PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan)-The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals will meet in the Eastern Conference semifinal round for the second consecutive season starting Thursday.
TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger joined “The Fan Morning Show” on Wednesday to help provide a series preview. Darren gives the slight edge to the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in this series, but says it will be close.
“I just expect that Pittsburgh is ultimately going to win this series. I think it’s going to be a real tough one so it’ll go minimum six (games) and quite possibly seven,” said Dreger. “It’s going to take that because I think that Washington does have the right stuff, they’ve got the ingredients to go deep. I feel like if they can beat Pittsburgh, then they truly are the Stanley Cup favorite in my opinion. But, I look at the weapons that the Penguins possess and the experience of those who matter most this time of year, and for that reason alone, huge loss without Letang, but they’ve got depth on that blue line and all the firepower they have up front, as much respect and time I have for the Capitals, that’s a tough matchup against Pittsburgh.”
Dreger also gives the goaltending nod to Marc-Andre Fleury over Washington’s Braden Holtby because of his struggles early in the Toronto series, despite Fleury being the back-up netminder to Matt Murray this season.
“If I were going to establish the edge, I’m giving the edge to Fleury based on what I saw early in round one in Braden Holtby fighting it a little bit, but most importantly, the Stanley Cup experience of Marc-Andre Fleury, this time of year that matters,” Dreger said.
Dreger thinks that special teams could be the deciding factor in this series between two evenly matched teams and that the Caps’ power play unit goes beyond just Alexander Ovechkin blasting shots and scoring from his favorite spot.
“You’re talking about two very potent special teams, particularly with the man advantage and God forbid you fall into a five- on-three scenario because both Washington and Pittsburgh will eat you alive in that environment,” Dreger said. “I was entertained by some of the trickery that [Capitals head coach] Barry Trotz tried to employ in that first round. Yes, we’re very familiar with the traditional set-up for them of Ovechkin on the left side, cocked and ready for the one-timer. But, they’ve moved some pieces around and one a number of occasions you’ll see Ovechkin drift into the high slot and [Kevin] Shattenkirk come over to that left side or T.J. Oshie become more of a threat, too. So, it’s not just singular anymore.”
Dreger marveled at how Jim Rutherford has constructed this Penguins roster, especially in getting so much production from role players and former cast-offs like Justin Schultz from Edmonton. But, he did heed warning for a couple of players on the Washington side that could make a difference.
“I think Tom Wilson had a real good series against the Toronto Maple Leafs,” said Dreger. “He’s a guy that has some dimensions to him. He’s not just a bang and crash energy guy. He can take it to the net and he scored a couple of big goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one. You’ve always got that ‘X-factor routine’ and is the X-factor of the Capitals going to be Justin Williams yet again? I mean this guy just thrives this time of year.”
You can hear the entire interview with Darren Dreger on “The Fan Morning Show” below: