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Capitals/Penguins: Match-up Overview

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Offense - Ovechkin.  Crosby.  Semin.  Malkin.  Backstrom.  Guerin.  Green.  Gonchar.  The names tell the story.  Both these teams have high end talent; both teams have depth; both teams can score.  Both teams are absolutely loaded.

Defense - Both the Capitals and Penguins have solid defensive corps that often get less credit than they're due because they aren't at the same level as the team's offenses.  However, both have some question marks.  For the Capitals it's whether depth players like John Erskine and Milan Jurcina can continue their impressive play against a much more potent offense.  For the Penguins it's whether the defense corps can raise its level of play against multiple games against a strong opponent.

Goaltending - If Simeon Varlamov plays like he did against the Rangers it's going ot be very difficult for Marc-Andre Fleury, talented as he is, to match him.  That said, the odds that Varlamov isn't as good as he was against New York - and isn't as good as Fleury - is pretty high.

Powerplay - The Penguins have plenty of firepower and have keep clicking at a pretty high rate since Bylsma took over, but even under the new coach the Pens haven't come close to matching the Capitals in terms of effectiveness with the extra man.

Penalty Kill - Sure, the Caps penalty killers look awful good for most of the series against the Rangers, but the Rangers have one of the worst powerplay units in the NHL, so we're not ready to bump it up beyond the three checks we gave it leading into the series against the Rangers.  The Penguins' penalty kill, like the Capitals', got better as the season went on and may be hitting its peak right about now.

Coaching - There's no question that the way the Penguins have played under Dan Bylsma has been impressive, but it's difficult to separate the coaching from the talent of the players and the personnel additions.  This series with the Capitals will in all likelihood be the toughest challenge the team has faced this season, and it remains to be seen how Bylsma will respond against significant adversity.

Intangibles - The Penguins mix of youth and experience and of different playing styles would give them the edge here, but the Capitals have home ice advantage and in what's expected to be a long series between the rivals, there's a very good chance that could come in to play.

As much as I'd like to say that Ovechkin's going to take over this series, that Simeon Varlamov is without a doubt the new Cam Ward and will propel to team to victory, or that the racous Verizon Center crowd will intimidate the Penguins, I can't.  The series is an evenly matched and as intruiging a matchup as all the pundits are claiming and odds are that something unpredictable - a great series from a role player, an unstoppable goalie, an injury, or even a lucky bounce - will be what decides who goes on the Eastern Conference Finals.