Penguins focus on making good decisions against dangerous Capitals

October 6, 2018

The Capitals’ Lars Eller looks for a rebound as Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a save in the first period during Game 3 on Tuesday.

There’s little question the Washington Capitals will provide a stern test for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their season opener Thursday night.

They’re the defending Stanley Cup champions. They knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs in the second round last season. They opened up with a 7-0 pasting of the Boston Bruins at home Wednesday night.

One particular aspect of Washington’s game will be especially challenging for the Penguins.

The Capitals punish mistakes as well as any team in the NHL. If a defenseman makes a bad pinch or a forward turns the puck over at the offensive blue line, an odd-man rush will be coming the other way in the blink of an eye.

Coach Mike Sullivan knows this, of course. He’s watched the Capitals strike back for years, including a few memorable occasions in last season’s playoff matchup.

To combat it, he wants his team to play smart but not scared.

“I think careful is the wrong word,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want us to be careful. I want us to make the right decisions. I want us to be selective.”

Sullivan explained that the Penguins’ goal is to be difficult to play against in all aspects of the game.

A team whose defensemen always sit back passively is easy to play against. A team whose defensemen run wild into the offensive zone without a second of thought is easy to play against.

A team that takes calculated gambles and good reads is hard to play against.

“Puck management is huge,” defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said. “To be successful, you have to be good with the puck. You don’t want to give any team opportunities. There are so many guys that can score and put the puck in the net. Against a team like Washington, you want to limit their chances. The longer we have the puck, the better off we are, definitely.”

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin remains on track to play in Thursday’s night’s game after suffering an upper-body injury in the preseason finale last Friday night. Sullivan said he’d be a game-time decision.

Based on personnel groupings at morning skate, the team’s healthy scratches look to be center Derek Grant and defensemen Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel.

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