LCS Hockey: Born Again
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January 17, 2019
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This Is the Playoffs, Right?




Alexander Ovechkin
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

Prior to Game Two, I wrote if the Penguins got the puck deep and worked, the Caps would gift wrap the game for them. And give the Caps credit. They did all they could, churning out 16 more giveaways, lifting their postseason total to a staggering 121.

But for whatever reason, the Penguins failed to take advantage of the charity, once again refusing to stick with the aggressive, north-south style that made them so dominant down the stretch. It was more pointless passing, dubious decisions, and languid lethargy from the Arctic Birds, who continue to sleepwalk their way through the second round.

Donít believe the hype. Sure, Alexander Ovechkin was brilliant, rifling three bullets behind Marc-Andre Fleury, and Kid Crosby did his part, answering with a hat trick of his own, but this is not good hockey. Quite frankly, both teams should be embarrassed with their efforts.

The Caps have committed 38 giveaways in taking the 2-0 series lead. Pittsburgh was nearly as bad in Game Two, coughing up the puck 10 times.

To put those numbers in perspective, the Blackhawks and Canucks combined for six giveaways in their Game Two. The Bruins and Hurricanes had four total in their second game.

Washington is a tremendously skilled team, with Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov, and even Viktor Kolzov all possessing breathtaking one-on-one skills. Each time Ovechkin touches the puck, itís a potential scoring chance. But thereís no unifying principle to the Capsí game. They look for pretty goals on the rush or hope to cash in with the man-advantage. And in between thereís a whole lot of terrible hockey.

Pittsburgh can score on the rush, and there was a time when the Pens used to be lethal on the power play, but itís the Birdsí aggressive, nonstop puck pursuit that made them so dynamic under Dan Bylsma. It didnít matter if they were losing, they always attacked for 60 minutes, and the constant pressure usually won out in the end. If they lost, so be it. They made the other team earn it.

And thatís whatís so frustrating about these first two games with Washington. The Caps havenít earned anything. Pittsburgh simply hasnít competed. The Pens are standing around and watching. Theyíre reacting.

New York showed the blueprint for success. The Caps, due mainly to their weak blue line, canít handle an aggressive forecheck. Washingtonís skilled guys, Ovechkin included, donít like it when defensemen step up and take the body. The Rangersí problem was they didnít have the talent to finish plays on the counter. Pittsburgh does, at least in theory. Although someone should tell that to Evgeni Malkin.

For the second straight game, Malkin was almost nonexistent. Thereís no urgency to his game. His feet arenít moving, heís hesitant with the puck, and heís shying away from contact. Itís almost like he doesnít want to offend any of the Caps. Ovechkin is humiliating him. Genoís lucky Sid is getting all the attention, otherwise Malkin would be recognized as a Russian Jason Spezza, which is pretty much all he is these days.

Game Two swung in the third when the Pens squandered yet another man-advantage.

With the game tied 2-2, Milan Jurcina went off for interference at 10:49. The turkey was on the table. The game was on the line. And the Pens responded with one measly shot on goal, and that was a pitiful Sergei Gonchar dump-in from center ice.

Malkin then kicked the skates out from David Steckel in the offensive zone, handing Washington a cheap power play at 12:49. The Caps made it count, with Ovechkin wiring a one-timer short-side on Fleury for the 3-2 lead. Letís watch it together, shall we?

Someone needs to explain to me how no one marks Ovechkin on that draw. How in the blue hell does Bylsma line up a man against the boards and leave Matt Cooke alone on the inside to watch Semin and Ovechkin? You know theyíre setting up Ovechkin for the one-timer. Two men have to be on the inside, one to mark Semin and the other to jump out on Ovechkin.

You have the best goal-scorer on the planet all by his lonesome in the high slot, and the Pens are worried about having someone cover Tomas fíing Fleishmann along the far boards. Unbelievable.

Ovechkin iced it with another beauty at 15:22, pulling the puck to the inside of the always timid Gonchar and blistering a wrist shot over Fleuryís glove. Great goal for Ovechkin, but thatís one the Flower needs to stop. That said, Ovechkinís Ovechkin for a reason. He shoots it really, really hard. Gonchar needs to protect his net better than that. Then again, Goncharís Gonchar for a reason, too.

While everyone will be heaping praise on Ovechkin, and deservingly so, Simeon Varlamov was again the difference for Washington. Pittsburgh could have blown this game open early if not for the Russian rookie netminder.

Already up 1-0 on Crosbyís first of the night, the Pens had a two-man advantage late in the opening period when Varlamov turned in two more miraculous saves. He flashed the left pad to stone Crosby at the post, but the rebound came right to Gonchar, who uncorked a drive from 35 feet. Varlamov somehow scrambled to his skates and gloved the puck over the bar.

For my money, those two saves were better than the answered prayer in Game One when he lunged back with the stick to rob Crosby. The saves in Game Two were the product of skill, positioning, and technique. Game Oneís stop was all desperation and luck.

And letís not overlook the performance of David Steckel. Heís outplayed everyone on Pittsburgh not named Crosby. So if the Penguin dressing room wasnít embarrassed enough, that should do it right there. David Steckel? Really?

Letís go to the tape on Steckelís goal. Pay attention to the Penguins. All five guys are watching the puck. For some reason, Mark Eaton decides to go for a skate, chasing Brooks Laich out above the circles. Not to be outdone, Jordan Staal abandons Steckel in favor of exploring the slot.

Thatís unacceptable. How are mistakes like that even possible this time of year? Itís like they donít give a damn. This is the Stanley Cup playoffs! Where is the sacrifice? Whereís the determination? At least pretend. Címon, imaginations are fun.

Despite all outward appearances, this series isnít over. If Malkin wakes up and the Pens play anything even remotely close to their normal game, theyíll square things in Pittsburgh. The only problem is I have yet to see any evidence that either of the aforementioned requirements will be met.




LCS Hockey: Born Again
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