The talk will center, and rightfully so, on the two reviews which went against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2. Things beyond the players control swing one goal to the Washington Capitals and one goal away from the Penguins in the Capitals 4-1 Game 2 win.
First, the reviews and reviewable hit:
Questionable and debateable goals are part of NHL culture. “Just Play” is the phrase which sprang from the Penguins previous obsession with in-game inequities. But conclusive proof denied by the league is a new twist.
Connolly committed goalie interference. The somewhat lame excuse that Penguins goalie Matt Murray had time to reset is as awkward as it was incorrect. Every human being has tripped or been tripped and understands the momentary loss of concentration. Just as Murray regained his footing, the puck went past him.
Because Brett Connolly tripped Murray during the play, as Jakub Vrana came towards the net, the goal should have been denied.
Also, it doesn’t need much explanation. That was a goal. Hornqvist scored.
Also, Tom Wilson should be suspended for his hit on Brian Dumoulin. Wilson was entitled to a hit on Dumoulin because Dumoulin just played the puck. However, Wilson was not in a position to do so, that far away from the boards. Wilson was going for the hit anyway but went high.
That’s a simple call. Since the NHL factors the result of the hit and Wilson has a history of suspensions, he should miss Game 3.
Now, the play:
The Penguins again served up a heaping helping of sloppy play. Less than 90 seconds into the game, Dumoulin stepped forward.
The Capitals had a few two-on-one breaks. At this point, it’s unacceptable. The Penguins forwards have failed to cover pinching defensemen and defensemen have made poor pinches all season.
“They’ll be fine in the playoffs,” was the refrain. Well, it’s now the playoffs. They’re not fine. (And this is why Pittsburgh Hockey Now spent great time and effort calling out the Penguins poor structure this season. It does matter how recently a team won a Stanley Cup).
X’s and O’s:
The Capitals were able to pressure the Penguins as they fumbled with breakouts. The Capitals sealed the wall very well, which forced the Penguins to the center of the ice. The Capitals were able to retreat and retrench with a three-goal lead.
The Capitals also used a forward to jump the Penguins low-to-high passing preference in the offensive zone, especially in the first period, which trapped forwards low and created Capitals transitions.
The Penguins were able to turn the tables on the Capitals in the second and first part of the third period, but it wasn’t enough.
The Report Card
Matt Murray: C+
Murray’s glove hand was on full display in Game 2. The Capitals beat him three times. Ovechkin’s goal just 86 seconds into the game was from 35 feet away. That’s a tough one to let go.
The Penguins defense MUST do a better job of protecting Murray, who, like most goaltenders, is typically a reflection of the defensive play in front of him. Murray made a pair of excellent stick side saves.
Jamie Oleksiak: A
Pressed into service, Oleksiak played over 20 minutes. He dished a game-high seven hits and had a 55 percent Corsi rating.
The Penguins could use a lot more Oleksiak, a lot more, though they may put a leash on him to keep him closer to the defensive zone.
Phil Kessel: D
Where was Phil? Without Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins needed all hands on deck. Kessel was not only a non-factor at 5v5, he made poor decisions on the power play. The new power-play schematic was to run through Kessel, instead, the winger turned the puck over and missed his spots.
Kessel posted an awful 40 percent Corsi and had only two shots on goal. No Bueno.
Kris Letang: A+
This was one of Letang’s quiet games. That’s a good thing. He registered one goal and a net positive effect on the game
In one of those TV angle tricks, it initially appeared Letang was responsible for the Capitals third goal because of a bad line change, but the overhead camera angle revealed Letang was the one defensemen left on the ice to clean up the mess. Letang couldn’t catch Brett Connolly, who used the ice vacated by Brian Dumoulin.
Letang played 26 minutes, had five shots, six blocked shots, and one takeaway. He also had ZERO turnovers.
Dominik Simon: C+
As the 13th forward, Simon gets graded on a curve. In the first period, Simon created two offensive chances, won puck battles and provided pressure, in limited ice time.
However, as the game wore on, Simon was overmatched. His turnover sprung the Capitals transition for the Connolly breakaway goal.
The Rest: B-
As a team, the Penguins again were sloppy in the first 25 minutes. Sidney Crosby was Crosby; he was terrific. The line with Conor Shear-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust was eventually broken up as Rust wasn’t on point. Zach Aston-Reese filled in admirably on that line later in the game.
The loose play overshadowed the dominant effort in the second and first part of the third period.
The Brassard line created chances, but very soon they must be judged on results not just “the process.”
If there is any silver lining to Dumoulin’s injury, it’s that Oleksiak will get more ice time. The Capitals will feel those effects more than the Penguins…
Game 3, Tuesday at PPG. Matt Gajtka will have Monday practice coverage and Tuesday game coverage. Shelly Anderson will cover the game Thursday.