Capitals-Penguins: From Russia With Gloves

Eric NaughtonCorrespondent IMay 4, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 04:  David Steckel #39 of the Washington Capitals faces off against Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 4, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington,  DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

I'm not a Flyers fan, so I won't complain endlessly about the poor job the officials did in this game.  I won't talk about Matt Cooke getting tripped and being unable to cover Ovechkin on the powerplay.  I won't talk about the soft penalties (both ways) or the tripping call against Kris Letang, when he clearly got to the puck well before taking out the man.

The difference in this game was the play of the Russians.  For the Capitals, it was the unbelievable play of Simeon Varlamov and the scoring power of Alexander Ovechkin.

The Sid vs. Ovie matchup was even tonight in goals, as both players recorded hat tricks. Although Dave Steckel's tally was the only secondary scoring of the game, it was Ovechkin's goals that made the difference—a tying goal, a go-ahead goal, and the game winner.

Simeon Varlamov continues to stymie the Penguins.  Not only did he make the save of a lifetime against Crosby in game one, but he continued to make excellent saves in game two.  

The Russians, who made a difference for the Penguins, were Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar.  Unfortunately, their contribution was not as stellar as their Capital comrades.

Malkin is absent from this series so far.  His performance reminds me of the first two games against the Red Wings in 2008.

Geno woke up for a few moments during the second and third periods, but for some reason, he has been unable to produce.  While part of his problem might be snakebitten Petr Sykora, Fedotenko has stepped up his game to pick up the slack.

Sergei Gonchar is one of the big reasons for the Pens' loss in game two.  In the third period, he looked like he had played too much.  

Twenty-eight minutes in game one and 27 minutes in game two is just a little too much time.  Not to mention the fact that both Gonchar and Malkin spend way too much time on the powerplay.

And now we get to it.  The Capitals penalty killing is excellent, but the Penguins have to capitalize on the powerplay if they want to win.  That doesn't mean playing your top guys for the entire 2:00.  That strategy has left these guys gassed early and takes its toll toward the end of the game.

The Penguins need to roll two or three powerplay lines to give the second liners the experience and give the first liners a break.

Bylsma needs to take advantage of home ice to get the matchup against Ovechkin that can shut him down.  He also needs to look at his players' TOI.  There are 14 guys on the bench.  And especially in the playoffs, you have to use them all.

It's tough to play an emotional series against the Flyers and take on another excellent opponent.  This is the second year in a row the Pens have followed up a victory over the Flyers only to lose two games on the road.

As the series leaves the ocean of red in the Verizon Center and moves back to the Igloo, there will be plenty of white in the stands and plenty of fight left in the Penguins.