LCS Hockey: Born Again
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June 27, 2019
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Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

The Invisible Man
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From a hockey standpoint, Game One of the Pens-Caps series was an embarrassment. Poor decisions, atrocious puck movement, and a general lack of intensity marred the afternoon. And that was just Evgeni Malkin.

It really was a dreadful display across the board. Pittsburgh dominated the early going and then imploded thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury’s inability to control a soft wrist shot from the boards and Matt Cooke’s refusal to take a hit for the team without crying about it.

Make no mistake, Alexander Ovechkin turned that game around with his hit on Cooke. And as soon as Ovechkin converted the subsequent five-on-three, the Pens were officially rattled. From that point on, the Pens were garbage. They only got back into the game courtesy of Simeon Varlamov’s charity. Even if Kid Crosby buried his glorious chance at the end of the second, I have no doubt the Pens still would have found a way to lose the game. They were just that bad.

Yet despite the terrible performance riddled with mistakes and stupidity, the Penguins still managed 36 shots and carried play for much of the game. Why? Because the Capitals are terrible.

Washington was credited with 22 giveaways, including 15 from defensemen. That’s obscene. And it wasn’t because Pittsburgh forced those turnovers.

Let’s face it; the Caps are not smart. They’ve been credited with 105 giveaways through their first eight postseason games, averaging 13.1 per contest. They’ve had 20 or more giveaways four times. Shameful.

The Caps aren’t a hockey team. They’re a collection of individual talents all wearing the same costume. And it all starts at the top.

Yes, Ovechkin is an awe-inspiring physical presence. He’s a brilliant goal-scorer, a destructive hitter, and he brings boundless energy whenever he’s on the ice. But his overall game is brutal. Watch him try and read a play. You can see his lips move. His passing is downright laughable. And if you’re ever watching the game and hear someone screaming “Look out!” in Russian, don’t worry. That’s just Ovechkin backchecking.

If Pittsburgh plays its best hockey, and Washington plays its best hockey, the Pens end this in five. Unfortunately, the Penguins have been unable to string together 60 minutes since Game One of the Philadelphia series. It’s quite maddening, really. But if they stick with the plan, get the puck deep, employ an aggressive forecheck, and put pucks on net, the rest of this series will be a walk.

Get the puck deep and work. Nothing extra is needed. The Caps will hand the series to them on a silver platter.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if Malkin showed up. At first, NBC’s coverage irritated the hell out of me, because the peacock completely ignored Malkin. Yes, Crosby is the best player in hockey, and Ovechkin is the best goal-scorer. But Malkin did outscore them both this season. He deserves attention. Or at least he did until he failed to even participate in Game One.

And for all you people out there who think Malkin is better than either Crosby or Ovechkin, let Game One serve as Exhibit A why he’s not in their class. He doesn’t bring it every shift of every game. Until he does, he doesn’t belong in the discussion. For all Ovechkin’s faults, he competes like a champ. Crosby’s motor never stops. The same can’t be said for Geno the Disappearing Machine-o.

Pittsburgh should win Game Two. If the Pens don’t win, it will be due to their own lack of discipline and commitment; it won’t be because they ran into a better team. And that fact alone will be far more alarming than a 2-0 series deficit.

LCS Hockey: Born Again
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