NHL Round Two Playoffs Preview: Pittsburgh vs. Washington

PenguinsCaptialsHockey-d129eFor Game 2, what the superstars of the Pittsburgh Penguins will need to do is step it up. Evgeni Malkin and more importantly Sidney Crosby will have to score more points if they want their team to win in this playoff series.

Crosby so far has been ineffective offensively and a minus 3 on the ice, which means he was on the ice for three Washington Capitals goals on Thursday night in their 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1. Him and his linemates were shut down by the Capitals’ top trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. If the Pens want to stay in this series, Crosby can’t let that happen again in Game 2 on Saturday night. It won’t be easy since they’ll be on the road.

“You don’t like being on for goals, definitely not,” Crosby said Friday to media. “I don’t think we need to change a thing. We need to make sure we’re paying attention to the right things and not giving them easy things, but they’re a good line and they’re going to get chances. We’ve got to get ours too.”

Playing insanely offensive hockey, and matching fire with fire actually turned out to be a great plan for Washington, as Oshie was to get a hat trick in the series opener. They played well on defense too at the other end of the ice. Backstrom was tough on the blueline and locked down the ice, shoring up the defense, he shadowed Crosby the way Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg used to, and he did it with great success.

Crosby was the league’s third-leading scorer in the regular season, and will probably come to life offensively after he adjusts his game a bit. This bounce back can be timed effectively alongside linemates Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist to get the scoring touch they need to beat a team like the Capitals. Expect nothing less than a hard shitting high speed game since Caps coach Barry Trotz hasn’t lowered his expectations for Backstrom and Co.

“Try to outplay them every game,” Trotz said. “Sid’s a proud (guy). His line was proud. I know Patric Hornqvist very well. They’ll respond as true pros.”

Stopping Crosby isn’t a job that given to one- or even to a three-man line, it’s given to the whole team. The Caps know how to stop him and it will be up to every Capitals player on the ice to be aware of where Crosby is and limit the room he has to play and shoot, according to Brooks Orpik.

The Caps also can’t forget about him just because he had one tough game where he underperformed.

“Every time people write him off or doubt him, he finds a way to prove people wrong,” Orpik said. “Just like this year when he had a slower start and then … he finished third in the league in scoring. It’s one of those guys that you key on, but he always finds ways to make adjustments.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan might want to move Crosby around a bit to get him better matchups. Putting him on a lineup with Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and other offensive weapons might help. Another offensive weapon, Chris Kunitz will be questionable after getting hit in the face with a puck on the bench.

But even with or without Kunitz, the Penguins will have to continue to put their faith in Crosby to produce offensively. He is the star and in the playoffs he has to shine. The good things is the Pens’ captain is not scared by any single matchup.

“We think Sid can play against anybody,” Sullivan said. “I think he really takes pride in it. We think he’s an elite player. He plays at both ends of the rink. He’s got a complete game.”

If Crosby truly does have a complete game then he’ll needs to show it for the Penguins to even the series on Saturday night, and Crosby has rarely let us down so count on him to do it.

Our Pick: Pens over Caps, 3-2