Penguins Should Ride Defense to Eliminate Capitals

The Pittsburgh Penguins have no desire to play another game at Consol Energy Center.

Until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Which would translate to bringing their best effort to date in Game 5 of their conference semifinals matchup with the Washington Capitals later tonight at Verizon Center.

Thanks to a dominating defensive effort in Game 4 Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins took a commanding 3-1 series lead as things shift back to D.C.

Kris Letang served his one-game suspension in Game 4, and the rest of the Pens’ blue line picked up his slack.

Namely Trevor Daley.

Daley saw 28:41 of ice time, had the Pens’ opening tally which tied the game at one in the first period, and was a plus-3 for the game. He was the only Penguin on the ice for all three of Pittsburgh’s goals.

He was awesome.

– Penguins’ defenseman Ben Lovejoy

Daley, somehow deemed an expendable piece of the Chicago Blackhawks’ puzzle this season, not to mention the guy that Pens’ GM Jim Rutherford stole in exchange for Rob Scuderi.

You know, it’s funny how this game works. You stick with it, and good things happen. I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m in a good place in Pittsburgh. I’m enjoying a great group of guys. We just play. That’s been our motto since Sully got here. ‘Just play.’

– Penguins’ defenseman Trevor Daley

Let that marinate for a minute.

Letang will return tonight. If he plays up to his usual standard, and the rest of the Penguins’ D play the way they did in Game 4, the President’s Trophy winners could be scheduling themselves some earlier-than-expected tee times.

Shutting Down Ovi

Prior to Game 4, the biggest worry for the Penguins was who would shut down Alex Ovechkin in Letang’s stead? Not many lacked faith in Daley being able to pick up the slack in terms of ice time, but Letang is no doubt the Pens’ best defenseman at both ends of the rink.

Ovechkin attempted 27 shots on Wednesday night, with seven of those finding their way on goal. But that is 15 fewer shot attempts than his Game 3 total of 42. That’s a staggering number.

Daley’s defense partner for most of Game 4 was Brian Dumoulin. That was the pairing that head coach Mike Sullivan used as his top defensive unit throughout the game. They saw the bulk of the action against Ovechkin’s line.

With a bit of Ben Lovejoy sprinkled in.

Lovejoy, over the course of his career, has been matched up against Ovechkin quite often when their two teams play. He has more than held his own against arguably the greatest goal scorer of this generation.

In Game 4, all of the Penguins defensemen held their own.

I thought they were terrific. The whole group. Tanger’s a tough guy to replace. A lot of guys had to step up and play more minutes, more significant roles. I thought the group did a tremendous job.

– Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan

Getting Defensive on the Road

The Penguins have played four road games so far in these playoffs. Their record is 3-1.

They lost Game 1 in Washington, D.C. on a soft TJ Oshie wraparound in overtime.

That’s all that stands between Game 5 tonight, and Pittsburgh awaiting the winner of Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders.

Let that marinate for a minute.

It’s no secret that teams seem to play a simpler style of game on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins have certainly done that through their first four road games, and so far its been a successful tactic.

Pittsburgh played arguably its best two games of this series at Verizon Center.

So tonight’s Game 5 should be no different. Shorter shifts, focus on protecting and insulating Matt Murray, and getting the puck out of the defensive zone quicker and with more urgency. Letang will no doubt help that cause.

If the Penguins can duplicate their Game 2 effort, an effort which saw them lead in the shot department 28-10 at the end of two periods, then this should be elementary.

The Caps’ shot totals through the first four games look like this:

  • Game 1 – 35 (including 9:33 of overtime)
  • Game 2 – 24
  • Game 3 – 49
  • Game 4 – 36 (including 2:34 of overtime)

The fourth (and series-clinching) game is always the hardest to win. The Capitals will obviously be in desperation mode.

Bringing a strong defensive effort tonight will be the first step to the Penguins reaching the next round.

Getting back their best defensive player will be a huge benefit, as long as he plays like the best defenseman.

The Capitals would like to come back to Pittsburgh.

So do the Penguins. For Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.