7:05 UPDATE: Patric Hornqvist, Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey are on the ice for warmups. It looks like all will play in Game 3. Mike Sullivan, again, reached into Coaching Gamesmanship manual to give his team a boost.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will likely be without gritty winger Patric Hornqvist for Game 3 of their Round 2 battle with the Washington Capitals. The Penguins could also be without stay-at-home defensemen Ron Hainsey, who took a controversial shot to the head, Saturday, and Brian Dumoulin. The Penguins, who finally were healthy after a regular season parade to the trainer’s room and local surgical tables, are again… not.
Make no mistake, the series could change in the 60 minutes of hockey. While the Penguins have a commanding 2-0 lead, they have been outplayed. Badly. Or Bigly, if you live in Washington D.C. Only Marc-Andre Fleury and opportunistic offense saved the Penguins from an 0-2 deficit.
The Penguins have appeared overmatched for long portions of Games 1 and 2.
Pregame Emotional Forecast: Kitchen Sinks
The Capitals will bring a storm to begin Game 3. Figurative Kitchen sink? Already ripped off the wall. The red wave in the first period or more will determine if the Capitals win Game 3 and turn the series, or lose Game 3 and face a sweep.
The Capitals held a closed-door team meeting after Saturday’s Game 2 loss. It wasn’t a cordial affair. When asked about the contents of the meeting, Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen answered curtly, “None of your business.” The Penguins torment the Capitals.
If the Capitals become entwined in their own emotion, if they begin pressing, the Penguins will win. If the Capitals maintain their composure and borrow some of the Penguins “laser-like focus”, the Penguins are in trouble.
The Capitals emotions hold the key to their fate. If they’re able to maintain control of their emotions, able to maintain discipline and keep coming in waves, the Penguins ability to withstand an avalanche cannot last forever. Marc-Andre Fleury cannot keep taking away should-be goals…can he?
Bruised defenseman, missing wingers, and a team playing for its life and its history are a bad combination for the Penguins. However, the same was also true for Game 2. A 6-2 Penguins win.
The Penguins, if healthy, would win this series easily. However, they are far from it. If the Capitals win tonight, the Penguins will have a tough road. Through shot blocking and playoff physicality, the Penguins are limping to the finish line. If the Capitals succeed in prolonging the series to six or seven games, it is to the Capitals great benefit.
The Penguins have little choice in Game 3: Throw the kitchen sink back at the Capitals.
The Capitals enjoyed exploiting the Bonino line in Games 1 and 2. Coach Barry Trotz allowed Nic Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin to skate against the Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby, but Trotz liked to play his hot hands against the Bonino line with Conor Sheary. Scott Wilson (Game 1) and Carl Hagelin (Game 2) were the other members of the trio.
Sheary has found quicksand in these playoffs. The Blue Jackets made him appear small and vulnerable. The Capitals have continued the dominance of the diminutive winger.
On Pittsburgh ice, head coach Mike Sullivan will look to get Bonino and Sheary away from the Capitals hot hand, which has thus far been Evgeny Kuznetsov. FLeury’s shoulders have kept Kuznetsov from owning the scoring sheet.
The Hornqvist injury has likely opened a slot for grinder, Carter Rowney. Sullivan may deploy his fourth line as a defensive unit to get Crosby and Jake Guentzel away from the Capitals top defenders and to let the Penguins grinders chip at Ovechkin.
The Penguins fourth line has been able to escape their own zone, even under heavy pressure from the Capitals. That isn’t something all lines have done.
Josh Yohe of DKPittsburghSports.com reported several Penguins openly questioned Ovechkin’s shot which hit Hainsey just beneath the helmet.
My .02 is–it’s hard to imagine any player shooting at another player’s head. However, shooting a puck high, at a player, isn’t hard to imagine. If the trajectory of Ovechkin’s shot were followed, it would have hit the netting. On an undeflected wrist shot.
No, it doesn’t look good for Ovechkin. I’ll choose to believe he went high, at Hainsey, and the head contact was unintentional.
Marc-Andre Fleury. Stats are almost irrelevant at this point. Anyone who has watched even a few moments of the series has seen the smiley puck-stopper at his best. His very best.
Braden Holtby, however, has been dogged by questions like, “could you have stopped that one?” And been forced to answer in the affirmative.
The Penguins are in Holtby’s head. If the Penguins can keep the Capitals out of Fleury’s crease, their chances significantly improve.
It was a general consensus, the Capitals would claim Game 2 and this would be a brutal series. The Penguins didn’t just escape, they held the fort then blew out the Capitals.
There are no explanations for the Penguins success, other than Fleury and converting the few chances they earn. It defies the eye test, the stats test, and any other test a few of you mad scientists want to create.
When colleagues asked who I predicted would win Game 2, my answer surprised them: “I have no idea. I’ve only learned one thing in the last 18 months, and that is don’t bet against these Penguins.”
The same holds true, for Game 3. By every metric, every reasonable assumption and strategy, the Capitals should win. But these Penguins, who for so long were stacked with talent but lacked the necessary intangibles, don’t play by the universe’s rules.
Never bet against these Penguins. That’s the only sure thing.