The Pittsburgh Penguins had perhaps the perfect warmup for the Washington Capitals. In film study, the Philadelphia Flyers attempted many of the same structures and strategies which the Washington Capitals deployed against the Penguins on April 1, in a 3-1 Capitals win.
The Penguins speed and rush game are so fearsome — the Capitals sacrificed offensive pressure, and a forecheck to prevent the Penguins rush. In the entire first period of the April 1 game, the Capitals had at least three men on the blue line every time the Penguins tried to attack the zone. Every time.
The Capitals penalty kill was no different.
Let’s start with the 5v5 strategy. The Capitals sent one forechecker forward and anchored two defenders on the blue line. The middle two players read and reacted to the Penguins rush. Often one forward, F2, would step forward to the red to seal off half of the ice, preventing a cross-ice pass, and one, F3, would drop to the blue line to create congestion.
If the Capitals forwards, F2 and F3, had an opportunity to challenge at the red line, they did so. Otherwise, they were comfortable to sag and stacked the blue line, which often forced the Penguins to “chip and chase.”
With more support back and fewer rushers, F2 was able to step forward and force the early dump-in. Patric Hornqvist “gave chase,” but the Capitals won possession:
Here is the Penguins biggest challenge in Round 2: Creating speed through the Capitals structure.
The Caps are NOT the Flyers. They will not break down, and they will not play soft. The Capitals are the real thing. Not only will they hold the line, but they will also hammer the Penguins wings whenever they get the chance.
This sequence became a failed attempt at a controlled zone entry. You can see why: The Penguins have no options and not enough numbers.
Without Malkin and Hagelin, the Capitals will have an opportunity to bottle up the Penguins. Despite Malkin’s mistakes and desire to force plays, he is also adept at stickhandling into the zone.
The Penguins will have to establish their chip-n-chase game in Game 1. Players like Bryan Rust and Zach Aston-Reese will be paramount. Once the Penguins win a few battles, the Capitals will soften their aggressive blueline stand, and give the Penguins a little more room.
The PK Wall
Remember a few weeks ago, when this writer told you it would be the blueprint to stop the Penguins power play? Listen to your old buddy Dan!
This is the wrinkle which the Flyers most successfully, but also most inconsistently adopted. The Capitals penalty killers planted their heels on the blue line, and in fact, often they stepped forward not backward. In this sequence, the Penguins power play was absolutely befuddled.
It took over one minute to gain access to the zone and set up the power play.
Note Tom Wilson, who had a career year both on the stat sheet and on the ice. Wilson played hockey and was an invaluable penalty killer. Imagine that — Wilson not in the penalty box!
As the head of the spear here, Wilson kept his feet moving. He was able to seal off half of the ice surface by placing himself between the puck and the Penguins’ favorite cross-ice pass.
When the Penguins did attempt a zone entry, the defender on the blue line stepped forward.
You can see the box this put the Penguins in and the dominance it created. Four Penguins at the red line searching for the door:
Twenty seconds after the first frame, the Penguins were STILL searching for the door. Wilson was in full beast mode on this kill.
After isolating Schultz and Horqnvist, then he isolated Malkin and Hornqvist, before taking all of Schultz’ options — except allowing Crosby to dump it in.
The Penguins will not score 28 goals in six games, this time. They will be forced to manufacture goals, sometimes with smart, gritty play.
More on the Penguins strategery will occur later Thursday as Matt Gajtka and I are set to do a Facebook Live pre-series show.