For the second year in a row, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in the second round. Last year, the red-hot Penguins beat the Capitals in six games en-route to becoming Stanley Cup Champions. Over the two teams’ history the Capitals and Penguins have met nine times in the playoffs. The Penguins won eight of those series, with the exception being the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Capitals narrowly edged the Penguins in the season series, owning a 2-0-2 record against the defending Champs. The Capitals are also coming off their second consecutive President’s Trophy win after earning the best regular season record.
The Penguins are entering this series after beating the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games. While, the Capitals are entering this series after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in a hard fought six game series, where five out of six games went to overtime.
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins Second Round Series Preview
The battle of the offenses
For the third time in their careers, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will be the story-line of a series. Both are the respective superstars of their team, and have been since they entered the league in 2005-06. In their careers, Crosby has a wide-margin advantage when it comes to their head-to-head battles, scoring 60 points in 41 games, Ovechkin has scored 51 points in 48 games.
Crosby and Ovechkin will be their team’s leaders in guiding the direction of the series. However, both players have a great supporting cast at the forward position. The Capitals have a great forward nucleus with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. While the Penguins ice another solid forward group with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. These players will play key roles in the series by taking the pressure off the main superstars.
This series will be highlighted by both teams heavy powered offense. The winner will depend on which offense can stay hot at the right time. Malkin is the leading scorer of the playoffs with 11 points (2G and 9A) in five games for the Penguins. For the Capitals, their leading scorer T.J. Oshie has seven points (3G and 4A) in six games.
The Penguins also have the advantage in terms of goals scored leading them 21-18. This is due in part to the depth of their offense. Jake Guentzel who has been playing alongside Crosby has surprised by leading all players with five goals in the playoffs. He will be looking to continue to stay hot against the Capitals.
Capitals vs. Penguins Depth
While, both teams have a different way of spreading their talent around the lineup, both teams have depth to go far in the playoffs. The Penguins are the best at spreading talent around their lineup. In last year’s run, they used their three best offensive players on separate lines. It’ll be interesting to see if head coach Mike Sullivan will do that again at some point. Last season, the Penguins captured their franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup by using that philosophy.
As for the Capitals, they also have great depth but they overpower their top two lines rather than spread it the way the Penguins do. This could prove to be a great move by the Capitals if they are able to capitalize on their chances. At the same time, their third line could struggle to match up to the Penguins third line. The Capitals fourth line of Tom Wilson–Jay Beagle–Daniel Winnik might be the league’s best this post-season. They have been crucial for the Capitals in round one and will be expected to play big against the Penguins.
When looking at both team’s forward depth, the Penguins have the slight advantage considering they have top six talent on their third line.
Capitals have a better defensive core and goalie
Looking at the two teams’ defensive core, the Capitals have a better one on paper. They have top four defensemen playing all around the lineup. Kevin Shattenkirk who was picked up at the deadline has really helped bolster their defense. He joins a strong group with Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Brooks Orpik. They also have Karl Alzner.
For the Penguins it doesn’t help that star defenseman Kris Letang is out the rest of the season with a neck injury. Aside from Letang, the Penguins are unlikely to keep up with the Capitals defensive core. They will be led by Ian Cole and Justin Schultz, who are good defenseman aren’t the same calibre as Carlsson or Shattenkirk.
If the series comes down to a defensive game, it could be at the advantage of the Capitals. The Capitals also have an advantage in goal against the Penguins with Vezina Trophy nominee Braden Holtby. While, Matt Murray got it done last year, it won’t be easy for him or Marc-Andre Fleury to outplay Holtby again.
With all this being said, the Capitals seem like slight favorites to win. However, fatigue could play a part after they played a much tougher series, than the Penguins.