gretzky-ovechkin

Before the Caps-Pens series, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen sat down with Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and asked him about the game’s two biggest superstars, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The captains will play against each other in the postseason for the first time since 2009. The Penguins won that series in seven games.

“Both guys love the microscope and love being under pressure, and both guys seem to elevate their game when they play against each other,” Gretzky told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “But that’s natural. Everybody has a lot of pride as an athlete and when you’re an elite athlete and you play head to head against a guy who is your peer, there is more of a motivation factor. I anticipate both players raising their game to another level.”

Gretzky also addressed Ovechkin’s legacy. While the Russian machine has managed to win the Richard Trophy six times and be a four-time MVP, Ovechkin has not won the Stanley Cup in his 10-year NHL career, never making it past the second round of the playoffs.

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Caps vs Penguins Pregame: Sid vs Ovi

hunt

Six years later, the NHL’s two biggest stars will once again face off.

According to reports, their teams might also play.

Sid vs Ovi is a headline, not a story. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a talented offensive team riding a white-hot season finish under a new coach. The Washington Capitals are the league’s most successful team, armed with balanced attack and a top-tier backstop.

The Caps-Pens series of 2009 was one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. In that battle of Sid vs Ovi, the winner was probably Malkin. Shrug. Maybe this series will be determined by star power, but that’s generally not the way this team sport works.

Now that I’ve spent this intro de-hyping tonight’s game, let’s actually get into it. Puck drop on NBCSN at 8 PM. It’s on.

Team Record Possession PDO Power Play Penalty Kill
Washington Capitals 56-18-8 52.0% 101.1 21.9% (5th) 85.2% (2nd)
Pittsburgh Penguins 48-26-8 53.0% 100.6 18.4% (16th) 84.4 % (5th)

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PatrickSmithPenguinsGame1

Photo: Patrick Smith

Inside the cramped visitor’s locker room at Verizon Center, players, media, and staff played bumper cars, attempting — and sometimes failing — to dodge skates, equipment, and each other. “Oh, sorry,” one player said as he bumped me into a television camera.

“It’s not one of the better visiting locker rooms in the league, but maybe they try to do that for a reason,” former Capitals forward Eric Fehr said.

The room may be the size a large walk-in closet, but there was another reason for the tight arrangements. The Capitals-Penguins series is the most high profile of the second round. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will meet in the playoffs for first time since the 2009 semifinals, an epic series that featured a game with dueling hat tricks and a heartbreaking blowout loss for the Capitals in Game Seven. The media list for Thursday night’s Game One spanned three pages, with large camera crews trucking down from the Great White North.

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Where the Battles Need to be Won

Dmitri Orlov Defends

Photo: Patrick Smith

I don’t know if anyone else has been paying attention to the numbers that Sportlogiq has been tweeting out about each playoff game, but I find them fascinating. For instance, did you know that in Game Five of the Caps/Flyers series, the Caps had offensive zone possession for 5:44 and the Flyers for only 2:07?

It was an impressive showing by the Capitals in the loss to be sure, but the interesting thing to me in those stats is that there was only 7:51 of even strength offensive possession by both teams combined. That leaves 32:09 of even strength time in a close, 60-minute game where there wasn’t offensive possession (there was 20 minutes of non 5-on-5 time). That is a huge percentage (80.375 percent to be exact).

That isn’t an outlier either, the Blues/Blackhawks series averaged 10:41 in even strength offensive possession by both teams combined, and they went to three overtime periods. So much emphasis is put on how players and teams play with the puck in the zone and defend in the zone, but the vast majority of time is spent doing other things, carrying or passing through neutral, fighting for loose pucks in all three zones, and regrouping and breaking out.

When it comes down to it, much of this game of hockey is played between the tops of the circles and not beneath them. That area of the ice is where the little things can cause more zone time, a quick strike goal or a huge breakdown. For the Capitals to win this series, they will need to outplay the Penguins here, in the middle of the ice.

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lyla-oshie-savage

Just by her Caps jersey alone, TJ Oshie’s daughter Lyla is #babygoals. But on Thursday, she took her general perfectness to the next level by kicking the tar out of a Pittsburgh Penguins poster on camera.

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bruce

The first round of the playoffs did not go as expected. The leading contenders from the west, the Kings, the Ducks, and the Hawks, all got ousted. As a result, all our predictions look even stupider than they normally would. Yey. Fun. Let’s do it again.

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Sizing Up the Penguins: Special Teams

Penguins Capitals Special Teams

Photo: Patrick Smith

About two weeks ago, we previewed the special teams matchup that loomed between the Washington Capitals and their First Round opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers. Special teams ended up playing an important role in more than one game of that series, so wise men and women will take note of this preview as well.

In the Caps/Flyers preview, we outlined the Caps penalty kill as well as the Flyers power play and PK. The Caps do not alter their PK from team to team, so another breakdown of that will be unnecessary, but you might want a refresher on how the Caps kill penalties. There will be similarities and there will be differences, so buckle up.

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caps-pens

Twenty years ago, I remember staying up until the wee hours of the morning hoping the Caps could dispatch the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. Instead Petr Nedvěd ripped a pedestrian shot through traffic to beat Olie Kolzig. After nearly 120 minutes of hockey that night, the Caps lost. The next day I failed my middle school quiz.

Now we’re here. The Caps have lost seven of their eight playoff series all-time against the Pens, but this team is a different breed. The Caps, who “ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” must go through the second best team in the East and the team that has had its number so many times in the past to reach their ultimate goal. The franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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paige-tattoo-verizon-center-coordinates

Lots of Caps fans will throw on a jersey, wear a hat, or sleep under a logo-emblazoned comforter to show support for their favorite team. Other fans are more extreme – such as RMNB reader J.R. Ebling. Earlier in the season, Ebling told us his story about how he had Alex Ovechkin autograph his wrist at a season-ticket holder event. Later he had it tattooed onto his body.

I recently met Caps super fan Paige L. She also has a Caps tattoo, but it’s not what you think. It’s so subtle and brilliant, I wanted her to share her story.

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Braden Holtby Named Vezina Trophy Finalist

HoltbyVezina

Photo: Capitals

Three years after being relegated to third-string duty under Adam Oates, Braden Holtby is now a finalist for the the top award at his position. Wednesday night, we learned that the league’s general managers, who vote on the award, named Holtby as one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy for his performance in the regular-season. The honor is given “to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position.”

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