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The Morning Narrative: Pens Look for Answers, Caps Have Some and Ottawaiting

Three things we’re talking about this morning when we’re talking about the Caps

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

1. Pens’ bench boss Mike Sullivan has been hard at work trying to find some answers for the last four periods of hockey. First up? New line combos:

If the Caps can contain those top two lines (an enormous “if”), they should be able to handily outplay the bottom-six. We’ll see.

But Sullivan’s Game 7 prep was about more than (once again) mixing up his trios:

Pull quote from that last one:

Sullivan said there was one thing in particular he hoped to address (though he declined to specify what it was) but said the ultimate goal was helping the Penguins establish more of a consistent offensive attack in the Capitals’ zone — an area they have struggled in this series, even in the wins.

Easier said than done, of course. And you can bet Sullivan focused on breakouts as well. In a game of adjustments and counter-adjustments, he’s gotta be hoping that these tweaks do the trick... and that Barry Trotz doesn’t have time to respond.

Might as well get busy livin’ or... well, you know the rest.

2. For their part, the Caps know what they’ve gotta do:

As Vogs notes in the piece above:

The Pens registered just three shots on net in the first frame and had just nine after 40 minutes of Game 6. They had only 10 shots on net after 40 minutes of Game 5, too. Pittsburgh didn't record its first five-on-five shot on goal until 1.1 seconds remained in the first period of Monday's game.

Pittsburgh scored seven five-on-five goals against the Capitals in the first two games of this series. In the four games since then, the Pens have managed a grand total of three goals at five-on-five, and one of those wasn't even an intended shot on goal; it was a pass attempt that glanced into the Washington net off the skate of defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

So that's three goals at five-on-five in a span of four games, and none of them have come from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Phil Kessel.

Per Corsica, the Caps’ defensive effort in Game 6 yielded the second lowest single-game expected goals-against (total and rate) at five-on-five of these playoffs (only Edmonton’s 2-0 Round 1, Game 2 win over San Jose was lower). Couple that with a perfect penalty kill (in just three times short, which was critically important), strong goaltending and opportunistic scoring at fives and on the power play and, well, that’s a pretty good formula for winning. And it will take a full team effort - every player, every shift, every puck battle - to repeat it.

The Caps’ game plan in Game 6 was perfect and the execution of that plan every bit as good. With a similar effort in Game 7, it may not matter what Mike Sullivan and the Pens do.

3. Congrats to the Senators on their big win over the Rangers last night.

Enjoy tonight’s game... because whomever wins is going to be a handful.

Oh, and Rangers? You had one job...