Random thoughts bouncing around on a Monday morning.
First, your moment of optimism
It's worth noting that the Penguins have won the past three series in which they lost Game 5 to fall into a 3-2 hole.— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) May 6, 2018
The Penguins are 9-1 in their history when the Capitals have an opportunity to eliminate them from the playoffs, including 4-0 on Pittsburgh ice.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) May 6, 2018
Past isn’t always prologue, especially on that Yohe nugget which is good but dates back past most of these players’ careers, but hey, you’ll take what you can get. In the words of John Rambo, “nothing’s ever over!”
Well, hopefully the same will be the case tonight.
A lot of chatter about Derick Brassard and how he has disappointed these playoffs. And, to be sure, he’s been demoted to the 4th line and has been almost an after-thought in the postseason with just 1 goal and 3 assists in 11 games.
First, can’t help but think suffering a groin injury at the end of March, and just magically coming back for Game 1 of the playoffs sets anyone up for success, especially a player on a new team getting used to new systems and teammates. Show me a player with a bad groin and I’ll show you a bad player* (*doesn’t apply to Jaromir Jagr in 1999 against the Devils).
Also made me think about Ryan Hartman, who went to Nashville in a deadline deal for a 1st round pick. While it’s true that Hartman (23) is a lot younger than Brassard (30), Brassard is a center which is more in-value than a winger like Hartman. Hartman also only has a career high of 31 points, which Brassard has exceeded 8 times in his career, Brass is certainly a much more established and known quantity.
Anyways, Hartman is a 4th line player for the Predators and regular season + playoffs combined he has but 5 goals and 4 assists in 29 total games in Nashville.
Point being, it isn’t always easy or the magic fix to get a guy at the deadline and it’s not just the Pens who probably wish their big acquisition was making a bigger impact.
Second, while on the point of Brassard -- and admitting this is totally unfair hindsight and only a random thought -- would the Penguins have been better off giving that 1st round pick to Ottawa to get Mike Hoffman instead of Brassard?
True, Pittsburgh’s main goal all season was to get an extra center. And it would have been impossible to know that Carl Hagelin would miss some time with injury at the deadline. Or that Conor Sheary’s disappearing act would continue (although..maybe not). Other than Jake Guentzel, the Pens have gotten next-to-nothing offensively of their other left wingers (Hagelin, Sheary, Dominik Simon, Zach Aston-Reese), and most their wingers in general for that matter.
Riley Sheahan has shown all season he can play fine on the 3rd line, and coach Mike Sullivan could hide Carter Rowney with limited minutes as a 4C and ride the top centers like he’s pretty much done anyways. If the Pens didn’t get Brassard they wouldn’t be as deep down the middle, and that is always a franchise goal.
No guarantee Hoffman adds much more, and Pittsburgh made the right call to boost center depth -- especially when Evgeni Malkin suffered injury if we’re playing the hindsight game fairly. But it stands to wonder if Hoffman may have helped Phil Kessel on a line more than Brassard was intended to.
If you knew two weeks ago that through five games Braden Holtby would have a .944 even strength save percentage to Matt Murray’s .906%, would you even guess that a Game 6 would be necessary? Wouldn’t fault you if not.
The Pens scoring on the power play and limiting shots against have been two strong points of their series. If they wish to extend the series a game further, they’d do well to reverse the trends and score more on Holtby at even and get a few more saves. Pretty simple and easy analysis there, not exactly reinventing the wheel on that one but it’s still important enough to point out and mention as a key.
Via Natural Stat Trick, here’s 3 categories of stats I wanted to highlight.
Overall, the Corsi battle has been remarkably even through five games. Pittsburgh is at a total of 50.8%, to Washington’s 49.2%. However, in a trend that we will see more of, the past two games have seen the Pens come on strong. It’s a 54.4% - 45.6% edge in the last two. That doesn’t do much good since they lost in Game 5, but the metrics are pointing to the Pens getting stronger as the series has gone on.
We see that trend repeat in 5v5 High Dangers chances. Overall in the series the Pens have a 50-36 edge, but it’s a whopping 24-9 in the last two contests. However, the Pens only have 1 High Danger 5v5 goal in those 24 chances (and only 2 5v5 goals overall in the last two games). This will be a major key to find a way to hit the net on the chances generated. Some of that is Braden Holtby playing well, but there have been plenty of pucks that have been shot wide, or hit Holtby and trickled wide or stopped just short of the goal. Turn those into goals and Pittsburgh is in pretty good shape here. Fail to do so and the season is most likely over.
For total scoring chances, the Caps are actually up in the series 148-143, even though they’ve only won this area in 2/5 of the games, they were very strong in those two games. Continuing the trend, Pittsburgh is up 64-51 the last two games in overall scoring chances. However, overall (non-empty net goals) are 5-5 in those games, which shows that Holtby has been better than Matt Murray and the Caps shooters have done more with their opportunities than the Pens.