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Game 2 Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Washington Capitals 4/29/2017

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The Penguins and Capitals lock horns again tonight in DC with the Pens looking to take a 2 games to 0 lead in the series

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A lot was made of the shot inequity between the Penguins and Capitals at the end of Game 1. What did the coach think? Mike Sullivan told Matt Gajtka after Game 1 at his press conference:


To that end, Sullivan's about right, shots were 19-15 Washington after 2 periods (though shot attempts were significantly more skewing to the Caps, but shot attempts aren't shots on goal). In fact, really for the first 2 periods the Pens were on track perfectly as a road team against the #1 seed in the league (just don't look at the 3rd!)

The Alex Ovechkin goal late in the 2nd period seemed to turn the game around for Washington, who was understandably a bit shell-shocked following Sidney Crosby's two goals in the first 1:04 of the period. From there the Caps took over in the 3rd period. That obviously isn't a key to success, but hopefully the pretty decent start for Pittsburgh, which has been glossed over a little bit it seems on the internet, can repeat again.


What did Sullivan think about the matchups? He's been on record that he doesn't have much concern about how his defensemen are used and who they play.

"We believe in the group we have, we're not a coaching staff that gets overly focused on matchups because we're always concerned about taking our players out of the flow. And that's just a philopshy that we have as a coaching staff based on the personnel that we have."

And that seems to be true, the Pens have 3 fairly equal defensive pairs that they have deployed with shockingly even workloads (lowest being 17:38 in ES time per game for Justin Schultz this playoff and the highest is 18:35 ES time for Olli Maatta). So basically, independent of the special teams time, the Pens are just rolling everyone evenly.


And while Sullivan isn't too concerned or playing his defensive pairs or how they match, it sure looked like he was leveraging what he could in the faceoff circle. This is how he split the duties:

Wins Losses Total
Crosby 14 16 30
Cullen 10 4 14
Bonino 4 4 8
Malkin 3 1 4

Obviously what jumps out is there's not many given to Evgeni Malkin and conversely a lot given to 4th line center Matt Cullen. Also Crosby has shifted into a familiar role taking a huge percentage of the total team faceoffs, taking 30 out of the 57* total draws (52.6%).

Cullen took 882 faceoffs in 72 regular season games, or 12 a night, so this really wasn't THAT much of an increase. Crosby took 1,748 in 75 games, or 23 per game, so going up to 30 is a bigger jump.

Malkin, who has never approached 50% in faceoffs his whole career, was only taking 13.6 in the regular season. That was ratcheted down big-time in Game 1, and figures to remain low if the Penguins have to start in the defensive zone a lot more again. Last year's playoffs, by the way, Malkin was at just under 10 faceoffs per game.

*Bryan Rust also took 1 faceoff due to a player getting kicked out, but we omitted since he's not a normal center


Game 2 tonight, the Pens already take the moral victory of doing no worse than splitting the first 2 games on the road, but have a real opportunity to go for the throat if they can head back home (where they're really good) with a 2-0 lead. A Game 3 in a 1-1 series is right back to square one, pretty much. 2-0? Sounds much better.