You may have read this before. In fact, one year ago, tomorrow, we published a very similar story. Some of the personnel has changed, but not much else. The Washington Capitals still use the 1-3-1 on the power play. The Pittsburgh Penguins still use the umbrella.
Not too much has varied on the PK as well. The Caps use a diamond/wedge, and the Pens use a similar diamond that can rotate into a box. Both rely on pressure. This will be the story of who executes and specifically how.
|Power Play %||23.1 (4th)||23.1 (3rd)|
|Penalty Kill %||83.8 (7th)||79.8 (20th)|
|Power Play Opportunities||247 (13th)||260 (5th)|
|Penalty Kill Opportunities||272 (5th)||257 (11th)|
Both power plays were dominant in the regular season and continued their dominance into the first round. Each team scored five PP goals in their first round series.
The penalty kills are different stories. The Caps again had one of the best PKs in the league, but the Penguins faltered a bit. Though, in the first round, both teams killed 83 percent of their opportunities.
In the Caps-Pens’ four-game, regular-season series, the Caps scored five power play goals to the Penguins’ four. An interesting tidbit from their season series is that the Caps scored two short-handed goals against the Pens, so they may be able to exploit some over-aggressiveness from the Pittsburgh side.
Of the twenty players on both teams’ power play units, only three are different from last year. Kevin Shattenkirk is the lone change for the Caps. For the Pens, Justin Schultz is filling in for Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel for Chris Kunitz.
On the penalty kill, things are a bit different. The Caps will primarily use six forwards and four defensemen. Jay Beagle with Daniel Winnik, Tom Wilson with Lars Eller, and Nicklas Backstrom with TJ Oshie are used at forward. Assuming Karl Alzner is not in the lineup the Caps will ice John Carlson and Brooks Orpik on defense with Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov backing them up. Eller and Orlov are the biggest differences from last season for the Caps.
In the series against Columbus, the Penguins rotated five defensemen through on the PK. Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley were the five, listed by most ice time. For the forwards, they stuck to four. Nick Bonino, Bryan Rust, Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl played the lion-share of minutes on the PK for Pittsburgh.
If you want to read about the nuts and bolts of Caps-Pens special teams’ systems, please take a second and read last year’s version of this post and this year’s first round version of this post. I am going to focus now on the Penguins power play, how they score, and how the Caps must stop them.
The Penguins score in three ways on the power play: royal road passes, broken plays, and straight shots.
The goal of the Pittsburgh power play is to work the royal road passes (passes across the center of the ice) between Phil Kessel and Evgeny Malkin/Sidney Crosby. The Caps will need to cut these passing lanes off, and Braden Holtby will need to move side-to-side expertly.
The Blue Jackets do a good job of this here, but the Penguins still get a good chance with the positioning of Patric Hornqvist. The Caps have to get in passing lanes, but be ready to get back into position or take another man if the play breaks down. The Pens thrive on the plays that break down on the power play.
See here in a game earlier this season between the Penguins and Capitals. The Penguins will work the puck back across the royal road if the Caps give it to them. Unfortunately the Caps PK is not set up to defend against this very well, so players must make good plays and get back into position quickly. The defenseman on Hornqvist’s side is the key. We will see this play tried multiple times this series, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a goal similar to that one.
And finally, if the Caps do everything right, stop all the royal road passes, and pounce on all the loose pucks, they can still be beaten by elite shots from three shooters on the Penguins’ top PP unit. Kessel scored two goals just like this in the series against the Blue Jackets.
Special teams always plays a big role in playoff series. The Caps will desperately try to get the best of the Pens in this aspect of the game. They will need to be good on the PK to do so. Oh, and keep some of those wrinkles they unleashed in the First Round on the power play.
Will the Caps get the better of the Penguins in the special teams’ battle in the series?
Headline photo: Claus Andersen
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