After losing 4-3 and falling into a 2-0 hole to the Washington Capitals many may think it is time to panic for the Pittsburgh Penguins. I disagree. Watching the game tonight I saw exactly what I expected to see: Ovechkin versus Crosby in a fast-paced, hard hitting matchup. Both teams controlled the puck well in the offensive zone and at times it seemed like the ice was titled in one direction. In the end it was a goal by Dave Steckel that made the difference.
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But despite Ovechkin's hat trick and the fact that Pittsburgh once again failed to get scoring from a forward not named Crosby, it is not yet time for panic. There are many things to take away from this game for both teams.
First of all, Pittsburgh finally managed to convert on its power play, going 2-for-5 with the man advantage. Two of the penalties that were killed were really one long power play where Pittsburgh moved the puck around too much looking for a great shot instead of a shot on goal. That has to stop. Get the puck to the net and good things will happen. Just ask Sidney Crosby, who scored his third goal of the game by getting to the net and batting home a rebound. Watching the replay of that goal, you'll see that a shot deflects off Varlamov and Crosby swats at it three more times before it finally goes in.
On one of his earlier goals it was the same play. A shot from the point actually hits Crosby and lands in front of Varlamov. Varlamov loses the puck just long enough for Crosby to put it between the rookie goalie's legs and into the back of the net. Go to the net either with your body or with the puck. Good things will happen.
One thing the Penguins do need to do is be more agressive with their blueliners. More than once I saw what would have been a great scoring chance go by the boards because the Penguins' d-men wouldn't rush into the slot after a loose puck. At the very least they need to poke it deep into the corners so that Washington can't turn it into an odd-man breakout. This is where Pittsburgh had trouble tonight. Their forwards collapsed to the net looking for rebounds that were already behind them with nothing but red jerseys in the slot. That needs to change.
The Penguins on the penalty kill were once again solid. They held their ground against Washington's talented and lethal powerplay. The one powerplay goal allowed was on a great shot by Ovechkin made possible by Matt Cooke getting tied up in the face-off circle.
The last thing the Penguins need to do is start winning faceoffs again. Yes, studies have shown the advantage of winning a faceoff in the playoffs only lasts about 11 seconds (compared to about 14 during the regular season), but a lot can happen in 11 seconds. Ovechkin's powerplay goal occured four seconds after the offensive-zone win by Niklas Backstrom. Washington controlled the face-offs (38-23) and thus had an edge in puck control.
Is it time to panic yet? No. The Penguins are too good a team and to collected with their emotions to believe this series is getting away from them, especially the way they played the last two minutes. They can and will get back into this series.
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