Personally, I hate superstitions. Almost all of them never come true on my end, so there’s just no point in spending tons of energy ever thinking about them. I mean, I believe in hockey data to explain this sport more than anything else for a reason! That being said, I do have some strange theory that life always changes around me, for better or worse, during or after heavy rain or a bad storm. Surely enough, there were tornado watches in the Pittsburgh area and one was confirmed to have touched down 35 miles from the city. As my feelings expected, it would be symbolic to the Capitals and Penguins as well.
As if this this series can’t get anymore controversy, last night’s game ratcheted that up to 1,000. The Sydney Crosby hit will now forever be in the annals anytime the Capitals have to face the Penguins as long as these two teams and hockey exist. It’s symbolic to how these two teams feel about each other for decades. This time, Pittsburgh now has to put Washington on par with Philadelphia in terms of their hatred.
You got Washington on one side who will forever experience Little Brother Syndrome from their East Coast rivals unless they pull a sports title run that rivals what Boston has pulled off since 2003. They demand that Alex Ovechkin wins a Stanley Cup before this Russian Machine Finally Breaks. On the other side, you got Pittsburgh, the “City of Champions” completely related to their poisonous Superiority Complex that detests anyone and anything that ever dares to proclaim that they’re not perfect either. They demand that Sydney Crosby matches anything Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux ever did because transcending greatness is their eternal standard.
Washington needed the Crosby injury, as well as Connor Sheary’s to get the job done, but even Penguins fans have to attest that every win counts as they should understand after so many Capitals-Penguins games from the past; including this year’s Game 1. The Capitals should have a chance to win this series beyond the fact that Pittsburgh has so many injured players. Their 9.6 to 6.7 series-long adjusted expected goals scoreline suggests that they have been dictating almost every facet of the game. Along with that, Washington has been able to limit Pittsburgh’s supposedly powerful power play to one goal in 10 tries and a 91.1 shot attempts per hour rate according to Natural Stat Trick. Only St. Louis is generated fewer shot attempts in the second round of the playoffs.
That being said, Washington will certainly pay more attention to their 7-11 series-long actual goals scoreline. The offense slowly will get back on track, but it’s the goaltending that is getting Capitals fans, and Mitch Korn, in a bit of a worry. Braden Holtby has now seen his relative goals allowed percentage and quality start percentage go from 87 and 61.9% in the regular season to 110 and 50% in the postseason, respectively. Take note that the league average for each of these categories for relative goals allowed percentage is 100 while it is roughly 53% for quality start percentage. Last night’s game was a bright sign for Holtby until he gave away Malkin’s goal to cut it to 2-1. Justin Schultz’s goal to tie the game can be excused because that was a deflection, but this is now two straight games where Holtby is either daring or simply giving up too much of the net to his near post. This is beyond uncharacteristic for one of the best in the world and while it is understood that he has reached such unsustainable heights in 55 career playoff games (70.4% quality start percentage, 93.4% save percentage, 1.98 goals against average), Washington can not win the Stanley Cup without him.
Lastly, I want to talk about Washington’s usage of 11 forwards and seven defensemen now that head coach Barry Trotz couldn’t contain his enamoration for veterans again and brought Karl Alzner back into the lineup. His return meant the end of Brett Connolly’s chances of a sweater in Game 3 as it was believed to be a tactic Trotz would use to give Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom more ice time. Instead, that plot was foiled when Matt Niskanen received his game misconduct from the Crosby injury.
Even with that, it was clear the biggest victims of the new arrangement were the third forward line and the Dmitry Orlov-Kevin Shattenkirk defense pairing. At five-on-five, Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky did not see any more than eight minutes of ice time while none of Washington’s newly created third pairing played more than 13 minutes of time on ice. Despite scoring the game winner in overtime, “Shatty” didn’t even see more than 11 minutes of time on ice at even strength. That being said, my boy Nate Schmidt was the team leader with almost 16 minutes of even strength ice time and used it to his advantage by being on the ice for 18 Capitals shot attempts versus 17 from Pittsburgh.
More will need to be seen as to whether or not this system can work for the Capitals, but when the likes of Tampa Bay used it, it was a ploy to give Steven Stamkos more icetime and it resulted in much higher offensive shot generations. Against a brick wall in Marc-Andre Fleury and a now angrier Penguins forecheck, that will be required for this team to defy its city’s odds and make it through to the Conference Finals.