-- In the first two games of the series, Washington's Alex Ovechkin
had a knack for making himself bigger on the ice, which allowed him to operate with more time and space. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin
couldn't do the same.
In Game 3, it was the polar opposite.
Malkin was the big Russian with time and space, especially through the neutral zone, whereas it appeared Ovechkin didn't get nearly the number of offensive chances to which he's accustomed. The Penguins wound up winning, 3-2, in overtime.
Well, outside of the fact that Malkin is a world-class player and he was bound to have a big game, a few things.
For starters, Washington couldn't get the puck out of its zone for virtually the entire second period, which, of course, limited the offensive chances Ovechkin got.
"Because we don't get it deep and we don't stay in the offensive zone, then they have opportunities to get into our offensive zone and control the puck there," Ovechkin said. "That's why we take the penalties because we're tired and they move their legs."
The Capitals took seven penalties, and Ovechkin is not on the ice in shorthanded situations, which, of course, limits his ice time and thus his offensive chances. He was limited to only five shots on goal and 10 attempts at the net.
Yes, we know we're using the word “limited” loosely here considering five shots and 10 attempts are pretty good for most players, but Ovechkin had 21 shots and 36 total attempts at the net through the first two games.
"We can't play like that," Ovechkin said. "It's not our game. We take too many penalties and we can't take too many penalties, especially in the playoffs. In the offensive zone we have to play better. The defensive zone, we have to play better. It's in all aspects."
One of those aspects is how they have to play against Malkin.
After sub-par performances in Games 1 and 2, the Penguins' Hart Trophy finalist scored a goal on nine shots in Game 3. He was a beast with the puck coming through the neutral zone and Washington had no answer for him.
The Caps, though, believe it was partially their fault.
"We let him skate too much in the neutral zone and create plays that in the first two games we didn't let him do," defenseman Mike Green
said. "If we eliminate those things, eliminate him, we should be fine."
"It looked like he did whatever he wanted to and we can't allow him that," added center Nicklas Backstrom
. "We have to hang on him a little bit better."
hung on Malkin a bit too long late in the third period and was called for hooking at 14:10. Fifty-one seconds later, Malkin created space for himself in the attacking zone, brought the puck in the middle and fired a heavy wrister that beat Simeon Varlamov for the go-ahead, power-play goal.
"He skates through the neutral zone, dangles guys and then we take a penalty," Green said. "That's what happens."
It usually happens when Ovechkin has the puck, but No. 8's opportunities were limited Wednesday night. You could argue that's because Pittsburgh was simply better, or that the Caps were just too passive.
Either way, the result wasn't good for Washington.
"There was definitely more open ice for Malkin out there to roam around and skate," Caps center David Steckel
said. "I thought they did a very good job closing gaps on Ovie, but it's easier when you control the puck in our own end all game."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org