The Penguins are a better hockey team than the Washington Capitals. One look at each team's roster will confirm that.
The Penguins have Derick Brassard centering their third line alongside Mr. Elimination game (Bryan Rust) and Conner Sheary. Carl Hagelin/Evgeni Malkin/Phil Kessel is good enough to be the top line of most teams throughout the NHL. I haven't even mentioned Sidney Crosby between Jake Guentzel-Gretzky-Lemieux and Patric Hornqvist. That's an embarrassment of riches.
The Capitals have a great top-six with Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov on line 1 and T.J. Oshie and Nick Backstrom on line 2. The mismatch in the bottom six, though, is where the Penguins should be able to win this series.
Here's the problem: Without Malkin and Hagelin, the Penguins effectively don't have a second line as good as Washington's. Pittsburgh's depth becomes non-existent.
Prior to the series, with all things being equal on the injury front, I said that I would take the Penguins in 6 games. If Malkin comes back for game two (he skated this morning) then I can see the Penguins winning the series. If not, advantage Caps.
Pressure off the Caps?
There's been a lot of talk from national folks about the "pressure" being off the Capitals this season. Perhaps the hockey world isn't giving Washington much of a chance to make a run at the Cup this year and because of that the external pressure isn't as great as it has been.
Internally, though, I would imagine the expectations are as high as ever. Ovechkin has still never been out of the second round of the playoffs, and Barry Trotz is a lame duck head coach.
Because of that, I think it would be huge if the Pens could steal one of the first two games of the series in Washington. Turn the pressure up on the Capitals and hope that the weight of their own expectations would cause them to hit the panic button.
What have they learned?
The other narrative that I've seen tossed around is that the Capitals have "learned from past mistakes" and their comeback against Columbus proves that. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Washington come back from a series deficit against Toronto last year?
The Caps haven't learned anything. In order to lose in the second round, you have to win in the first round. Ovechkin's Capitals have done that in 8 of 11 tries. It doesn't look to me like they've learned anything.
Until proven otherwise, it looks like more of the same.
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