In my previous article “If I Could Pick Our Second Round Opponent”, I briefly laid out my reasoning for picking the Caps as the Pens Conference semi-final opponent. Readers did not agree unfortunately, picking the Canes & Devils as their choice of opponents.
Now, that the match-up has been set, we will see if I was spot on, or if I completely missed the mark.
First and foremost, I am sticking to my guns; Malkin and Crosby can definitely outgun Ovechkin and Semin. And Fleury, of course, has the goods to outlast NHL rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov as well.
Varlamov stole the series from the Rangers after Theodore was relieved of duty early in the series. With numbers like a .952 save percentage and a ridiculous 1.17 goals against average, any religious hockey fan knows those types of numbers, and well, they’re almost impossible to maintain long term.
Look for the Pens to overload the young net minder early in the series in an attempt to rattle his cage.
Other than coaching, which may factor into the outcome of a single game in the series, will ultimately come down to the supporting cast of players. Kunitz, Guerin, Staal, and others need to elevate their game, taking at least some of the pressure off superstars Malkin and Crosby.
The Caps supporting cast, including Backstrom, Poti, and Green, have done a slightly better job than their Penguins counterparts. If the Penguins cannot narrow the gap in this category, this may turn into a long, drawn out series.
If there is a proverbial chink in the Penguins armor, it is undoubtedly their power play. After Bylsma was handed the reins to the team, they’ve slid back into mediocrity going 4 for 32 in the series against the Flyers. Unfortunately for the Pens, the Caps penalty kill, with an 87.1% success rate and just slightly better than the Pens at 86.7%, is going to be hard to overcome.
The Penguins do have a leg up on the Caps in one very important category; playoff experience.
The Caps, as an organization, are sorely lacking in this category; not making it past the first round since 1998. That year, they managed to make it all the way to the finals, before being defeated by the Wings in four games. I’m sure the Penguins remember what that feels like.
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