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Penguins Sweep Capitals, Stempniak Laying A Claim On Top Line RW Spot

March 12, 2014, 10:28 AM ET [66 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
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The Pittsburgh Penguins completed the home and home sweep of the Washington Capitals and game 2 was a much better showing than game 1.

The Penguins controlled the flow for the meat of the game and only towards the end did they start to sit back.

One of the bigger positives that I took from this game was the play of Lee Stempniak. Stempniak was visible in a positive way playing with Crosby and Kunitz. I think it is fair to say that Stempniak has improved with each game he has played with the Penguins. Stempniak looks to be a good fit with the Crosby line because he is a simplistic player who can execute the basic plays that frees up a guy like Crosby. He also has decent enough puck skill to make some plays happen on his own (evident when he walked the d man and then batted puck out of the air a few moments later).

It doesn’t always have to be aesthetically pleasing and it doesn’t always have to be the biggest hit ever, it just needs to be effective. Case and point, Stempniak won the board battle at his defensive blue line that sprung Sidney Crosby to his game clinching goal.

Sidney Crosby passed up shooting the puck during an early game 2 on 1, the play was broken up. He did not make that mistake again, nor should he. He is a damn good finisher from that area of the ice in his own right. Fire that puck Sid.

Stempniak also provided great back pressure on the offensive forecheck and was able to pick pocket the puck and keep zone time alive on a few occasions. Hounding the puck and playing with speed is the perfect style when playing with 87.

The Crosby line finally looked like the Crosby line again and Stempniak deserves credit for that.

Can Stempniak continue to play at the level he did last night? I don’t know, but I do think he deserves the opportunity. Nothing Stempniak did was fancy, it was just hard work and I do think there is a good chance that is sustainable. Don’t underestimate the fact that a lot of Stempniak’s teams in the past have not been very good. Being on the Penguins right now is probably a breath of fresh air and just what he needed to get going again.

Something I have been monitoring down in WB/S has been the fact that Jayson Megna has been playing a lot of left wing lately. Could they be giving him reps at that position in preparation for him to play that side with the big club?

Penguins 3rd line could consist of Megna on the left side with Sutter and Bennett. That is a lot better than what it has looked like all year.

Who knows, Stempniak could be this year’s Jussi Jokinen trade. Under the radar, but carries the biggest impact for the Pens.

Marc Andre Fleury was the #1 star of the game and that was well deserved. He made some spectacular highlight reel saves but he also was on his angle all night and was not unnecessarily scrambly. Here is his best save of the night, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good:

One of Fleury’s best contributions this year has been on the penalty kill

Brooks Orpik has played better the past two games and he usually rises to the occasion when Alex Ovechkin is on the other team. That is nice to see but he will have to show some consistency in his play. This hasn’t been his best season and 2 games aren’t going to be a fix all.

Orpik is getting a lot of credit for shutting Ovechkin down but I don’t think his partner Olli Maatta is getting enough of that credit. Here is a shift chart for the 1st half of the game last night that shows that Maatta was sharing that responsibility with Orpik. Don’t underestimate the positive impact that Maatta is having on Orpik. He is doing his best Paul Martin impression. Maatta is a stabilizing force for his defense partners at the ripe old age of 19. The legend of Maatta continues to grow.

Alex Ovechkin finishes the year against the Penguins with 4 games played, 14 shots, and 1 goal. The Penguins won all 4 games.

With the Capitals losing again their playoff hopes take another hit. They have played an Eastern Conference most 67 games and now trail the last wild card spot by 3 points.

This weekend just might be a potential 1st round playoff matchup, buckle up!

Marcel Goc is quietly going about his business and he is doing a fine job as well

There is no other way to put it, great job Goc. In the words of Dan Potash “That’s Goc’s work”.

Simon Despres has been playing and overall I think he has done OK with the minutes that he has received. His biggest flaw to this point is that he takes too many minor penalties. Specifically interference penalties when the opposing forward chips it by him and tries to go around. Last night’s penalty was a little borderline as Despres did not engage, but he also didn’t make any effort whatsoever to move. Sometimes you’ll get away with that, sometimes you won’t. The key for Despres moving forward is to get out of that gray area.

The template for him should be the Detroit Red Wings. During the Stanley Cup Final runs in 2008 and 2009 Detroit put on a clinic of passive interference. They were masters at getting in the way of Penguin forecheckers without making contact. What Despres needs to do is turn his hips and give off the impression he is going back for the puck without actually doing so. He can stay exactly in the same lane which will block the forechecker, but it won’t look nearly as bad as when he was square to the forechecker last night. Despres just needs to take a few hard strides back to the puck to make sure no body contact is made and he is gold.

These are little things a young defenseman will have to learn as time goes on. When skills like that are mastered teams become very frustrating to play against. Those Red Wings teams were a pain in the ass to play against, they mastered the art of subtle interference.

Simon Despres did make a terrific play breaking up a potential passing play involving Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals had a nice controlled zone entry and they were setting up the play to get the puck over to Ovechkin with speed but Despres stayed in perfect position and got stick on puck to break the play up. Anytime you can keep the puck off Ovechkin's stick when he has speed in the offensive zone you just might have saved a potential goal.

Taylor Pyatt gonna Taylor Pyatt.

Penguins dodged a serious bullet when Chris Kunitz almost Steven Stamkos'ed himself into the post. Kunitz looked shaken up but the battle tank returned to the game and he should be OK moving forward. Exhale Pittsburgh.

The Penguins are off until Saturday when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers in another home and home series, should make for some great theater.

Thanks for reading!

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