Penguins' journey for elusive 'On switch'

geno.jpgOne of my biggest sports writing pet peeves – even if I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve most likely fallen into that habit before, and probably will again – is leaning on convenient, flimsy psychological factors to explain a team’s struggles.

Joe Thornton’s teams lose in the playoffs because he cannot handle the pressure … just look at that time he didn’t score any points against Montreal! (Sure, he was injured but let’s face it folks, he didn’t care.) Young Team of the Moment faltered in the playoffs because they didn’t have enough “experience,” not the fact that they’re facing a more talented, higher-seeded team. One of my favorite stereotypes has to be the fabled “Team thinks it can just find the on switch,” an argument usually trotted out when a seemingly talented team plays a series of flat games or struggles in the regular season.

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reached for the light switch argument when discussing the thoroughly unacceptable fact that the Penguins generated an 0-fer against the Devils – and worse yet – the Washington Capitals. (Then again, the “on switch” material isn’t even the most ridiculous thing in the column. Collier used the phrase “twitch slapped” in the column. Yes, “twitch slapped.” Ain’t that a twitch.)

Instead of advancing  the point of the Penguins’ “indifference” why not lean on something a little more tangible like, say, fatigue? Only the Detroit Red Wings can relate to Pittsburgh’s last three years, with the Penguins (by my count) playing a staggering 287 games between these past 3 campaigns plus two maximum playoff runs – not to mention the Olympics. The main reason why this line of thought makes more sense to me is simple: by spending big bucks on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and other young players, they’ve had to skimp on depth more and more every year. Malkin, in particular, has shown what seems like telltale signs of wear-down – going from 82 games played and 113 points in 08-09 to 64 games played and 72 points so far this season.

Just look at the team’s inner-conference tormentors. The Capitals might be known for their star players, but they also have less-regarded depth players like Mike Knuble to carry the load. The Devils were able to add Ilya Kovalchuk to an already playoff quality team. These teams have had the salary cap flexibility to bolster their lineups while (with all due respect to Jordan Leopold, Mike Rupp and Alex Ponikarovsky) the Penguins have not.

Ultimately, you could chock up a team’s shortcomings to plenty of problems. But could it be that the Penguins are too tired or – hockey gods forbid – just not good enough? Or maybe we should just buy the team a set of powerful flashlights?

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    Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

    (Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

    The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

    It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

    Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

    Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

    The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

    Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

    Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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    Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

    Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

    That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

    Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

    Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you. stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

    Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

    Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.

    Ovechkin vs. Crosby shifts into high gear, Carlson clobbers Malkin

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    You have to love when sports deliver on – if not exceed – the hype.

    The second period of Game 1 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals has been brilliant and nasty, possibly more than many hockey fans dreamed.

    It began with the Penguins getting the big edge; Sidney Crosby scored two goals in the span of 52 seconds and Braden Holtby needed to make some tough stops to keep it at 2-0.

    MORE: Video of Crosby’s hot start

    That put a damper on the great crowd at the Verizon Center for a bit, but the Capitals ended up responding.

    Part of that was a physical response, with Dmitry Orlov delivering a big hit on Tom Kuhnhackl and John Carlson absolutely leveling Evgeni Malkin. The narrative got almost too obvious moments later, as Alex Ovechkin fired a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 2-1.

    Fleury made a tough stop or two of his own once it was 2-1, so while the pace is picking up, the two goalies seem like they’re alert to the challenge as well.

    There was plenty of nastiness with 18.9 seconds remaining in the second, setting the stage for what could be a thrilling third period … and maybe more?

    Buckle up.

    Video: Crosby scores two goals in 52 seconds vs. Capitals

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    Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins came roaring out of the gate to start the second period after a 0-0 opening frame against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

    Crosby scored two goals in just 52 seconds to give the Penguins a sudden 2-0 lead. One feels some pity for any fans who didn’t get to their seats just to start the frame … though in the likely event that they are Capitals fans, they might have been spared.

    To Braden Holtby‘s credit, he made a couple tough saves moments later to keep it 2-0. It’s been a hectic first few minutes of the second after that relatively mundane first 20 minutes, so hang on tight.

    Check out video above; you can also watch the pair of goals in the GIF combo below: