After five games against the New York Rangers and exorcising one of their playoff demons in Henrik Lundqvist, the Pittsburgh Penguins are moving on to Round Two of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Waiting for them is a familiar regular season foe who they haven’t seen in the postseason since 2009. That year, the Penguins faced the Capitals in Round Two in a hotly contested series that went seven games. In that series the Penguins fell behind the Capitals early, but came back to defeat the Ovechkin-led squad en route to their second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final. So what matchups will be key in this series with the 2015-2016 President’s Trophy winners? Let’s take a look.
Size versus Speed
The Pittsburgh Penguins are not big. Anyone who has seen Sidney Crosby and his newest linemate Conor Sheary knows this. The Capitals, on the other hand, are both big and heavy. Two members of the Capitals skaters are listed at 5’11” and they are the smallest members of their team. Meanwhile, the Penguins list six skaters at 5’11” or smaller (Sheary is the team’s smallest listed player at 5’8”). As for weight? The Capitals list almost half as many players as the Penguins who are under 200 lbs. Tom Wilson and Brian Dumoulin are both listed at 6’4” as the tallest skating members of their teams (Eric Fehr and Matt Murray are also listed at 6’4”). Yet Wilson weighs nearly ten pounds more than Dumoulin.
But we’ve seen this show before. The Rangers had a lot of big bodies. They did a lot of hitting. They tried to use their size advantage to their advantage. The Blueshirts had three players 5’11” and never played more than two at one time. They hit and hit and hit. And the Penguins kept going. Because what the flightless birds lack in size they make up for in speed. And that’s going to be a key with the Capitals as well. Look to see players either trying to slip checks or just skate right out of them. The Penguins, at their best, just keep their feet moving and let their speed give teams who want to hit fits.
The Murrdawg and the Holtbeast
Braden Holtby is a Vezina Favorite. Matthew Murray has played three NHL playoff games. To the naked eye this match-up is unfair and many people may even say this is where the series will be won by the Capitals. Those people don’t know much about Matt Murray. The second-year pro accomplished so much so quickly in the American Hockey League that he forced the Penguins to bring him up even when Fleury was healthy this spring. He’s won every accolade for a goaltender and a rookie that he could in that league. He is the Penguins’ future in net.
While this does not mean he is perfect, on a team with the amount of firepower the Pens possess no goalie is going to be asked to be perfect. In addition, Murray is stylistically the same type of goaltender as Marc-Andre Fleury. While he’s younger than the 30-year old veteran, he conducts himself with poise and confidence. At 6’4” he’s also taller than both Fleury and Holtby. And he plays the same kind of way, making it easier for the team in front of him to adjust to how he plays than say the less conventional Zatkoff. His long, lanky but athletic build serves Murray well as an athletic goaltender who scrambles well and reads the play quickly. In the first round, both saw similar amounts of chances and had similar save percentages. So if age and number of games is ignored they’re actually a fairly close match-up which will make the series fun to see play out.
The Great Eight and Sid the Kid
This is the matchup everyone is talking about. The two best players of the past decade are once again going head to head in a long awaited playoff series. With the best goal scorer, Ovechkin, going against the best playmaker, Crosby, who wouldn’t be excited? In Round One, Alex Ovechkin played six games where he tallied 3G-2A-5P while Crosby played five games where he put up 3G-5A-8P. Of course, in this instance Crosby looks better, but who knows how things change when the teams come here? Crosby played two playoff games without Evgeni Malkin and throughout his career when one of those two big guns for the Penguins miss time the other steps up and produces more.
Nothing dazzles and entertains more than when two of the game’s best go head-to-head. This series is going to have no shortage of fun and interesting play, that’s for sure.
The all Evgeni(y) Special
If Crosby-Ovechkin is the marquee matchup, this is the difference maker. Everyone will be looking at the two biggest names which will make it the perfect moment for Evgeni Malkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, two All-Stars, to make their presences felt. Make no mistake, these teams go with their captains but their dueling Evgeni(y)s will make all the difference. If Malkin can have a series to remember like he did against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009 it will go a long way to helping the Penguins advance.
Round One was just the appetizer in this playoffs. The Penguins are about to sink their teeth into the second course of this meal. How far they go it’s going to be up to these key matchups to determine.