Published on February 8th, 2013 | by James Conley0
Penguins Power Play Strikes to Beat Capitals 5-2
It was one of the knocks on Dan Bylsma’s Pittsburgh Penguins—can’t adjust on the fly. Wouldn’t adjust. Either way. A perceived stubborn devotion to the systems and plays Bylsma is fond of is one of the favorite culprits of any Penguins loss, perhaps never moreso than after the 4-2 series loss to Philadelphia last Spring.
Thursday, the Penguins adjusted their game plan, or perhaps just their effort, after a listless first period against the Washington Capitals. A five-goal second period staked them to their fifth straight win.
The victory moves Pittsburgh back ahead of Boston for the Eastern Conference lead, while the Capitals continue to dig their early-season hole at 2-8-1, with three fewer standings points than any team in hockey.
Since returning to the formation that gave them one of the most successful man-advantage units a season ago, the Penguins power play has rounded back into form. Pittsburgh struck three times on four chances in the game, bringing their power play back from the brink of meltdown to the third-best percentage in hockey (29.3 percent). The unit has struck seven times in 19 chances on the winning streak (37 percent) after being blanked in its previous three contests.
Even without Kris Letang, the unit found success. Sidney Crosby got two of his three points on the power play, while all three of Malkin’s points on the night (G, 2A) came on the man-advantage.
It’s worth noting that Malkin is sixth in the NHL with 15 points. Eight of of his 15 (2G, 6A) have come on the man-advantage, while linemate James Neal (who led hockey with 18 PPG in 2011-12) is similarly stats-heavy on the man-advantage—4 of his 6 goals and 6 of his 9 points have come on the power play.
Pittsburgh’s win streak has now seen them outscore their opponents 23-8, with just one game in which the Penguins surrendered more than two goals (a 6-3 win in Washington last Sunday).
The 23 goals scored are to be expected. A team goals-against average of 1.6 goals per game is the real story, as Pittsburgh struggled to stop mediocre but fast teams from tearing them apart in much the same way the Flyers did last Spring.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s record moves to 5-2-0 following the win, with his individual numbers creeping up (2.37 / .909) to where they should be.
The Capitals have fallen off the planet. Their 2-8-1 start is by far the worst in hockey, and the worst they’ve endured since the 2005-06 season. Rookie head coach Adam Oates has his hands full with a club that’s laden with talent but can’t seem to put everything together.
For their struggles, the Capitals aren’t as bad as their record, or even Thursday’s awful loss, would suggest. They still have a talented roster in place. They have individual playoff experience, talent at all positions and have returned most of the roster that came within a game of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago.
What they didn’t have was a proper training camp to let Oates install his new systems as he would have in any regular year, and the condensed schedule—fewer practices, more games—means that what could have been a rocky start to the year has turned nuclear.
Given a proper schedule, it’s not hard to see this team turning their ship around mid-season, much like the Flyers did in 2010. Philadelphia was 15th in the Eastern Conference in December 2009 when they fired John Stevens and brought in Peter Laviolette. The switch took them from 15th in the conference to game six of the Stanley Cup Finals, due in no small part to the fact that they had time to let the new coach turn things around.
At 2-8-1, the Capitals have already played nearly one-quarter of their season. They’re still only five points removed from a playoff berth, but the teams ahead of them in the non-playoff part of the standings include the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers—playoff clubs a season ago.
Given the shortened season, they seem much more likely to do what the New Jersey Devils did in 2011—start off mud, and make a mad dash to ninth place by season’s end.