Keys to the Series

The Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Washington Capitals.

This is the series the entire NHL was been waiting for.
Sports writers have been going nuts, falling over themselves to come up with any sort of new Crosby VS. Ovechkin angle.
Bruce Boudreau, bless his tubby soul, was right when he said this was going to be a "circus."
Of course, that quote led to the creation of about 100 articles about how Crosby and Ovechkin will respond to the "circus."
The hype machine is already running at full capacity and the series hasn't even started yet.

Of course, that doesn't mean this isn't going to be a great series.
It's going to be a great series.
This could be one of the few things that actually deserves a ridiculous amount of hype.
These are two young, explosive, offensively-talented teams going up against one another.
When you add in the fact that a lot of the principle players don't really like one another, you end up with the groundwork for an incredibly exciting contest.

Yes, this is our Pens/Caps hype, coming one paragraph after our diatribe against the hype.

The Internet works in mysterious ways.

Join us.


In a series with so many superstars and big names it can be difficult to name just a few things each team needs to do to win.
We've compiled our list and narrowed it down to four things that the Penguins will need to do if they want to add 2009 to the long list of seasons they have broken the Caps' hearts.

* Put Pressure on Varlamov

Simeon Varlamov played very well against the New York Rangers.  He won all four of the Capitals games and had two shutouts.  He has a 1.17 goals against average and a .952 save percentage.  Only Roberto Luongo has better statistics coming out of the first round.  Coming in as relief for Jose Theodore, Varlamov has defined himself as "the man" in Washington's net.

Unfortunately for the Caps, he is still only 21 years old.  He has six games of regular season experience to go with his six games in the playoffs.  Yes, he was impressive against the Rangers, but there is no comparison between New York's and Pittsburgh's offensive skills.  The New York Rangers did not have a single player score more than 60 points during the season.  The Pittsburgh Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two of the most offensively talented players in the game.

In order to win the series the Penguins will need to put pressure on Varlamov.  They will need to fire shots at him whenever it is possible.  If he holds on and makes saves, they need to fire more.  And then more.  Varlamov faced a total of 145 shots in round one, an average of 24.2 per game.  The Penguins threw 201 pucks at Martin Biron in round one, averaging out to 33.5 per game.  That adds up to a lot of additional rubber for Varlamov to stop.

Can the young goalie handle the extra work?

* Hit the Caps

The Penguins just completed a very physical series against the Philadelphia Flyers.  The physical style the Penguins played against Philadelphia is one of the reasons the Flyers are golfing today.  Kimmo Timonen is likely still feeling the effects of Chris Kunitz's hit in game three.  Replace "Kimmo Timonen" with "Mike Green" and you know what the Penguins have to do in round one.

Green had a very unspectacular first round and, if the Penguins put pressure on him from the onset of the series, they will likely throw him off of his game once again.

Alex Ovechkin loves to hit and he is going to hit.  If things play out the same way they did in the regular season, he's going to hit Evgeni Malkin.  These hits, especially at home, give the Capitals momentum.  The Pens need to seize that momentum by hitting the Caps more often than the Caps can hit them.

* Maintain Pressure from the Third Line

The line of Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal was arguably the Penguins' best line in round one.  They played hard, they battled for pucks and they wore down the opposition.  Tyler Kennedy has two game winning goals because of his efforts.  Matt Cooke was seemingly hitting everything that moved at some points.  Jordan Staal, while frequently criticized by the media for not scoring, was very dominant throughout several games.

It is this sort of pressure and depth that makes the Pittsburgh Penguins a very dangerous team to play against.  Everyone knows about Malkin and Crosby, but the third line is the line that will switch momentum and will win games for the Penguins.

They need to continue to play as they did in round one and make life difficult for the Capitals.

* Petr Sykora Needs to Come Back Strong

In games five and six Petr Sykora sat in favour of Miroslav Satan.  Neither player has any points during the post season so far.  There are rumors that Sykora is injured – and that definitely looks to be the case – but Sykora has denied them.  If Sykora is now healthy he needs to start scoring.  He is a goal scoring winger.  He doesn't hit or battle or play defensively very often.  Goal scoring is what he does.

Plus, Petr Sykora playing well makes Evgeni Malkin even more dangerous.

If Sykora still isn't ready to go, Ruslan Fedotenko and and Satan need to step up their respective games.  With his wingers underperforming, Evgeni Malkin is forced to do more of the work himself.  Opposing teams know this and they will add additional coverage to Malkin, knowing that his wingers will not make an impact.  This hurts the team as a whole.

When the Malkin line is firing at all cylinders, it gives the Pittsburgh Penguins four, strong, defined lines that can all play hard.  With Fedotenko and Sykora/Satan struggling Dan Bylsma is forced to shuffle the lines frequently in order to find something that works.

The Penguins have all the tools necessary to defeat the Washington Capitals.  If both teams play how they did in round one, the Pittsburgh Penguins will win.  The Washington Capitals were off their game in the first round.  They struggled against a Rangers team that they should have been able to beat.  Alexander Semin was their best player in the first series.  Mike Green and even Ovechkin himself did not meet expectations.  That is a problem for the Washington Capitals.

Likely the Capitals will be better in round two and therefore the Penguins will need to be better as well.