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Power vs. Power and Crosby vs. Backstrom

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Crosby versus Ovechkin? Nah, it's more like the Capitals versus the Penguins. But if we absolutely have to go with a narrative within the storyline, it's more like Crosby versus Backstrom.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In the opening game in the Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the narrative that has subjugated the matchup actually played out before the hockey world's eager eyes.

When Sidney Crosby's line went out on the ice, Alex Ovechkin's line was there to stare him down.

In total, Crosby faced off against Nicklas Backstrom 16 times at the face off dot. By the end of Game 2, the two had gone head to head 30 times.

The power-versus-power bout was one that didn't come as a shock to Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan.

"It was a match that we anticipated," Sullivan said following Game 1. "They went a lot against one another in the regular season. Sometimes both coaches are comfortable with the same match, and we are certainly comfortable with that."

Sullivan then continued on about the matchup, stating what essentially everyone else already knows: a line with Crosby on it can matchup with any line combination in the entire NHL

If you were to ask Barry Trotz the same series of questions, he won't express any amount of concern whatsoever. He will be quick to answer, but he'll do so with confidence.

"I just think it's a good matchup up the middle," Trotz said.

Both coaches are obviously confident in their respective top lines attempting to pulverize one another. But if we look at those two middle guys that Trotz referenced a bit closer, we can see why one coach in particular may be satisfied with the matchup.

If we take a quick look at the first two games of the series, Backstrom's top line has had the upper hand against Crosby's trio. In Game 1, Crosby and his two linemates, Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist, were on the ice for all three of T.J. Oshie's goals. But while the Penguins' top line was getting beaten badly on the score sheet, they were getting more shot attempts against the Capitals' top line, according to Muneeb's graphic.

And in Game 2, neither top line managed to put the puck in the net at even strength, and Backstrom and Crosby broke even on shot attempts.

So, at the moment, both coaches should have a hint of confidence. Trotz can be pleased with the matchup because Backstrom's line is putting more pucks in the net than Crosby's, and Sullivan can take solace in knowing that his Crosby line has ultimately gotten more shot attempts off than Backstrom's.

But here's why Trotz, who had second line change honors in the first two games, was so confident in lining up Backstrom with Crosby in the first place.

It turns out, these first two playoff games isn't the first time Trotz has lined up Backstrom with Crosby this year. Over the course of the regular season, Backstrom faced off against Crosby for a total of 33:51 minutes at even-strength, 5v5. Here's how Backstrom performed against Crosby during that time frame.

Backstrom When Crosby Was on the Ice in 2015-16
(33:51 Min, 5v5)
Goals For 1
Goals Against 1
Corsi For 34
Corsi Against 31
Corsi Percentage 52.3
PDO 98.7


Backstrom's on-ice goal production was even with Crosby, but he was able to generate three more on-ice shot attempts than Crosby and his on-ice mates. Backstrom's 5.88 on-ice shooting percentage was also relatively low, so the physical outcome of goals was a bit lower than one would expect.

So as far as the season goes, the Backstrom-Crosby matchup is relatively even. But, as we all know, 33:51 minutes isn't exactly an ideal sample size.

Let's look to two total seasons.

Backstrom When Crosby Was on the Ice From 2014-15 through 2015-16
(43:38 Min, 5v5, excluding playoffs)
Goals For 1
Goals Against 1
Corsi For 44
Corsi Against 40
Corsi Percentage 52.4
PDO 99.3


Turns out, Backstrom and Crosby weren't on the ice a whole lot last season. And, turns out those ten minutes didn't really have any sort of influence on any of the totals or percentages.

So let's crank this all the way up, way back to 2007, so we can look at every single minute the two have been on the ice together (excluding the last two playoff games).

Backstrom When Crosby Was on the Ice From 2007-08 through 2015-16
(144:44 Min, 5v5, excluding playoffs)
Goals For 6
Goals Against 8
Corsi For 150
Corsi Against 129
Corsi Percentage 53.8
PDO 96.5


Over the course of Backstrom's entire career against Crosby, Backstrom has been outscored by two when he is on the ice with Crosby, but has been able to maintain a favorable 53.8 Corsi-For percentage during that same time period.

As the series swings over to Consol Energy Center for the next two games, it'll be interesting to see if Sullivan agrees to stick Crosby's line out against Backstrom's. Some members of the Pittsburgh media believe Sullivan should and will because Crosby has had a clear advantage.

But the key to neutralizing Crosby and his highly aggressive line may in fact require Trotz to place the player he gushes over and his teammates idolize right up on the ice with him.

That's Nicky.

Statistics provided by Puckalytics.