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What Tumultuous Offseason?

August 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Julia Stumbaugh recently wrote an argument about the Penguins and their 2017 offseason changes. She correctly notes a rather minor offseason change for the Penguins of 2016 offseason when compared to the 2017 version. She lists a bunch of changes and notes the players that hurt the Penguins.

According to Julia, Fleury, Kunitz, Bonino, Daley, and Cullen hurt the Penguins. I am stuck with what she considers to be so damaging. Fleury, Kunitz, and Daley were instrumental for the injury plagued team while Cullen had a noticeable drop in skill the past two seasons. Even Bonino had a major drop. What is so glaringly wrong now that these players have moved on?

She states there is a significant loss in the veteran presence? First, this is an often overstated claim usually made by those who do not look deeply into what makes a team run. Veterans do add an element to a team, but after two Stanley Cup victories, I would say Sheary, Rust, and Dumoulin are veterans in some way or is it age based? She lists four current stars as the veteran presence, but this contradicts the idea of what a veteran is.  Is she trying to say that star players are veterans? If so, then the loss was truly insignificant. Fleury was the closest but he was relegated to more of a minor role this past season until the injury of Matt Murray. An assistant captain doesn’t mean the loss of a veteran. How long had Kunitz held this role? Don’t you think this is overplaying the assistant captain role for a guy that not only dropped in lines but also playing time?

Second, she mentions the high-quality backup goaltender. This is only an issue when your main goalie is injured. Just about any team in this league will suffer if their main goalie goes down. Why not include the scrubs or development players if you are going to include a backup? She is basing the future on the past. Anyone familiar with sports is well aware that the injury bug is not predictable

Julia concentrates on the point production for players lost but doesn’t dig deeper into other issues. She could have made a case about Bonino but doesn’t. Where she could strengthen her argument she ignores while plopping fluff to support her argument. She falls flat on her face with her article.

She doesn’t use the term leadership in her article. It is here where she could have mentioned Kunitz, Bonino, Cullen, and Fleury. But is leadership someone who is willing to give all as these players did? If so, then why include Malkin as he takes a backseat much of the time.  There is so much to dig into with this element.

The truth of the matter is that the players lost were becoming minor role playing partners on the team or were not in a position to push the team forward. Fleury was more of an aberration this past post season and the other players were more fortunate than skilled in helping the team. This isn’t to say their skill didn’t help, but my argument is there are other players out there that could have done the same thing. Kunitz’s series winning goal against Ottawa was not because he was a veteran. It was the fact he was in the right place at the right time and with a little luck, his end over end shot went in. This is similar to 2016 Stanley Cup Finals game two goal by Connor Sheary.

Julia does not know the Penguins players with much detail or she could have provided more information to support her weak argument. This is typical of most writers of any sport. They misguide the reader and claim they know what they’re talking about. The 2017-18 may suffer from weakened the 3rd and 4th lines, but their success is ultimately dependent upon the core players. The counter argument is that the 3rd and 4th line was getting progressively weaker anyway.

The team has gained veteran depth with younger players winning two cups. When you are playing 23 playoff games, you gain experience and doing it two years in a row provides much to build on. No, I don’t say Sheary, Rust, and Dumoulin are veterans, but they are on their way to being veterans. Who you cannot exclude are Hornqvist, Cole, Hagelin, and Kessel. Losing role players doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom. The Penguins lost periphery players that had to shine when injuries took their toll and some players were sadly overrated. Hey, I like Bonino, but his name to fame was the HBK line and a Punjabi goal chant. His 2016-17 season was mediocre at best, so what are the Penguins giving up? Cullen is another year slower. Daley was a minor role player for the team as injuries riddled his time with the team.

The Penguins will fight for the Stanley Cup next season and the team will have to battle improved opponents in order to win the Stanley Cup. If they do not win, it will be their opponents who earned the victory while the Penguins squandered their chances.

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Could Rick Tocchet’s departure cost the Penguins a third title in a row?

Could Rick Tocchet’s departure cost the Penguins a third title in a row? Few people think of an assistant coach as an important piece to a championship puzzle. Like any machine, every component plays a vital role and is never recognized until you are missing it. Think about the Jesus nut found on the UH-1 helicopter. What does Tocchet’s departure mean?

For starters, Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh blog notes another writer’s perspective on the relationship between Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan. Mark Madden, the author Hooks refers to, hints at a contentious relationship between Kessel and Sullivan as noted by this, “But Sullivan was often less than pleased with Kessel. Tocchet, however, served as a buffer and conduit between Sullivan and Kessel, and did his best to steer Kessel in the preferred direction. He also talked Sullivan off the ledge regarding Kessel.”

The next hint comes from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Okay, I do not think highly of Cook, but he’s in Pittsburgh and I am not. He in his article of July 11, 2017 says we shouldn’t be surprised if Kessel is traded. He connects this to chemistry concerns and Kessel’s contract. Cook sees Malkin as unhappy at playing alongside Kessel and Crosby has no chemistry with Kessel. There is his belief that management was unhappy with Kessel’s performance during the playoffs. There is one element that connects Madden’s article to Cook’s and that is Cook’s belief that Kessel drives Sullivan crazy.

How does Rick Tocchet play into this. The blog by Hooks Orpik basically states that Tocchet was the buffer between Sullivan and Kessel. In other words, Tocchet translated Sullivan’s frustration into a meaningful explanation for Kessel. Tocchet was the glue that kept the two together. How much of this is valid and how much of this is Kessel baggage?

Kessel’s time in Toronto gives us a clue, and there will be no references to elongated food items. Watching video of Leafs games with Kessel, you could see Kessel take games or shifts off that led to stupid opportunities and goals for the other teams. Coaches were frustrated in the level of play by Kessel. His work ethic was and continues to fall far behind of Sidney Crosby, but how many others suffer the same issue on this topic. Kessel’s defensive play is far from the level Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Roman Josi, and P.K. Subban.

I really haven’t seen others stating a major issue between Kessel and Sullivan, but that does not mean it isn’t there. The reality is that there is some Kessel baggage here but also a standard coach versus player issue. If you watched Penguins games, then you did see Tocchet with Kessel quite a bit on the bench. It is reasonable to believe that Sullivan is not satisfied with Kessel’s output and is pushing Kessel. Placing more shots on net is a valid request by any coach. How the request or any request is communicated becomes the issue. If Tocchet was the intermediary, then the communication between Kessel and Sullivan just got more difficult.

Since Tocchet worked with the forwards, he was closer to Kessel and could figure out how to communicate with Kessel while Sullivan managed the team and provided the strategy for playing. Losing Tocchet doesn’t indicate bad things to come because of Kessel. It is more likely that Tocchet’s tactical coaching will be replaced by another coach while Sullivan’s gameplan strategy remains unchanged. The new coach will be the intermediary between coach and player.

There are several ifs. If there is a relationship issue between coach and player, then Tocchet may have been a vital cog in the Penguin machine, and if the new assistant coach cannot succeed in this, and there is a frosty relationship between Kessel and Sullivan, then you have a Penguins team falling short of their third cup. If the Penguins are truly unhappy with the Kessel run during the playoffs, then you will see a trade much sooner than later, and we can conclude Tocchet never had such an important role as Mark Madden believes. For me, there is an element of truth for both scenarios. Kessel appears to be frustrating at times, and he didn’t lead the playoffs in goal scoring. He was only five behind Guentzel with his eight goals to young Jake’s 13.

July 1 Free Agency: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second time in two years. As the free agency loomed, it was wondered what pieces of the Penguins puzzle would remain. So far, four players are gone with one looking at retirement. How has this truly affected the Penguins?

Ron Hainsey. Ron was a valuable piece to the Penguins for the simple reason that the team was short on defensemen. It appeared as if he found a fountain of youth as the Penguins went deeper, but he was at times an anchor for the team. We just don’t see it as much as the limping defense struggled to perform. At 35, he was slow and needed time to adjust to his pairings. For a team in need of players, Hainsey did well and contributed to the team’s victory. With that said, he is an unimportant piece to the Penguins system. He is too old for the way the team plays, though if you are in a pinch, you would take him. The Penguins will not miss him.

Speaking of old, defensive players, there was Mark Streit who should call it quits. He would get three games in the playoffs but would never play a game in the Stanley Cup. Simply stated, he is too old. His value has diminished with age, and this past season shows it.

Christ Kunitz. Chris has been a valuable member of the Penguins for almost ten years. Fortunately for the Penguins, these were his best years. He benefited from being Crosby’s linemate, however, he didn’t really light it up other than his 35 goal season. I was advocating for the Penguins to be rid of him for the past several years as his value was not on the first line. His statistics show the past three years that he is beyond his prime and indeed beyond playing full-time in this league. Why Tampa signed him is beyond me. I get it, he was effective in some of the 20 playoff games he played in this year, but was it worth it when a better player could have taken his place. He really didn’t fit this team unless it was on the fourth line. There are younger, faster players to take his place plus Ryan Reaves looks to me as a tougher version of Kunitz which was a very expensive trade. Off topic, is the true Rutherford coming back?

Trevor Daley. This was a man I was see happy to arrive the year the Pens won their first cup. First, the Pens got rid of the snail in Rob Scuderi. This second time around showed how Scuderi was even slower that Streit. Another reason was the potential offensive capability of Daley even at 32. Defensively, he wasn’t the best, but he did compliment the Letang injury issues. We had offense when Letang is out. Sadly for the guy, he was knocked out of the playoffs in 2016 and spent nearly a third of the season injured. His 2016-17 season and playoffs was not as good as expected. He appeared slow at times and hesitant on decisions. The playoff output was disappointing. Overall, he underachieved in my eyes. This has left me wondering if he has peaked and is now ready for the decline. It could be that injuries have curtailed his talent this past season. Whatever the reason, the Penguins have Letang and Justin Shultz for the firepower from the defense. Somehow, I still think Olli Maata has the ability to provide offense and better defense. Losing Daley does nothing to hurt the Penguins.

Matt Cullen. Here was a guy that I dreaded when Rutherford signed him. I thought, “old guy with nothing to give but willing to take.” Okay, I was wrong. His proved valuable as a fourth liner with faceoffs and the occasional scoring. He was the energy of the fourth line and the most important piece of the fourth line. This past playoffs his age began to show as he appeared slow at times and worn out. At age 40, you would expect some of this. Faceoffs were his forte and this will be greatly missed. I see him as one of the better faceoff players on the team. I don’t know if you can maintain a spot for him if he should play one more season once he decides to do so in August. The Pens will miss his faceoffs, but that can be overcome.

Nick Bonino. This is the biggest prize as he is only 29. Penguins fans will likely remember him for three things: HBK line, blocking shots, and the Hockey Night Punjabi call. If his faceoffs are to be missed, then Matt Cullen will be greatly missed. His faceoffs are not great as he has been mostly under 50%. You can expect 15 goals from him during the season and mediocre faceoffs. In the playoffs, he is great on blocking shots and isn’t bad on the penalty kill. When you are in need of a third line center, I guess you could miss him, but how much? It would have been nice to retain him simply for the chemistry, but Nashville has greatly overpaid him. I really do not think the Penguins will miss this guy other than the Punjabi calls. You can likely replace Bonino with any young centerman and get similar results. If the Penguins can trade for Matt Duchene without breaking the bank, again (think Reaves), then people will ask, “Bonino who?” Nick Bonino isn’t a great third line center but of the players they lost, he hurts the most. The upside is the pain is more psychological than anything else.

Re-signing Justin Shultz was the biggest move in helping the Penguins to continue. Also important to the Penguins are Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin as they are young with growing potential. What they have lost are mostly aging players if not beyond their playing days then very close to them. The Penguins have unloaded slower, aging players, and this helps the team. What remains is the core team and that is what really won the past two Stanley Cups.

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row?

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row? I will go further and say it is possible that they could win four in a row. This does not mean that I am not aware of the difficulties with winning three let alone four. What I am aware of is the luck the Pittsburgh Penguins had over a decade ago.

When you at the Stanley Cup winners and their rosters of the past decade, only one team stands out and they are the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have without a doubt the two best players in the league for over a decade. Sorry Ovie, you were never one or two. As much as I like Jonathan Toews, he is not one of the five best players in the league. We hear Patrick Kane, Carey Price, and Erik Karlsson but they have their limitations. Kane cannot take over games like Malkin can, though, I am sure Blackhawks fans would disagree.

For most of Crosby and Malkin’s career, teams had to deal with two lines. Only Penguins poor coaching hurt these two, not to mention David Steckel’s hit to Crosby’s head that took him out for over a year. Talk about poor officiating. I guess Victor Hedman had a part in it, too. Correcting the coaching situation after six seasons, the Penguins appeared to play as a team people expected to see when Bylsma was coaching. The point is the Penguins have two of the best offensive players playing on their team.

When you look at the past Stanley Cup winners, they simply do not have two. Chicago has Patrick Kane. What did Los Angeles and Boston have? Detroit only won the Cup because of a very young and inexperienced Penguins team. The Wings were a veteran team that ran circles around the young whippersnappers. Of the teams that lost in the finals, there are no outstanding players. Joe Thornton is on the downside, Henrik Lundqvist is also at the tail end of his career. In fact, goalies are limited in the fact they are a defense only even though Pekka Rinne may want to argue that.

If we look at the Leafs or Oilers, they have a player each that will be the next great players. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are only one player on their team. After these two, most people will find it difficult to name another star player let alone another player at all. Patrick Kane is all alone on the Hawks. Ovie has shown that having good talent around you doesn’t win cups. Having a great offensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson hasn’t won Ottawa the cup. Carey Price of Montreal is only one man. No, there is no team with two great players on their roster.

The Penguins have the fortune to have two great players to build around and have done so with their three Stanley Cup victories. These two players make it difficult for teams to play against and with the support they now have, there is no reason why they couldn’t win two additional cups before they retire. The Penguins won back to back cups because of two players and their supporting cast. Though possible, it doesn’t look like any other team is in a position to win two in a row without having two great players. Winning a third and possibly a fourth remains the reality for the Penguins alone.

Supporting this idea of four in a row is the goaltending. The Penguins have it in Matt Murray. With Kessel, Guentzel, and the additional young cast members the supporting offensive strength is there to help push the Penguins further. The Penguins could have two or three offensive line. The checking role is supported by youth and experience. There is no worry here. The defense has been the main weakness as stated by the media and anyone with a mouth or ability to construct sentences. Somehow the Penguins won two cups with this defense. The key here is goaltending. The defense doesn’t have to be great, just good enough and this is what the Penguins have. Injuries have shown the Penguins to have depth, and this depth is created by the leadership of the veterans and coaches.

Finally, I believe Mike Sullivan to be a better coach than Bylsma and many of the opposing coaches he faced in the playoffs. Jacques Martin is an undervalued coach who has helped Mike Sullivan. In fact, maybe he is why the Penguins do not need a great defense. Then there Rick Tocchet is another issue for me, however, I have heard positives about him such as helping Phil Kessel. The fact remains that the coaching staff is stable and a very important reason to why the Penguins have won two cups in a row.

What makes the Penguins special are Crosby and Malkin. Other teams have the same or similar attributes the Penguins have but do not have these two players. Having one of these players may get you a cup win or maybe two in three years, but it will not give you the possibility of winning three or four Stanley Cups in a row. Penguins fan or not, it would be great to see a dynasty once more.

Is Jake Guentzel Good?

Tied for the most points by a rookie in postseason scoring. Led the playoffs with 13 goals. Won a Stanley Cup. Was fourth in playoff scoring with 21 points with only Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel ahead of him. Is Jake Guentzel the next superstar in ice hockey?

Statistically speaking, Jake had 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games for his first year. Combine this with his 25 playoff games and Jake played 65 games, scored 29 goals for a total of 54 points. In an 82 game season, he would have scored 37 goals and have 68 points. The 37 goals are close to Sid’s 39 goals and beats Malkin’s 33 goals as rookies. The guy Jake reminds me of the most, Patrick Kane, scored 21 goals in 82 games and had another 9 goals in 16 games during his rookie year. These two are close, but does this indicate stardom for young Jake Guentzel?

I would say the new rating systems of hockey analytics would bear out that Guentzel is a good players. Compared to Crosby and Malkin, Jake comes close to their analytics numbers. If you look at the postseason metrics, Jake’s CF% (Corsi for % in all situations) is 5 below Sid and 1.8 below Malkin. The relative Corse is worse for Jake, and the same positioning and range is similar when looking at Fenwick. His metrics match that of Phil Kessel more so than that of Crosby or Malkin. What about Patrick Kane, the player I say Jake resembles? Jake’s stats are actually better than Kane’s and Jonathan Toews for that matter.

Even though this is a very shallow study of Jake Guentzel, I believe this indicates his future potential. His 40 regular season games and 25 playoff games provide a good first year set of data to analyze young Jake, and the stats indicate a very good player was found by the Penguins organization. His AHL stint shows that Jake’s performance at the NHL level isn’t a fluke. During the 2016 AHL playoffs, Jake scored 5 goals and 9 assists in 10 games. He was tied for the team lead in goals and led the team in points during the playoffs. During the 2016-17 AHL season, Jake had 21 goals and 42 points in 33 games. He finished 12 points and 3 goals behind Tom Kostopoulous who played 74 games that season.

I conclude that Jake Guentzel is a good hockey player and the statistics show this. In fact, I imagine he will continue to get better. I do not expect him to be a Crosby or even a McDavid level of elite player, but Jake is good enough to be feared like all good offensive hockey players.

Goal or No Goal

Understanding the NHL and the rules is an important element to understanding how a game is played. However, this knowledge doesn’t always provide an answer to why a decision on ice by the Referee is made. The lack of understanding the rules and interactions between players and Referees can lead fans to angst and the wrong conclusions. Game six of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals had two incidents related to a goal and no goal that need better comprehension.

If you watch the videos of NHL Referees or players mic’d up, you begin to see the relationship between the two groups and how a game will be called. The Referee notifies the players how they will call the game and even tell the goalies their intent. There are discussions between the two groups of why the Referee made or did not make the call. It is clear the Referees are trying to not influence the game but will try to take care of the goalie, “We’re gonna protect ya.” That is a statement from the 2016 playoffs between Pittsburgh and Washington. Referee Jean Hebert, I believe, makes this statement to Braden Holtby during game three. This entails quick whistles and penalties if needed.

Refereeing is not only an objective job but also a subjective one. All fans can recall a moment of where the Referee did not call an obvious penalty during a game or called a “ticky-tacky” penalty. These are subjective and is easily understood when you listen to the Referees interact with the players. Their intent is to let the players play without interfering. There is an intent to call a game evenly and even if the Referees do not admit to make things even, there appears to be attempts by Referees to correct a bad call with another bad call. This is where we see penalties that sometimes do not make sense in the scheme of how the game is being officiated.

There are downsides to allowing these players play. Skilled teams are hampered by lesser skilled or even defensively minded teams as infractions are ignored in the attempt to allow teams play. If we look at the 2017 Stanley Cup games we see the uneven calling not only during a game but between games. If we look at one of the earlier games, Conor Sheary is crosschecked multiple times before a penalty is called. P.K. Subban hits Sidney Crosby in the head a few times without a penalty called. This isn’t a one-way issue as the Penguins were guilty of similar infractions such as game five’s event where Crosby was gently dribbling Subban’s head on the ice. It can be agreed upon that there are plenty of no calls and bad calls where no single event is truly the major event we like to make it out to be.

The first of Game Six’s issues was the no goal by Colton Sissons. Forsberg shoots the puck from Murray’s right. Murray initially stops the puck and from Referee Pollock’s position this looks like a save as he cannot see anything on the left of Murray. There is about a second before the whistle is blown. Before the whistle and unbeknownst to Pollock, the puck is on edge and rolling away from Murray across the crease about a foot away before the whistle is blown. It is roughly less than a second before Colton Sissons dives and knocks the puck into the net. There are two issues with this play. The first is the whistle and the second is the goal. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkYZJPJqI4U)

Per Rule 38.4, this was a good no goal call. Paraphrasing this part of the rule, “”The video review process shall be permitted to assist the Referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals. This would also include situations whereby the Referee stops play or is in the process of stopping the play because he has lost sight of the puck and it is subsequently determined by video review that the puck crosses the goal line and enters the net as the culmination of a continuous play where the result was unaffected by the whistle” we see that Pollock’s call could be overturned, but in this case, the puck was not moving into the net prior to the whistle and Sissons made contact with the puck and knocked it into the net after the whistle was blown. This was no longer a continuous play. The Referees made the correct call based on the rules.

The next issue is the quick whistle. This is the subjective part of the game where the Referee made an assumption and likely for the protection of the goalie. Keep in mind the conversation between Holtby and Hebert or even look at other instances of the keeper getting the puck and in the attempt to pass it to a teammate the whistle is blown. This is simply part of the game. We either like the call or hate it based on whose team it affects. Now we can argue did some of the penalties called against the Penguins and not called against the Predators later on was an attempt to fix things or make someone happy. That is a personal decision as the Referees aren’t likely to state their intent.

The second issue was Patric Hornqvist’s winning goal. There were some fluff commentators and fluff sports writers stating it was goal tender interference. Honestly, I don’t believe most if not all of these people actually understand hockey, but that is my opinion. In this case, Justin Schultz shoots the puck wide and to the left of goalie Pekka Rinne. It hits the boards behind the net and only Hornqvist reacts to the rebound. Rinne is next to react as he drifts to his left partly outside his crease where he is converging with Hornqvist’s attempt to retrieve the puck. Hornqvist is trying to skate around the moving Rinne but cannot avoid Rinne as Rinne lifts his left leg in a kicking motion to impede Hornqvist. Hornqvist hits the puck out of the air against Rinne’s elbow or glove and the puck enters the net. A goal. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tENiCpaIk9A)

People and one Canadian mouthpiece I am specifically thinking of believes this is goalkeeper interference. He apparently ignores Rinne’s kicking motion. Predator coach Peter Laviolette asks for a coach’s challenge. Good decision as anything can happen. What do the rules state? Paraphrasing Rule 78, “Protection of Goalkeeper

(b) If an attacking player initiates any contact, other than incidental contact, with the goalkeeper, while the goalkeeper is outside of his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

(NOTE 1) In exercising his judgment under subsections (a) and (b) above, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.

  1. In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and offensive player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”

It is clear that this was incidental contact on Hornqvist’s part as he was outside the crease and Rinne was impeding Hornqvist while Hornqvist was not initiating contact. This was also a rebound of sorts and Hornqvist was attempting to play the puck while Rinne was hoping for a miracle, I guess.

 

As difficult as it is for Nashville Predator fans to digest and Penguins haters to accept, these two events were valid in every way. Yes, Pollock’s whistle appears to be a quick whistle, but that is subjective to the fans. There are plenty of instances during the NHL season and playoffs where a quick whistle was blown when the puck was secured in the goalies glove or appeared to be frozen by the goalie. This doesn’t make it easy for an impassioned fan to accept without pain, but this is the reality of sports. I am sure there are plenty of fans for Edmonton that would wish for a quick whistle or a call for interference. There truly are bad calls or ignored calls, but this happens to every teams in all games. As fans, we should be allowed to be upset but also recognize that it is part of the game.

Why did the Washington Capitals fail in game seven?

Why did the Washington Capitals fail in game seven? There are plenty of reasons to diagram and explain from blown plays, poor decisions, inaccurate shots, and game planning to name some of the reasons. The loss has another aspect that can be traced back to game one, and this is where I will show one element of failure.

The Washington Capitals were designed around Alexander Ovechkin with the goal of defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defeating the Pens would guarantee the defeat of the Blackhawks as well as the Bruins, Rangers, and even the Lightning. It was the Penguins that was on the minds of management. The team the Caps built was ready to defeat 2012, 2013, and the 2014 teams. What they didn’t recognize was the Penguins changed with Coach Sullivan. In the off-season, the made adjustments to deal with the Pens. Round two, the true conference final happened.

Expecting to deal with the injury-depleted Penguins, the Capitals entered game one with confidence and a secret; Ovie was likely injured and not at 100%. Outplaying the Penguins in game one and two, one would think the home advantage would guarantee victory, however, the Penguins won. Psychologically, this was destructive to the favored team as they lost even though they outplayed their opponent. For management, a 1-8 record was looming in their mind.

Game three began with a gift from Matt Niskanen as he knocked Sidney Crosby out of two games. This third game began as a gift and victory when the Caps grabbed a 2-0 lead late into the third period. Their positive outlook was quickly crushed in the last two minutes of the game as the Penguins tied the Capitals and sent the game into overtime. A costly mistake by Trevor Daley gave the Capitals the win as he was penalized for holding and Shattenkirk capitalized on it. This was a false victory as the Caps were lucky to come away with a win even as they dominated the Pens at times. It was a victory without Crosby and Sheary. It would have served the Capitals had the overtime extended into a second overtime.

After three games, the Capitals mental state was fragile at best. They had lost two games at home and barely beat the Pens in game 3. Game four would haunt the psyche of the Caps as they lost to a Crosby-less Pens squad. Game 4 should have been a complete Capitals victory, but they fell short as they lost 3-2. This game had damaged the confidence of the Caps, and they really never recovered. The Penguins, on the other hand, had a confidence as seen by Kunitz and his response coming off of the ice after game 4.

After game 4, the Penguins were confident they didn’t have to put much effort into winning. They had been living off of Fleury and their opportunities. For the Caps, they were uneasy and lacked a confidence as evidenced by a players-only meeting during the series. A players-only meeting never bodes well for a team. Their “nothing to lose” attitude had little effect until late in game 5. There were issues and going into game 5, the Caps for two periods displayed their discomfort even though the pushed the Penguins.

The third period of game 5 changed when the Penguins, reliant on minimal effort, surrendered three goals in the third and lost to the Caps 4-2. For once, the Capitals with “nothing to lose” began to gain confidence, but this was a false confidence. Nevertheless, the Caps were going to Pittsburgh with the attitude that they go only go up.

Game 6 was a blowout and the Penguins provided a flat opponent to boost the Capitals confidence. What should have solidified a team did little to boost them. It is at this point the exhaustion and injuries began to take its toll on the Caps. Ovie was getting worse as the series continued, and the Pens really hadn’t rolled over. The Caps needed a big start in game 7 while the Pens needed to reflect on why they had blown two potential series-ending games. As evidenced by Pens defenseman, Ian Cole stated, “ I think it leads to a lot of excitement knowing that, hey, we’re getting the job done and we’re not even playing our best hockey. We have a lot more ahead of us. We can put together a way better team game.”

Game 7 had two issues at hand. The leadership of the Penguins needed to get their team in gear and want the game while Capitals needed to seize the game and not hold back. What happened was the worst cast scenario for the Caps. The Caps appeared to expect a more passive and beaten Penguins team, but this was not the case. All that was needed was a goal by the Caps and they could solidify their confidence and get the Pens off of their game. It was at this point that two events that solidified the defeat of the Capitals. The first was Fleury’s strong play in the first period thus preventing any scoring by the Capitals. The second was not just Rust’s goal in the second but the Penguins carrying a 1-0 lead into the third. These two crushed what desire there was within the Capital psyche. This is seen with the Capitals play in the third period. Their energy was spent and desire to win gone while the Penguins grew stronger in their play. Their second goal of the game ended for all.

The goal indicated to the Capitals players that the first four games were no fluke but games 5 and 6 were. This psychological effect contributed to mistakes and reduced effort. The lack of leadership, another factor, could not overcome the feeling of defeatism. Injuries have a drastic affect on a player’s desire to continue to play while taking punishment. An injury to Ovie may have reduced his desire to go the extra mile. Other players may have felt some type of physical pain that prevented the necessary effort needed, thus, contributing to the psychological effect.

This doesn’t provide a complete analysis of the Capitals’ defeat. This is only one factor that contributed to their defeat. Mistakes, skill, and even exhaustion play a part in a team’s defeat. Factor in the opponent and you have a complex reason for the defeat of the Capitals. It is far less likely that it was Ovechkin’s fault or Trotz’s gameplan or even the GM’s design of the team. There are plenty of components to cause a team’s downfall, but blaming it on one particular reason is the wrong analysis.