Did Capitals expose a weakness in Penguins goalie Matt Murray?

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray (Nick Wass/AP)

PITTSBURGH — There was an obvious common denominator in every puck the Washington Capitals managed to get past Matt Murray on Sunday afternoon, every shot that sent the crowd at Capital One Arena into an absolute tizzy during a Game 2 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

First, it was Alex Ovechkin: A ripper from his off wing that whistled in, labelled for the top shelf, glove side. Then, Jakub Vrana made it 2-0 on the power play, with a wrist shot that sailed just over Murray’s glove. And finally, Brett Connolly extended the Capitals lead to 3-0 on a partial breakaway, when he fired as hard as he could — again, glove side.

It makes you wonder: Have the Capitals exposed a weakness in Murray, the only goalie in NHL history to back-stop his team to two Stanley Cup championships as a rookie, the 23-year-old (he turns 24 next month) who’s trying to lead his team to a third straight championship, the soft-spoken guy who’s already posted two shutouts in these playoffs?

Well, not so fast.

“Aaaah, I mean, he’s such a good goalie — it’s tough,” Connolly says. The winger does admit, though: “That’s kind of where we’ve been scoring.”

It is, and you have to figure the Capitals will continue hammering pucks to the glove side as this tied-up series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Tuesday night, given their recent success there.

Murray really didn’t have a chance on the first goal in Game 2, though, just 1:26 in, after Evgeny Kuznetsov came down hard on Patric Hornqvist’s stick, and the puck landed on the worst possible stick, at least from his standpoint.

Ovechkin, who had his tongue out when he scored in Game 1, didn’t do that here, but he may as well have.

“Puck comes a million miles an hour down the slot and he just rips it,” Murray said, after Sunday’s 4-1 loss. “He’s one of the best shots in the game, so pretty good shot off.”

Yes, pretty good indeed. This series features a boatload of elite shooters, including three of the league’s top 10 regular-season point-getters, in Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby (though Malkin has yet to play in Round 2, having missed the last three games due to injury). Ovechkin, Crosby and Jake Guentzel all have seven goals in the post-season, behind only Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele.

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And because of all the firepower on the ice, it’s Murray and Capitals goalie Braden Holtby who’ve often been their team’s first stars, because they have to be. Holtby, who didn’t have the most sparkling regular season and who found himself playing backup in Games 1 and 2 against Columbus, even registered an assist in Sunday’s win.

He had to make a couple big pad saves on Crosby and Guenzel early on, shots that could’ve shifted the tone of Game 2 in a hurry. Murray made the save of the game near the end of the first, somehow getting a stick on an Ovechkin shot that should’ve made it 3-0.

“Obviously, Murray was great [Sunday], same as Holts,” Ovechkin says. “Every chance that we have, we have to use it.”

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz hit on what having a hot goalie can do for your team, and it’s benefiting both the Penguins and Capitals in this repeat of the Eastern Conference semifinal for a third straight year.

“Just confidence. It starts there,” Trotz says. “Any time you have a goaltender who’s playing well in this sport, it gives your team confidence.

“It gives them trust, it gives them confidence — I’ll just say a more aggressive posture when you’re playing the game. When that’s not there, you tend to not be as aggressive.”

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Being aggressive is really the only way the Capitals are going to knock off the two-time and defending Stanley Cup champions.

“When we get a chance, we gotta bear down and put it in the back of the net,” Connolly says. “No matter what, just find a way to get it done.”

For his part, he’ll probably continue to aim for that glove side on his chances, though it’s not because he thinks it’s a weakness in a Penguins goalie who really doesn’t have any.

Says Connolly, with a shrug: “That’s kind of where I like to shoot it.”

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