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The Morning Narrative: Pitt of Despair, Kuznets-on and Net Focus

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. One year ago Wednesday, the Capitals’ Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2015-16 season ended in the blink of an eye in overtime of Game 6 in Pittsburgh.

Five months later, the Capitals’ Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2016-17 season opened in that same building, with Washington on hand to watch Pittsburgh commemorate the Stanley Cup they’d gone on to win in the interim.

Tonight, the Caps will try to avoid a repeat of the former in hopes of extending their season for at least one more game. And if the recent past is any indication... it won’t come easy:

Via Hockey-Reference.com

On the plus side, the Caps have already won a game in this series in Pittsburgh, so they know it can be done. On the other hand, it’s their only win in their last eight visits, though five of those eight have been tied after sixty minutes.

Since PPG Paints Arena (née Consol Energy Center) opened with the 2010-11 season, no team has more regular-season home wins (180) than the Penguins, and only the Blackhawks and Rangers have more wins at home in the postseason.

If this Caps team is going to prove that this year is different, they’ve certainly set themselves up to have a chance to do exactly that.

2. A year ago, Evgeny Kuznetsov was wrapping up a goal-less, one-point second round series against the Penguins. This time around, he’s scored in four of the five games and been a difference-maker... in a good way. What’s changed?

With Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom split up (at times), Kuznetsov’s second line (along with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams) gives the Caps three lines capable of scoring... which is exactly what happened in short-order in the third period of Game 5. That obviously presents a match-up nightmare to an opposing coach, and confidence to his own team. Does Kuznetsov have another trick or two up his sleeve? If his prediction game stays as strong as his on-ice play, the Caps may be in good shape:

3. It’s a gross oversimplification to say that the difference in this series so far or going forward is goaltending... but see if you can spot a trend from the performances of the starters through five games, sorted by save percentage:

So far, the formula has been “give up two goals and win; give up three and lose,” and the four best save-percentage performances have won, while the four worst have lost. Neither team has really bailed its goalie out from a not-great start (and if you want to say that the Caps did in Game 5, after watching Braden Holtby in that third period, you’re nuts).

That puts a ton of pressure on the guys in net (as if it was ever any other way), and maybe even a bit more on Marc-Andre Fleury, who, the last month notwithstanding, is Pittsburgh’s second-best goalie and one who had been flat-out bad in the playoffs for years heading up to this run. Still, he’s the one who can afford to lose a game, so you can bet that both netminders’ Game 6 performances will be under the microscope:

Game 6 - like the five that have come before it - won’t be decided solely by the play of two men standing 200 feet apart... unless it is.