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Pittsburgh Penguins goalie situation, Brooks Orpik return among X factors for Game 6

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins get double off days again ahead of Game 6 here on Tuesday night at 8 ET. Here are five questions to ponder in what, as expected, has been a compelling series between the rivals:

Does Kuznetsov have his game back?

Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov was as dangerous as he's looked in a while on Saturday night in Game 5 after being put on Alex Ovechkin's top line with T.J. Oshie. Kuznetsov had a couple of glorious chances but was thwarted by Murray. It seems like a matter of time before he gets one. He needs to. After leading the Caps in points in the regular season, Kuznetsov has just two points (1-1) in 11 playoff games.

"Well, I think his game, I would say, through the playoffs, hasn't been to the level that I think we saw him break out last year," Caps head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a media call. "At the same time, obviously, [he's] getting a little bit more attention [and] harder matchups, I'll say, than maybe he did last year. But I think his game is starting to come around. I thought it was very encouraging [Saturday] night the way he played.

"From my standpoint, I really trust that Kuzy will be productive for us. He's too good of a player to not be."

With last line change in Game 5, Trotz was able to keep Kuznetsov's line mostly away from the Penguins' Sidney Crosby. But Washington won't have last line change in Pittsburgh in Game 6. Given how impactful the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Oshie line was in Game 5, it's hard to foresee Trotz wanting to change that unit. But the fear of Crosby being able to get them more time matching up head-to-head in Game 6 is no small factor.

Will Orpik tip the balance?

After serving a three-game suspension, veteran Caps blue-liner Brooks Orpik returns for Game 6.

He'll likely be back on the second pairing with John Carlson, paving the way for Dmitry Orlov to slide back down to a third pairing, which means either Nate Schmidt or Taylor Chorney would sit out.

Orpik's return and the domino effect it has on the pairings will be big. Consider that the third pair made critical mistakes in Game 3 (Schmidt's turnover to Phil Kessel) and Game 4 (Mike Weber's turnover to Patric Hornqvist), so having Orlov back down there should provide more stability.

"Getting Brooks [back], he's such a stabilizing force for us on the back end," said Trotz. "I think there's a little bit more balance for what we want to do. Obviously, I think he feels bad that he's not a part of this series, and he can have some impact. I'm looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.

"He brings those intangibles to the room, and it also gives us a really good body on the back end that I think is consistent and reliable, and in the playoffs, a lot of times, that's what you need. It's the reliability in the game. It's a game of inches and a game of mistakes, so I think he'll be a good factor for us."

Will we see a Penguins goalie change?

You knew the question would come as soon as Penguins goalie Matt Murray lost a game and with Marc-Andre Fleury now healthy. Time to go back to the veteran?

To me, that would be a mistake. Should Murray have stopped Justin Williams' goal on Saturday night? Sure. But he was otherwise excellent again. Murray has a .937 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average in the playoffs. I mean, would you pull a goalie with those numbers? It's not like this is some backup who has caught lightning in a bottle and he's falling back down to earth. This is Pittsburgh's franchise goalie of the future who appears to have begun his time now. Again, there might be a time in these playoffs when Murray is shaky, and having the veteran Fleury to bring out of the bullpen is a great option. But that time is not now.

On Monday, Sullivan named Murray as the Game 6 starter, but in the playoffs you just never know until the players take the ice for the game.

"I thought Matt played extremely well, as he has this whole series," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Sunday on a media call. "He made the saves that he was supposed to make for us. He made some timely saves for us to give us a chance to climb back into that game [Saturday] night. The reality is we're fortunate that we have two guys right now in Matt and Marc that we're [confident] about both goalies and their ability to help us win. But certainly, I thought Matt's game [Saturday] night was as solid as it's been all along here."

Asked in a follow-up question whether he would consider starting Fleury, Sullivan gave a very strong vote of confidence to Murray.

"The coaching staff always discusses our lineup decisions with each respective position as far as what we want to go with, and it's no different in the goaltending position," Sullivan said. "I thought Matt played an extremely solid game; he's provided the timely save for us throughout this playoff series. We feel strongly that he gives us a chance to win when he's in goal right now."

Will the power surge continue?

After combining for just one power-play goal in the opening four games, the Penguins and Capitals combined for three power-play goals on Saturday night.

The Caps had a pair of power-play goals, and that was a key difference in winning Game 5. It's a weapon that had gone dormant for them. The Caps moved the puck around with more quickness, which opened up the kind of looks they hadn't been getting as many of in previous games. If they can keep cooking on the power play, that will help their chances of forcing this series to a Game 7.

Trotz noted Sunday that Pittsburgh's penalty-killing unit is very aggressive and that at times that can open up lanes, which on Saturday the Caps took advantage of.

The Penguins finally got their first power-play goal of the series, snapping an 0-for-14 drought. Still, their power play overall on Saturday didn't have the same zest as compared to Washington's. They need to figure that out if they want a better chance of winning Game 6 and ending the series on Tuesday night.

Will Williams work more magic?

Capitals forward Williams is now 13-5 in elimination games, and in those 18 games, he has 24 points (13-11), which is just ridiculous, really. So much so that Elias Sports Bureau reports his 0.72 goals per game in elimination contests is apparently third best in NHL history among players who have played at least 10 elimination games. He ranks behind only Maurice "Rocket" Richard (15 goals in 17 games, 0.88 goals per game) and Pavel "Russian Rocket" Bure (12 goals in 15 games, 0.80 goals per game).

As I wrote Friday ahead of Game 5, this is why the Caps brought in Williams on July 1. His impact on and off the ice when the pressure is at its greatest is a factor that cannot be overestimated.