Jeremy Fuchs
Sunday May 1st, 2016

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Eric Fehr’s re-direction of an Evgeni Malkin shot led to the go-ahead goal with four minutes and 28 seconds left in the third period, propelling the Pittsburgh Penguins to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Capitals in Game 2 on Saturday night at Verizon Center in Washington D.C.

Carl Hagelin scored the game’s first goal for the Penguins, and goalie Matt Murray made 23 saves. Marcus Johansson scored for Washington, while Braden Holtby stopped 35 shots in the loss.

Each team has a win, with the second-round series shifting to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Monday.

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Here are three thoughts on Saturday night’s feisty and well-played game:

Way too high

Washington defenseman Brook Orpik’s first-period hit on Pittsburgh blueliner Olli Maatta only resulted in a minor penalty, but it is likely to see further discipline from the league, with a suspension perhaps in the offing. 

Maatta had dished the puck off a full second or so before Orpik came flying in with an elbow, leaving the Penguins defenseman dazed. He did not return to the game.

The hit will have repercussions throughout the series. If Maatta, who missed several stretches in his career with injuries, has to miss more time, the Penguins will be without their second-best defenseman. It likely will result in more ice time for Kris Letang, which can be a good thing, especially offensively, but can also lead to some wear and tear—see his 35 minutes of ice time in Saturday’s game. Trevor Daley will likely assume first-pair duties, but he is nowhere near as smooth as the 21-year-old Maatta. 

The potential loss of Orpik would take away a key cog for Washington. He’s averaging just over 20 minutes of ice time so far in the postseason, and had been primarily tasked with slowing down Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin. His absence would force the Caps to dole out time to two of three defensemen: Dmitry Orlov, who was benched after a rough series opener, his replacement Taylor Chorney, or Mike Weber, who saw 8:48 in Game 6 of their first round series against the Flyers in his only appearance of the postseason.

Secondary Stars

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This series was billed as Ovechkin and Crosby: The Later Years, and it may yet turn into that. But so far, the secondary players have taken center stage. It’s been about Penguins rookie goalie Murray and forwards Carl Hagelin and Conor Sheary; it’s been about Capitals’ wingers T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson and center Andre Burakovsky. It’s about the depth that both teams have built around their stars, depth that has been missing for some time. What it does is to lead to better hockey. Crosby and Ovechkin have not made up the best lines in the series. Rather it’s the Hagelin-Nick Bonino-Phil Kessel line for Pittsburgh and the Jason Chimera-Mike Richards-Burakovsky trio for Washington. 

What we’re seeing is a series that would make for a fine Cup final; luckily for hockey fans, it’s instead an early round treat.

Shot (block) Galore

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Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan is a John Tortorella disciple. The Tortorella system is built on collapsing in the defensive zone and blocking everything in sight, and the Pens have taken to this well. They made life miserable for the Rangers in the first round by getting into shooting lanes and they’ve done the same against the Capitals. Washington looked very ordinary Saturday night; Alex Ovechkin had nary an opportunity, and without the Game 1 heroics of Oshie, we may be talking a lot more about defense than offense. The Capitals will have to become more creative in their offensive zone play. It will mean winning a lot more battles in the corners to free up players up front, it will mean quick shots as soon as they break in and taking more chances in the neutral zone to set up odd man breaks. The collapsing defensive system is frustrating to play against, and what makes it even more frustrating is the Penguins’ ability to turn those blocked shots into offense the other way, something that Tortorella himself hasn’t had since he won a Cup in Tampa Bay in 2004. 

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