1. After a handful of days off, the Caps and Pens kick-off their second-round series tonight at Verizon Center. (What, you hadn’t heard?) Pittsburgh has been off since dismissing Columbus from the post-season a week ago tonight, while Washington wrapped things up with Toronto on Sunday night.
Will either team show ill effects from the layoffs? Or will they look well-rested and reinvigorated? Will corny editors get to write Bryan Rust-focused headlines?
Over the course of the regular season, the Caps were 0-4-3 with three or more days of rest between games, the Pens 6-2-0. Those numbers are probably pretty meaningless right about now, but one deeper number did stick out: in those seven games for the perhaps over-rested Caps, they were 0-for-23 on the power play (and it’s not hard to convince yourself that that’s a unit that relies on getting into a rhythm, so it makes some sense). So keep an eye on that... assuming, of course, the Caps’ extra-man unit gets some opportunities.
2. Carl Hagelin hasn’t played for Pittsburgh since March 10, but looks to be getting close to a return.
Hagelin, in his no-contact jersey, is taking part in a drill that has contact.— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) April 26, 2017
Sullivan on Hagelin: Big step today, getting involved in team practice. He's getting eager. Take it day-to-day. He's a lot closer -SK— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) April 26, 2017
That said, he doesn’t appear likely for Game 1:
Lines at #Pens’ practice same as Tuesday:— Sam Werner (@SWernerPG) April 26, 2017
So it looks like the #Pens' big lineup decision for tomorrow will be Tom Kuhnhackl or Carter Rowney on the fourth line.— Sam Werner (@SWernerPG) April 26, 2017
And, for good measure, the defense:
Penguins defense:— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) April 26, 2017
As we noted previously, the longer Hagelin is out, the better - he had three goals (including a game-winner) and four assists in last year’s series, and a huge close-out Game 6 with a goal and two helpers, including the primary assist on the winner. Get well soon, Carl... but not too soon.
3. Thanks to their unrelenting push of Sid vs. Ovi, the mainstream media now has a spin-off narrative: why isn’t anyone talking about Geno?
You mean the dude that leads the playoffs in points, was fourth in points-per-game during the regular season, and is second on the circuit in points-per-game since entering the League? That guy? The one who has won a rookie of the year, an MVP, two scoring titles and, perhaps most relevant here, a Conn Smythe, and is one of the 100 greatest NHLers of all-time (whether or not the League chooses to acknowledge it)? Him? The player who is second in playoff points (to his more-lauded teammate) over the past decade with 140, as in more points than all but 11 Caps have amassed in the regular season over the same span?
Malkin: "But I try to show my best game. I like to be quiet. I just try to not be quiet on the ice." -MC— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) April 26, 2017
Simply put, Malkin is terrifying to Caps fans and, more likely than not, players as well. He has 16 goals and 35 assists in 51 regular season meetings between the clubs, and another three goals and nine assists in 13 playoff games. The Caps may have held him to a goal and an assist last year, but you can bet they were relieved every time he left the ice without having done any damage.
And you can also bet that no one has forgotten about Evgeni Malkin.