not easy to contain Alex Ovechkin but the Penguins still have to do a better job of it.
Ovechkin has three goals and five points in this series so far including the winner he batted out of the air Tuesday night with just over a minute to play. If he is going to score a goal in legitimately every game, the Capitals are going to win the series plain and simple.
What can the Penguins do to counter this? Letang turnovers have been the reason for a few Ovechkin chances so maybe the Penguins need to throw a different match up out at him.
Justin Schultz is as sound a defender as the Penguins have on their roster right now. A pairing of him and a physical presence in Jamie Oleksiak could go a long way towards getting Ovechkin frustrated and off his game. The more comfortable that he gets, the more confidence and goals he’s going to obtain. And, again, the Penguins will lose the series if Ovechkin has his way in the goal scoring department.