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NHL Playoffs

Molinari: Could Penguins Have Been Competitive?; Putting ‘0’ in Ovechkin



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There is, of course, no way of knowing how the Pittsburgh Penguins would have fared if they’d qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Perhaps they would have sustained the momentum of their late-season surge, and made a legitimate run at upsetting a team that finished far ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings.

Or maybe the push to get in would have left them physically and mentally spent, and their first-round series would have been all but officially over before a game had been played at PPG Paints Arena.

Could have been the former. Might have been the latter. Or something in between.

One way to project how the Penguins might have done is to assess the performances of the two clubs that edged them out during the final days of the regular season — the New York Islanders, who finished third in the Metro, and Washington, which earned the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Suffice to say, neither suggests the Penguins were likely to hang around for long.

The Islanders and Capitals have a combined record of 1-7, and it would have been 0-8 if New York hadn’t salvaged an overtime victory against Carolina Saturday. That likely was just a stay of execution for the Islanders, since the Hurricanes still have a 3-1 lead and can close out the series at home Tuesday night.

Mind you, the Penguins weren’t assured of sharing the fates of the Islanders and Capitals, but the way those teams have been handled by higher-seeded opponents suggests that no one should have been charting a parade route through Downtown this spring.

Ovechkin loses his touch

Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin is the premier goal-scorer of his generation, and has a good chance to surpass Wayne Gretzky as the most prolific in NHL history.

He figured prominently in Washington claiming its berth in the playoffs, scoring 13 times in the final 17 regular-season games, but was a total non-factor as the Capitals were swept by the New York Rangers in Round 1.

Ovechkin did not record a point, let alone a goal, in the series, and managed a total of five shots in four games.

Washington needed a whole lot more than that from him if it was to have any hope of upsetting the Rangers, who are the top seed in the East.

Given how productive he was down the stretch — followed immediately by how ineffective he was during the playoffs — Ovechkin might be Exhibit A for those who believe the Penguins would have been hard-pressed to maintain their momentum past the end of the regular season.

Trocheck stepping up

Rangers center Vincent Trocheck, a native of Upper St. Clair, was a dominant presence during New York’s opening-round sweep of the Capitals.

He had three goals and three assists and won 52 of 73 faceoffs in those four games.

And those aren’t even Trocheck’s most impressive stat.

That distinction goes to his average of 22 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time per game, the highest figure on the team.

Not just among Rangers forwards, but the entire team, including defensemen, one of whom almost always leads most teams in playing time.

Trocheck has proven to be an all-situations asset for New York — he is tied for the team lead with two power-play goals and is averaging 2:59 of shorthanded work per game, most of any Rangers forward — and is every bit as valuable as he was during previous stints in Florida and Carolina.

A powerful statement

The most formidable weapon during Round 1 of these playoffs has to be Edmonton’s power play, which has scored on eight of 15 chances in four games against Los Angeles.

While that obviously is a tiny sample size, a conversion rate of 53.3 percent is impressive, no matter the details.

What makes the Oilers’ feat even more striking is that they’re doing it against a club that was the NHL’s second-best at killing penalties during the regular season, with a success rate of 84.6 percent.