- - Sunday, April 30, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You want to see puck management? I’ll show you puck management.

Washington Capitals – 71 shots on goal in the first two games of this Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals series before their home crowd at the Verizon Center.

Pittsburgh Penguins? How about 45 shots on goal in the first two games on the road?

Yet the Penguins have scored nine goals, compared to four for the Capitals.

And yes, the Penguins lead this best-of-seven series 2-0, heading to Pittsburgh now for Game 3 after their 6-2 win Saturday night.

There’s your puck management, baby.

When the Penguins disposed of the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the first round, their coach, Mike Sullivan, spoke of his team’s “compete level.”

That’s a level the Washington Capitals, in the era of Alex Ovechkin, have never had in postseason hockey. The Alex Ovechkin Capitals have a fundamental flaw.

There is too much failure, too many disappointments.

There’s no answer for Washington at this point – not even pulling their star goalie, Braden Holtby, at the start of the third period, down 3-1. His replacement, Philipp Grubauer, was no answer, as he gave up two more, with the final one coming with an empty net with less than a minute left in the game.

“We had to change sort of the mojo in that situation,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said when asked about pulling Holtby.

Washington seems incapable of changing the mojo.

“They’ve gone to places you have to go to win championships,” Trotz said of his opponent. “We need to go to those places.”

But Trotz said after their Game 1 loss to the Penguins, his team needed to get off to a better start the next game. They did just that, relentlessly attacking Pittsburgh 16 shots on goal, compared to just 5 for the Penguins. And Washington had two power play opportunities in the period, compared to none for Pittsburgh.

It was as powerful an offensive display as we have seen from a Capitals team in one period in the playoffs.

Yet, at the end of the period, the score was 0-0.

And that was all Washington had.

Just 1:15 into the second period – on yet another Capitals power play – Penguins center Matt Cullen scored a short-handed goal on a turnover by Kevin Shattenkirk to put his team on top 1-0.

Washington came back to tie it a 1-1 a little more than a minute later on a power play goal by Matt Niskanen. But at 13:04 in the period, Sidney Crosby showed his “compete level” with a remarkable pass while he had three Capitals defending him to Phil Kessel for the goal and a 2-1 lead for Pittsburgh, a lead they never gave up.

Jake Guentzel made it 3-1 Pittsburgh at 16:14 of the second period, off a blocked shot by, of course, Crosby.

It was 4-1 when Nicklas Backstrom added a goal in the third period, but Pittsburgh responded quickly with a goal by Evgeni Malkin two minutes later for 5-2 lead, sending Capitals fans to the exits in plenty of time to take Metro before it shut down for the night – perhaps for the last time this season.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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