Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second period goal against Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on May 3, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
If Washington is to come back and eliminate the Penguins in their second-round series, it will have to be done on talent alone.
Because the Capitals are the dumbest good hockey team I’ve ever seen.
A parade of lame offensive-zone penalties killed the Capitals in Game 4 Wednesday. John Carlson’s roughing call led to Justin Schultz netting the Penguins’ game-winning goal on the power play. T.J. Oshie’s high stick with a bit less than two minutes left sealed the Capitals’ fate. Alex Ovechkin was twice sent to the box, perhaps by way of somehow getting on the scoresheet.
Witnessing such stupidity, you can ascertain why the Capitals have never progressed past the second round in the Ovechkin era. Whatever it is the Capitals never had, they still haven’t got.
Imagine being the Capitals’ Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup champ elsewhere who was playoff MVP in 2014. Williams knows what it takes, but looks around and sees teammates being reckless, taking bad penalties and underachieving – again – with the money on the table.
I don’t know what Williams is thinking, but I bet it includes the word “imbeciles.”
Assuming Sidney Crosby is out for the rest of the series – and anybody’s guess is just that, a guess, despite Crosby skating – the Capitals can’t be counted out. The Penguins are missing a lot of what makes them great.
But so are the Capitals.
They’re missing a productive Ovechkin: Just one goal in this series, and only two shots on goal Wednesday. The Capitals’ power play was 0 for 4, and that failure must be visited upon Ovechkin.
They’re missing what goalie Braden Holtby delivers in the regular season. In the playoffs, Holtby makes every save except the one he has to.
They’re without a coach who has answers. The reckless play cited reflects directly on Barry Trotz, who has never made it past the second round of the playoffs in nine previous chances. Like coach, like team.
Will the Capitals find the plot?
If so, they had better hurry.
Because of their injuries, I can’t assume that the Penguins win the series. They are minus hockey’s top player, their best defenseman and their No. 1 goalie. (Marc-Andre Fleury’s stellar play makes it easy to forget Matt Murray is out.)
But the Penguins are focused, and not rattled in the least despite such prominent absences. That reflects directly on their coach, Mike Sullivan.
The Penguins acted wisely Wednesday by not retaliating against Matt Niskanen on behalf of Crosby. Some teams operate well in chaos. The Penguins are not one of them.
An elimination of Washington would be the Penguins’ best revenge.
The Capitals would likely get blown up. Trotz might be fired. Prominent players might be traded. Free agents might depart. Washington might no longer be a preferred destination for other team’s free agents.
And if Capitals ownership does none of the above, it suggests the franchise is resigned to being second fiddle to the Penguins. Keep hanging those Presidents’ Trophy banners, then keep hanging yourself come springtime.
Deleting the Capitals – especially without Crosby, Letang and Murray – would scar that franchise.
A punch to the jaw is just a punch to the jaw. Given the circumstances, knocking out the Capitals would be hockey Armageddon.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).