It was never going to be easy, and the Washington Capitals found that out in Game 2 of their playoff series against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. It was not the relatively open-offense contest of Game 1, but it was another one-goal game settled by the thinnest of margins. The low score did not mean the game lacked for takeaways and throwaways.
- The penalty killers were superb, from the goaltender out. The Penguins were awarded five power plays and managed nine shots in the ten minutes they skated with the man advantage. Braden Holtby turned all of them away, making the Caps 30-for-31 on the penalty kill in the post season, best in the league (96.8 percent).
- Matt Niskanen has been a gritty beast in the first two games. In Game 2 he had three shots on goal, five hits, and two blocked shots, giving him four shots on goal, eight hits, and six blocked shots in the two games.
- Nicklas Backstom was 18-for-20 in faceoffs in Game 2. The only two draws he lost were the opening faceoff in the second period to Sidney Crosby and a defensive zone draw to Nick Bonino 12 minutes into the third period.
- Not sure which side to put this on, but because he scored the Caps’ only goal, we’ll put it here. Marcus Johansson gets the Whitman’s Sampler score sheet award for all the “1’s” on it – one goal, one point, minus-1, one shot on goal, one missed shot, one shot blocked, one hit, one giveaway, one takeaway.
- Braden Holtby was outstanding once more, stopping 33 of 35 shots (75 of 80 for the series). He leads all goalies in goals against average (1.24) and save percentage (.957) in the postseason (minimum: 200 minutes).
- The Caps split their two games on home ice. In the post-2004-2005 lockout era, they are 1-2 in series when splitting their first two games at home, losing to Philadelphia in 2008 and to the New York Rangers in 2015, beating the New York Islanders last season.
- Jay Beagle had an uncharacteristically tough time in the circle in Game 2, winning only six of 18 draws (only three of 12 against Crosby).
- Five power plays allowed are too many to allow, even if you do have a Vezina-caliber goaltender backing things up. It was the fourth time in the postseason that the Penguins had five or more power plays and the first time they failed to score at least one power play goal. It is a proposition the Caps do not want to test frequently.
- John Carlson had one of those “on the one hand…on the other hand” games. He had five shots on goal, five hits, and a pair of blocked shots, but he got lost in a no-man’s land tracking Nick Bonino as the latter carried the puck along the wall behind the Caps’ net. Carl Hagelin filled in to the space Carlson vacated and took a pass from Bonino for a point-blank shot that gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Then, in the third period he was just a split second late getting in Evgeni Malkin’s face at the right wing wall, giving Malkin just enough of an opening to throw the puck in front where Eric Fehr finished the play on a redirect for the game-winning goal.
- Andre Burakovsky might not get as little as 9:59 in ice time again in this series, but he is going to have to do better with the ice time he gets. His score sheet was almost blank, a shot on goal and a giveaway the only marks on it.
In the end…
The curious part of the series so far is how little impact the big stars have had. Sidney Crosby is without a point in two games and is a minus-3. Alex Ovechkin has an assist, but he has been blanked on seven shots on goal. It has been T.J. Oshie (a hat trick in Game 1) versus the foot soldiers for the Penguins (Fehr and Hagelin in Game 2). Pittsburgh has been closer to imposing its will on the Caps than the Caps have on the Penguins (Pittsburgh has a Corsi-for of 54.7 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com), and that is something the Caps are going to have to solve as the teams head to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4.
Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images