How will the Penguins defense, which struggled against the Columbus Blue Jackets, stop Alexander Ovechkin and one of the most potent lines in the NHL? Answer: They probably will not. In fact, they may not have to stop them.
The last game the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals played could at best be described as a coach’s nightmare, as the Penguins outscored the Capitals 8-7 in overtime, on a cold January night. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang missed the game due to injury, so the Penguins top defensive pairing on home ice was Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley. Yep, the very same top pairing which will stand between the Capitals top line.
Historically, Penguins coaches also deploy Sidney Crosby and linemates against Ovechkin. So, in addition to Maatta-Daley trying to keep the Capitals powerhouse off the scoreboard, the job will fall to Crosby, Jake Guentzel and probably Patric Hornqvist.
Daley and Maatta finished on the plus side of the ledger, in the January win. They were on the ice only for one goal against, which isn’t a bad night when the opponent hangs seven on the starting goaltender.
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie is a powerful line, literally. TJ Oshie possesses both scoring touch and strength on the wall. He is a talented power forward playing opposite of the NHL’s premier power forward. Nicklas Backstrom moves the puck well, and registered six points in six games against Toronto, Round 1.
You also may have noticed Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left circle, which is lethal at even strength and on the power play.
Against Columbus in Round 1, instead of clogging the neutral zone to protect their defense, the Penguins favored pulling all five players low in the zone to keep the Blue Jackets to the perimeter.
For the same strategy to work against Washington, the Penguins forwards will not be able to spend too much energy in their own zone. If Crosby and company are defending, they won’t be scoring. The Crosby line must control the situation, which means three things: Avoid penalties, control the puck, and… controlling the puck even more.
Big Questions for a Rookie
Jake Guentzel passed his first test in Round 1. Now for the final exam. Can he defend his zone against Ovechkin? Can Guentzel and Crosby recapture the telepathic communication and spark they displayed in the first couple games in Round 1?
Big questions. Thus far, Guentzel has had big answers.
When the Penguins have the puck, they will need to prolong the offensive possession. Bottom lines will need to cycle the puck low as the top lines will need to convert. The Penguins converted chances well against Columbus. That same lethal finishing ability is a must.
Playing with a lead and playing offense will force the Ovechkin line to play defense; not exactly Ovechkin’s forte.
Other factors will tip the scales in this battle, such as Patric Hornqvist’s puck retrieval skills, Maatta’s zone coverage, and…
The Penguins second superstar line with Evgeni Malkin, who had 11 points in the five-game Round 1 series. And Malkin’s play wasn’t even very good against Columbus. Go figure. Malkin did have a hat trick in that wild, aforementioned January game.
That’s why we predicted the Penguins in 6. Even if the Crosby line loses the battle against the Ovechkin line, the Penguins depth is extraordinary.
The Crosby line and Maatta-Daley just can’t lose the battle, too badly. The Penguins don’t need to stop the Ovechkin line, they just need to match it and rely on their depth.
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