Penguins-Capitals Game Two Preview: Power Outtage Haunts Pittsburgh

jonathan staubCorrespondent IMay 4, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 02:  Simeon Varlamov #40 of the Washington Capitals battles for the puck in the crease with Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 2, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington,  DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins, and Sidney Crosby in particular, are still scratching their heads after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals in game one of their second round series.


Simeon Varlamov’s spectacular save was as scintillating of a save as we have seen all year. For Sid the Kid, it is something he will need to get over fast if he hopes to lead his Penguins to a 1-1 series tie tonight.


"It happens," Crosby said. "It's one of those things as a player you have to forget about, and there's the next game so hopefully I make up for it."

Keeping with his routine, Crosby took to the practice rink on Sunday and re-enacted all of his top scoring chances from the previous game.


"Usually you're not working on an open net," Crosby said. "But I had to."

Chances are that if you are reading this piece then you know about Varlamov’s breathtaking save in the first game.


After Crosby and Chris Kunitz played a fluent game of give-and-go, Crosby was left wide open just outside the crease. With Varlamov way out of position, Kunitz hit Crosby with a cross-ice pass that was wristed towards a wide open net.  Varlamov, Washington’s rookie goaltender, lunged back and managed to get his stick on the goal line and block Crosby’s shot with the heel of his stick.


In what will go down as one of the greatest saves in recent postseason history, it changed the entire complexity of the game and kept the score tied at two.


"It was a great save at the right time," Washington general manager George McPhee said.


While this save had enormous ramifications on game one, there are bigger problems looming for the Penguins than an acrobatic, once-in-a-lifetime save.


The Penguins went 0-for-5 on the power play in game one, and are currently mired in a 0-for-17 power play slump dating back to game three against the Philadelphia Flyers in round one.


Washington, on the other hand, possesses the league’s second best power play, and Alexander Ovechkin cashed in on a 5-on-3 opportunity late in the first.


The Penguins controlled the first half of the first period and finished the game out-shooting the Capitals 37-26.


“There are times when you lose and you feel like, 'Jeez, we've got to go back and make some huge adjustments here,' and that's not the case this last game," Crosby said. "We felt like we did some really good things. We want to make sure our power play's better, but for the most part we did a lot of good things."

Varlamov’s big save captivated Capitals fans continuing the young Russian's outstanding play since taking over for Jose Theodore in game one of their opening round series against the New York Rangers.


Varlamov is 5-2 with a 1.29 goals against average and .950 save percentage.


Not bad numbers for a kid who has more career starts in the postseason (seven) than the regular season (six).


"It's good goaltending," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "He made some big saves, key saves, and that means we've got to get more chances and second chances at him."


Pittsburgh was supposed to have the edge in goaltending, and there is no doubt that Varlamov will be fending off nay-sayers for the remainder of this series, especially if Washington goes on to win.


All things considered, this Russian netminder may be better than most think.



Keys to Victory


Special teams will continue to be the key, and if Pittsburgh hopes to avoid returning home for games three and four down 2-0, they are going to need to capitalize on their chances and cash in on any opportunity that comes their way.


Pittsburgh is averaging 13 penalty minutes per game, and Washington is averaging 12. Both teams figure to get their chances, and it will be on special teams that this game, and perhaps this series, is won.

Another interesting thing to keep an eye on is the play of Simeon Varlamov.

If he can continue with his hot play, Washington figures to be in great shape. Despite allowing two soft goals to the Penguins, Varlamov didn’t appear rattled. He came up big when his team needed it, and that will be important against a team with the offensive capabilities of Pittsburgh.

The player to watch in this game will be Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby and Ovechkin did not disappoint in game one. Both scored goals, and Crosby’s been known for playing better when the games matter most. Ovechkin is in uncharted territory, but there was no one playing harder than him in Saturday’s win.

Malkin is someone that has seemingly struggled when the spotlight is off of him. When Crosby has gone down with injury the past two seasons, Malkin has stepped up his game and looked like the second coming of Mario Lemieux.

When Crosby has been healthy, Malkin tends to take a backseat to the Penguins star.

Malkin is going to need to step up and make a statement in this series if he wants to be considered one of the best alongside Sid the Kid and Alex the Great.

Malkin could be the X-factor in this series if Crosby and Ovechkin cancel each other out.