Washington Capitals Playoff Success: Do or Die in Pittsburgh

The Washington Capitals playoff runs never go smoothly. But this year they have a real chance to beat their long-standing playoff rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins, and at the same time finally, defeat the second round curse. However, to do this, the Capitals will have to iron out key issues on the ice, to bring home the win.

Washington Capitals Lack of Playoff Success

The Capitals have yet to bring home the Stanley Cup back to Washington. It’s a sore subject. However, the Capitals have had a tremendous second half of the season. Compared to last season, it’s a stronger team in certain aspects, coming top of the Metropolitan Division yet again with a  49-26-7 record. It could even be quietly suggested by some that this year could, in fact, be ” their year”. It’s clear though, that a mountain of work is needed before this is even considered a reality.

Defence, Defence, Defence

It has been stated in many discussions and is still a defining weakness for the Capitals. Although Capitals defensive players have improved chemistry with each other on the ice with an overall CF/60 of 53.76 on the road. To win this away series against a formidable offensive force as the Pens the Capitals will have to close offenses plays down early. By blocking passing lanes and close man marking will obviously result in fewer Penguins possession and scoring opportunities.

This will be important for these two games as Penguins have an intimidating Goals For Percentage of 69.23 at home. That has resulted in a staggering Goals For per 60 of 4.1 at home in the playoffs. However, some methods to break up the play for the Capitals have been attempted. Players like Brooks Orpik, who is a bottom pair defencemen has had 22 blocked shots alone. But techniques like this to stall Penguins time in the zone is ineffective if the Capitals cant clear their own zone. In the Capitals regular season, they rank seventh in the league for giveaways. Although altogether the Capitals have performed well during the post-season so far, it needs to be a well-oiled machine to get at least a win on this road trip.

Big Hits Not Big Mistakes

Undisciplined play is a potential downfall to Washington’s playoff success in these important roads games. Keeping a cool head in this series if vital. Although surprisingly Capitals rank lower than Pittsburgh in playoff Penalties minutes per game, tallying 8:15 to Penguins 10:22. They tend to concede penalties at key points in the game. Young, heated players like Tom Wilson are an example of this. Love him or hate him, the Capitals can’t afford to go shorthanded against the Penguins. Both special teams are impressive, but any disadvantage on opponents ice can undo the Capitals.In playoffs games so far Pittsburgh has the edge with 88% Penalty kill to Capitals 86.2%. The team has to stay disciplined going into Pittsburgh’s backyard as odds and attitudes will be against them.

Time To Up The Tempo

Too often the Capitals have a strong performance in the first period then become slow and sluggish. At times losing that lead in the third or been forced into an overtime situation. Seven times in eight playoff games the Capitals have scored the first goal in the first 20 minutes. They are outshooting teams 10-2 in those first periods. To further their playoff success the Capitals need to play at a high tempo for full 60 minutes. It is unclear the reasoning behind this slump. But not only is it frustrating to watch but dangerous, evidently shown in the Columbus Blue Jackets series and Game 1 against the Pens. The Penguins are known to score primarily in the later stages of games. And have yet to go into overtime.

The Capitals have no issue with scoring, they have the talent available. The Alex OvechkinEvgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson combination had proved extremely effective and with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom also on form. It proves in those playoff wins they can dominate the raining Stanley Cup Champions if the pressure is consistent.

Brett Connolly highlighted this when the winger spoke after the Capitals win Saturday night.

“We know what they’re about,” says Washington winger Brett Connolly, “and we know that they’ve got guys that can hurt you. In Game 1, that was tough. We played a really good game, I think, and they just kind of found a way to get some breaks and score some timely goals. I think we learned from that this time around. We weren’t as loose; I think we were a little more solid as the game went on.”


It would not be a valuable discussion if goaltending wasn’t briefly mentioned. Philipp Grubauer was the obvious choice going into the playoffs, unfortunately, lack of experience (and defense) let the young back up goalie down. Braden Holtby has struggled in the latter part of the regular season but has found his rhythm again. Saving 32/33 shots last game at Capital One Arena, assisting in an overall meager Goals Against Average of 2.75. Holtby has to remain focused and be more aware of possible redirections in traffic.

Its safe to conclude that the Capitals have two important road games ahead. To get at least one win can potentially change the tide in Capitals/Penguin playoff history. It will not be without challenges. It is still likely to be tooth and nail up to game seven, but the Penguins have finally shown they are not without weakness. They can be beaten if the Capitals are willing to fight for it.



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