Thursday, May 04, 2017

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Cousins Sittin' On The Porch Looking Back at Game 4

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage…”
So said King Henry in “Henry V,” by William Shakespeare.  And once more, the Washington Capitals find themselves in the breach, pushed to the edge of an early off-season after their 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.  The cousins are of different minds when it comes to Shakespeare, but are they of the same mind about last night’s game?

Cheerless… I hear you can get some pretty good deals on golf balls this time of year.  I should ask Caps players.  They know a lot about early-bird golf sales, I imagine.

Fearless… Not so fast, Gloomy Gus.  The Caps have outshot the Penguins, 142-93 in this series, have a 21.4 percent power play, an 86.7 percent penalty kill, have an overall shot attempt share of 65.23 percent, and have 72 offensive zone faceoffs to 42 for the Penguins.  By any reasonable measure, the Caps have dominated this series.

Cheerless… except for that goals thing and the wins thing.


Fearless… OK, since 2009, four 3-1 series leads, lost two of them…

Cheerless… This isn’t the time to bring up the Caps’ record in series when they had 3-1 leads.

Fearless… I wasn’t doing anything of the sort.  That’s the Penguins’ record.  Heavens, they had a 3-1 lead over the Caps last season and were an overtime goal in Game 6 from heading to a seventh game in Washington.

Cheerless… In the Ovechkin era, the Caps are 2-5 in series in which they lost Game 4.  All of those games were on the road.

Fearless… The Caps are 5-3 in series in the Ovechkin era when they win Game 5.


Fearless… When the league went to a two-referee system, the thought was that having an extra pair of eyes watching a game that was only getting faster had to be a good thing.  Looking at the calls against John Carlson and T.J. Oshie last night, one wonders about that sentiment.  Scott Wilson flopped like a flounder at the Seattle Fish Market to draw a “roughing” penalty on John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie’s alleged “high stick,” earning him a trip to the penalty box, never touched Nick Bonino’s face. 

Cheerless… Ahh…”bad zebras,” that’s what teams that lose always say.

Feerless… There have been 38 games in this postseason decided by one goal so far, including both games last night.  Any single call by a referee, especially one with less than two minutes to play (that ended up being a “phantom” penalty) takes on added significance.  We don’t advocate the “let them play” dictum, but maybe some officials are assuming a foul when one does not exist.  Even former official Kerry Fraser wondered about the Oshie call…


Fearless… The Caps have the seventh-best Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of any team in any postseason since 2008 (57.38; numbers from

Cheerless… Know how many of the other six ahead of them got to a Stanley Cup final?  One…Detroit won it in 2008; they have the third best postseason Corsi-for (60.38).


Cheerless… So, about that bottom six.  They sure are putting the “bottom” in that term.  The seven players to occupy this six slots – Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik, Jay Beagle, Paul Carey, and Brett Connolly – have a grand total of one point in this series.  One stinking point (Eller, an assist).  Among them, they are shooting 0-for-31. Burakovsky has twice as many missed shots (10) as the next highest Cap (Ovechkin with five).

Fearless... Five of those players (Burakovsky, Eller, Wilson, Connolly, and Carey) have overall shot attempt shares of 70 percent or better.  Beagle is the only one under 50 percent (42.59).  That's not "tiliting the ice," it's taking it up in one sheet and depositing it in the offensive zone.


Peerless… So here we are, right back where we were at this time last season, a 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh in Game 4 (that game went to overtime), taking a 1-3 deficit in games back with them to Verizon Center for the springtime “must-win” game.  Makes this team little different than its immediate predecessor and not much, if at all different from any of its predecessors in this era. 

A loss at home in Game 5 would arguably be the worst loss in the history of the franchise.  More than Game 7 in 2010, perhaps more than a potential Game 7 in this series (from which one could argue that the Caps fought back to make such a game possible).  To lose to a team in five games that lacks its number one goaltender and number one defenseman for the entirety of the series, and its best skater – the best player on the planet – for half of his team’s wins in the series would be an unvarnished disaster for this franchise.  There would be no argument one could make that the season was successful (who remembers who won the President's Trophy in 2015?).  For more than the players and coaches, Game 5 is a must-win game.  A win might be the only thing keeping the franchise from being a punch line for years to come.

Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins 3 - Washington Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals were pushed to the brink of another early playoff exit on Wednesday night, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.  The win gives the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the series.

It was a completely “Capitals” sort of postseason loss, falling behind by a pair of goals before the game was 24 minutes old, striking back to tie the game with goals just over a minute apart, then allowing the game-winner on a power play to set aside all the hard work they did to get back into the contest.

Patric Hornqvist opened the scoring for the Penguins early in the first period, taking a lead pass from Olli Maatta just outside the Caps’ blue line, cutting between Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner, and breaking in alone on goalie Braden Holtby, beating him on the short side at the 4:39 mark to make it 1-0, Pens.

That score held up for almost 20 minutes, into the early moments of the second period, when Jake Guentzel gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead.  It was one more “Capitals” moment in a franchise history chock full of them.  Guentzel took a pass off the wall from Maatta and from the far side of the left wing circle threw the puck in front.  Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov had his stick perfectly place to redirect the puck past his own goaltender 3:51 into the period to make it a 2-0 game.

Washington started its comeback less than four minutes later.  Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams teamed to pry the puck from along the left wing wall, Williams sliding it free to Evgeny Kuznetsov gliding into the left wing circle.  Kuznetsov stepped up and snapped a shot that beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the blocker side to make it 2-1, 7:21 into the second period.

Nate Schmidt got the Caps even with his first goal of the postseason 72 seconds later.  Kevin Shattenkirk’s attempted slap-pass to T.J. Oshie went awry and skidded into the left wing corner where he took an odd rebound off the boards.  The puck came back out to the circle where Schmidt leaned into a one-timer that slithered through Fleury at the 8:33 mark to tie the game.

Two minutes later, the Caps planted the seed of their loss.  John Carlson was sent to the penalty box at the 10:45 mark for roughing Scott Wilson, and the Penguins converted their opportunity.  Justin Schultz one-timed a pass from Evgeni Malkin past Holtby, and it was the difference. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all nine third period shots he faced, and the Pens held on to push the Caps to the edge of the postseason cliff once more.

Other stuff…

-- In a game of this importance, your best player can’t take as many penalties as he had shots on goal, but that’s what Alex Ovechkin did in this game.  Two minor penalties, two shots on goal.  Sure, he had six hits, but that’s not how they keep score.

-- And it was not any better for Nicklas Backstrom.  No shots on goal, two attempts, minus-1, in 20 minutes of ice time.  It was part of a top line effort that generated a total of three even-strength shots on goal (Ovechkin had one; T.J. Oshie had two).

-- The mysterious misfortune of Andre Burakovsky continues.  He has no goals on 19 shots in ten postseason games after going 0-for-3 last night.  He is not in Alexander Semin territory for frustration (Semin was 0-for-44 in seven games in the 2010 postseason), but it is one of the big holes that has not been filled in this postseason for the Caps and especially in this series.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal, his fourth in ten postseason games and third in this series.  His six shots led the team.  But 3-for-16 on faceoffs?  Woof.

-- The Caps are 1-5 in the postseason when allowing three or more goals.  They allowed three goals in this game.

-- Pittsburgh, the smaller team, was credited with 40 hits spread among 15 of 18 skaters.  Maybe it was a home-scoring thing, but maybe it was an indication of which team had more determination.

-- According to, 44 percent of the penalties referee Kelly Sutherland called this postseason came in the third period.   It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the Caps were whistled for three minor penalties in the third period.

-- Matt Niskanen had one hit in 24:53 of ice time, so there was that. Oh, and he was on the ice for the game-winning goal, so Pens fans are probably thrilled.

-- Of 16 goalies with at least 100 minutes played in this postseason, Braden Holtby now ranks 13th in save percentage (.909).  He’s faced two of the best scoring offenses in the league in Toronto and Pittsburgh, but he has yet to really “steal” a game, certainly in this series.

-- The Caps out-shot the Pens, 38-18.  They out-shot them, 31-15, at even strength.  They out-attempted them, 72-38, overall.  They out-attempted them, 57-28, at 5-on-5.  Same story…same result.

In the end…

You just have the feeling that the Caps don’t have an answer for this team in any of its incarnations.  The Caps have dominated possession in just about every period of this series, and yet they have just nine goals and three losses in four games to show for it.  Marc-Andre Fleury looks poised to take his place among John Vanbiesbrouck, Kelly Hrudey, Johan Hedberg, and Jaroslav Halak as the “hot goalie” who did in the Caps.

The Capitals are at that point where the season will end in one of two,  and only two ways – their most glorious season, punctuated by the most dramatic comeback in team postseason history, or their most disappointing one, a season in which their “best ever” team was revealed to be no different than any that preceded it.  Stay tuned.  It’s not over yet.