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Capitals vs Penguins Game 5: What Worked and What Didn't

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Heading into Game 6, we take a look at what worked and what didn't in Game 5.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Saturday night primetime, with some carry-over viewers from the event that they call (with predictable pretentiousness) "the greatest two minutes in sports", the Washington Capitals skated into the spotlight in front of a nation expecting this team to do what they've done so often. Come up short in the Spring, allowing regular season accomplishments to do their best work at buoying postseason failure. And these expectations were foiled, and the Washington Capitals earned a chance to steal one in Pittsburgh, and ensure that this series will be decided in front of nearly 20,000 red-clad.

Here are our breakdowns from Game 1Game 2Game 3, and Game 4.

Now let's take a look at what worked and what didn't in Game 5.

What Worked

  • Braden Holtby
After what was arguably one of his most forgettable performances of the postseason in Game 4, Braden Holtby bounced back with a solid (and at times spectacular) outing when the team in front of him needed it most. Holtby saved 30 of the 31 shots that found their way on target, including these two beauties, which came on consecutive rushes up the ice from Pittsburgh.

And another look...

This is the Holtby the Caps need to get on a nightly basis if they're gonna have any chance of getting to (and then winning) a Game 7. They got him in Game 5.

  • Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals power play.
You've seen the Alex Ovechkin howitzer that opened the scoring in Game 5, and if you haven't, well, now you have...

Later in the game, on another power play, it was a second Ovi-bomb from the Ovi-spot that Matt Murray couldn't handle cleanly. T.J. Oshie cleaned up the trash, and the Caps took their second lead of the game. This one they wouldn't relinquish.

By and large, the Caps did a much better job handling the Pens' application of pressure to Nicklas Backstrom at the half boards and Marcus Johansson on the goal line, and when he got the opportunities, Alex Ovechkin made them count, simply by putting the puck on net (but more on that later.)

The Caps had five power plays in this one to the Penguins' two — an undeniable anomaly when Alex Ovechkin's Capitals have met Sidney Crosby's Penguins in the playoffs — and they made it count.

  • Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen versus the Crosby line
Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen have been superb all series against the Crosby line, holding the pride of Penguins to only one 5v5 point in the series, and that coming on a relatively flukey goal. Crosby did pick up a secondary assist on the Pens' powerplay goal, but Alz and Nisky had the Golden Boy pretty well under wraps all game long.

You probably can't keep the Kid this quiet for much longer, but if anyone's up to the task, Niskanen and Alzner seem like pretty good candidates, with some assistance from Monsieur Holtby.

What Didn't

  • Hitting The Net
The Pens won the possession battle by a somewhat innocuous 6 shot attempts. Especially innocuous considering the Caps more than doubled them up in 5v5 high-danger scoring chances, 13-6. Where things start to look funny is when you weigh these considerations in conjunction with the final 5v5 shot counts, tilted heavily in favor of Pittsburgh 22 to 13.

This can be explained quite easily by the fact that the Caps missed the cage on 18 of their 44 shot attempts. The Penguins were credited with 16 shot blocks, meaning the Caps missed the cage on 18 of 26 unblocked shot attempts...which is 69%, and frankly not a very good way to go about winning. They're facing a hot goalie getting his first taste of success at this level. Shooting the puck at him with something resembling accuracy is a good way to make it a little less easy for him.
  • John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov versus the Evgeni Malkin line
Bryan Rust, Chris Kunitz, and Evgeni Malkin, to put it lightly, took John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov behind the shed.

Evgeni Malkin has been far and away the Penguins' scariest skater through five games in this series, and the fact that he's remained relatively quiet on the scoresheet is probably more a testament to good goaltending (and better good fortune) while Malkin has been on the ice than anything. When the head the head battles look like they do above, with Malkin's line having their way against their most common opposition, it's hard to think that luck's not going to break in his favor before too long.

All in all, there's not too much to split hairs over in this one. The Caps' needed a strong game to prolong their season, and they got just that. Production from their stars, a net positive from the special teams battle, and a Vezina-like performance in net from their Vezina-favorite goalie is precisely what the doctor ordered for the ailing Caps. If the squad can reproduce that outing, and maybe throw in a few more shots that Matt Murray has to actually work to keep out of the net, and they should be cranking up the Verizon Center lights at least one more time this hockey season.