Thursday, April 30, 2009

For NHL, Christmas Comes Early

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. Head to head. The NHL is so excited, they could just spit. But there is more to this rivalry than just 4 top players and over the next two days we are going to explore this post season match up between the Penguins and the Capitals.

Let's get to the whole Ovi vs. Sid thing out of the way. Whose better? Frankly, I am biased. I would rather have the dynamic, outgoing, energetic Ovechkin. He plays for a team I love too, so there are pluses there.

Crosby is good. There is no denying that. He is a creative playmaker and has the speed and skill to turn your lights out. The "kid" has good vision on the ice, is a fierce compitor and seems to feed off his teammates.

It is a team sport. The team with the better overall performance will win the series. Breaking down this series, you have to look past the Ovi vs. Sid rivalry and look at the facts going into this series. Offense is a good place to start.

These are two teams that live and die off of their offense. They both have strong forechecking abilities, plenty of talent and depth and both feed off of the goals they score. The Penguins bring some good talent to the table in the points department in Evgeni Malkin. The points winner for the season, Malkin has a uncanny ability to draw defenders in while dishing it to the open man. Combine that with Crosby's second place finish in points and you have a very potent offensive front.

The Penguins are not shy about getting pucks to the net and scoring goals. There biggest threat lies in their transition game where they can turn a play around on a dime and out man you before you even realize you even lost the puck. Neutral zone play will be key for both the Caps and Pens. Malkin lead the league in take aways with 94 and many of those lead directly to goals scored for the Penguins.

Since a big component from the Penguins moved cross conference, they have filled that hole with veteran leadership and some grit. Bill Guerin (who was rumored to be in a deal to come to Washington at the trade deadline) provides that leadership both on and off the ice. He is on Crosby's line and the pair soon struck up some chemistry together in the short time since Guerin's arrival.

Chris Kunitz brings the grit. A major contribitor for the Anaheim Ducks during their playoff run a couple of years back, Kunitz is a forechecker that doesn't mind mixing it up. He brings a lot of character to the line up along with Matt Cooke (former Cap). Kunitz is also a keen playmaker, using his forechecking and energy ability to create chances.

Don't for get other talent the Penguins possess up front. Jordan Staal uses his size to his advantage, a great defensive forward that has a nose for the net too. A definite threat on the penalty kill. Pascal Dupuis brings plenty of spark to his line too, a hard hitter with a scoring touch too.

The Caps need to contain Crosby's space in the neutral zone and protect the puck from Malkin. Turnovers will be deadly because of the Penguins' quick transition game. The Caps have to maintain good puck possesion while collapsing down on their goaltender when the Penguins start to sniff too close.

Don't lose hope though, the Pens only seem to make the Caps defense play better. Not to mention that the Penguins do get frustrated when a team aggressively forechecks them. As far as an advantage between the Caps and Penguins, I would have to call it a draw. Both can score, there is no doubt there.

More to come on the series. Next up, the Pens' defense.

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