Too Good, Too Early

It is unfortunate that the Pittsburgh Penguins have to play the Washington Capitals in only the second round.

These two teams have had, by far, been the most entertaining and evenly matched series in the NHL Playoffs and deserved to play each other in the Eastern Conference finals and the winner playing for the Cup.

The Penguins are up 3 games to 1 in the series but those numbers have little to do with the absolutely amazing hockey being played between these teams. Also, if it was not for a 47 save performance from Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, this series would be tied. These two powerhouses have played remarkably evenly matched hockey as the scores can attest:

Game 1: Washington 4, Pittsburgh 3 (Overtime)
Game 2: Pittsburgh 2, Washington 1
Game 3: Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2
Game 4: Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2 (Overtime)

Both Games 2 and 3 each had two goals scored in the third period, just to add to the already high level of excitement.

These two teams have been fierce rivals for the past ten years when the great turnaround for both teams happened by obtaining the number one pick in the draft. After the Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin in 2004 and Pittsburgh grabbed Sidney Crosby in 2005, the race was on. Everyone knows how this story plays out but another similarity in this playoff series is how both these franchise cornerstones are being held off the scoresheet. Sure, they play tough and smart and generate all kinds of tough defensive match ups, but that is not what these two are really on the ice for. Ovechkin has 3 points in 4 games, but with 2 coming in Game 3 when the Capitals down 3-0 and Alex firing anything he touched at the net. Not exactly the timing you want from your best player. Crosby had one point in Game 4. His first of the series. Ouch..

So if your two best players on their respective teams are not contributing, guess what else these two teams have in common? The level of play from supporting players have carried both these teams. The two teams are averaging 5 goals per game so it is not like the goaltenders are standing on their heads every game (more later), so the scoring is coming from the guys who have favorable defensive match ups, aka not the top defensive pairings. The fact that these ‘secondary’ players are coming through for their teams when their top players get shut down is what having a great team is all about.

The shots are another example of Pittsburgh and Washington being evenly matched. Games 1 and 2 were dominated by Pittsburgh in the shots department but Washington roared back in the third game with 49 shots before evening out in game 4 with the shots 36-33 in favor of Washington. While the shots per game for each team has gone up and down, the overall total is 144-136 for the series in favor of Washington. An eight shot difference over 4 games is exactly what you would expect for a great series.

The goaltending in this series has been great as usual, just not all the time. Both goaltenders, Braden Holtby for Washington and Matt Murray for Pittsburgh have high save percentages and low goals against averages. This series has not really been about goaltending overall except for game 3 with Murray’s 47 save performance and Holtby’s 0.870 save percentage. However, there are still games ahead and these goaltenders will have to be at their very best to get to the next round.

From the head office on down, both franchises have done an admirable job building in keeping competitive teams over the years. Whichever of these two great teams comes out on top of this series, they deserve to go as far as possible.