How Pittsburgh Can Bounce Back vs. Caps

As the Pittsburgh Penguins left the ice following Monday's 4-3 loss in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series with the Washington Capitals, it was hard to see them as a beaten team. On some level, that's a ridiculous statement to make about a squad that’s staring at a 2-0 series deficit as it returns to home ice for Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh, but I'm standing by it. ↵

↵And it isn't as if there wasn't some good to take from the opening pair of games in Washington. Sidney Crosby is clearly in a playoff frame of mind, scoring four goals in just two games. Better still, it appears that the Pittsburgh power play might be coming out of its stupor, having scored in two of five chances in Game 2. ↵

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↵So what can the Penguins do to turn things around? ↵

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↵Contain Alex Ovechkin: Ultimately, stopping the NHL's reigning MVP for any extended length of time has to be seen as nothing short of mission impossible. For reference, maybe Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma can get Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Stevens on the phone and ask him about the job that Kimmo Timonen and Mike Richards did on Ovechkin during their first-round series against the Capitals in 2008. Ultimately, Ovechkin would tally nine points in that series, but there were more than a few significant stretches where he simply wasn't a force thanks to the work of Timonen and Richards. Do the Penguins have that sort of personnel available to shadow Ovechkin? I'm afraid that's another question. ↵

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↵Jump-start Evgeni Malkin: The NHL's leading scorer in the regular season may very well also walk away with the award for regular-season MVP in June in Las Vegas, but he's been missing in action during this series. With just a pair of assists and posting a -3, the Penguins simply can't afford to have Malkin, a player who can be the most dangerous in the league when he's leading the breakout, disappear anymore. ↵

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↵Secondary scoring and a whole lot more: Going into the series, we heard a lot about how Pittsburgh's third line of Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, a line that played so well in the series against Philadelphia, would put solid pressure on the Washington defense on the forecheck. But so far, it's been Washington's third line of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich that's provided the unexpected energy. In particular, Steckel has scored a goal in each of the series' first two games and has been a beast in the faceoff circle, winning 21 of 30 draws. Speaking of which ... ↵
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↵Improve in the faceoff circle: During Game 1, the Penguins gave as good as they got, winning 53% of the draws against the Caps. But in Game 2, they collapsed on the dot, as Washington won 62% of the draws. Sometimes the cumulative effect of losing that many faceoffs can be hard to quantify, but the impact was easy to see on the scoresheet after Nicklas Backstrom won a draw back to Mike Green that ultimately resulted in a power play goal for Ovechkin. At bottom, Washington is a puck possession team, and losing that many faceoffs is simply playing into their hands. ↵

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↵Injury Update: Defenseman Kris Letang left Game 2 after getting checked by Washington defenseman Mike Green, but now the Pens say that he wasn't hurt as badly as was once feared, and he’s listed as questionable for Game 3. ↵

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↵As for Washington, winger Eric Fehr also left for the locker room in the middle of Game 2. If he can't play, Michael Nylander, who hasn't been seen on the ice since Game 1 of the series against the Rangers, will probably get the start. There's also some questions as to whether or not John Erskine, one of Washington's most consistent defenders in the playoffs, will be able to play. Out of the lineup for Game 2, Erskine was replaced with AHL callup Tyler Sloan, who took the opportunity to post his first playoff point with an assist on Steckel's goal. If Erskine can't play, either Sloan or fellow AHL callup Karl Alzner will be available. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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