T.J. Oshie had a huge, clean neutral zone hit on Beau Bennett in the first period that knocked #19 from the game and then he added two third period insurance goals as the Capitals won, 4-1, at the Consol Energy Center behind 44 saves from Braden Holtby.
The Pens were fired up for this game, seeing as it was their first under new bench boss, Mike Sullivan, but Coach Barry Trotz’ crew had other plans rushing out to a quick two goal lead behind tallies from Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. Evgeni Malkin, on a sweet deflection, scored the only goal for Pittsburgh in the first frame, who traded defensemen Rob Scuderi to Chicago for Trevor Daley while this contest was going on (Scuderi actually took warm-ups, but did not play).
The Holtbeast was strong again, especially right at the start of the game when the Pens had some super chances in tight. Those saves allowed the Caps to get their legs and they stunned the Pens and their fans with two goals in the first eight minutes. From there on out the Penguins were forced to play catch-up, something they could not achieve.
This was an exciting and intense hockey game with lots of back and forth action. Pittsburgh was able to get their end to end style going, at times, particularly in the 2nd period. In the final frame, however, Washington did a better job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter and not giving up grade A chances, unlike Saturday night against Tampa where the Capitals literally hung on by their goaltender. Holtby was really good in this tilt, once again, but the Caps did a nice job of having their runs too. That was when they got the puck in deep on a weak Penguins defense and scored some in close tallies.
Oshie’s first goal to make it 3-1 with 11:10 remaining was as sweet of a wraparound tally as you’ll see all season and was the “killer instinct” type of marker that this team talks about getting in the third period. #77 was just superb in this one along with his center, Backstrom, and both had three points. Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal and eight shot attempts playing with those two, but was held pointless, although that line was on the ice for three Caps goals (one a late PP marker) and just one against.
Carlson was a beast with eight shots on net in a team leading 24:51 of ice time. He and Nate Schmidt (20:10 of ice time and seven blocked shots) were strong on the backend. The dynamic duo of Matt Niskanen (24:13 TOI, +2) and Karl Alzner (23:00 TOI) blocked a combined nine shots, as well. As a team, the Capitals blocked 24 total shots as they forced Pittsburgh to the perimeter on many occasions, especially down the stretch and Holtby had some easy glove saves. There were certainly some instances where the Pens were able to get in close, mostly earlier in the game, but Holtby closed the door.
The Caps received excellent outings from some of their grinders, most notably Jay Beagle (1 assist and 4 hits in 18:16 of ice time) and Tom Wilson (drew a key late penalty and had eight hits in 17:57 of ice time). Both were +1 and did a super job of wearing out the Penguins, who seemed to fade a bit in the third period after the furious pace they set in the middle stanza.
At the other end, the Caps had their share of chances and it took some great shots to beat Marc Andre-Fleury (30 saves).
So the Caps get a big victory against a despised rival. This triumph comes at the end of a stretch of seven games, with six on the road, and they went 5-1-1 to improve their overall record to 21-6-2 (44 points). In the Metropolitan Division, they have a three point lead over the second place Islanders and a four point lead over the third place Rangers and have two games in hand over both squads. The Pens fall to 15-11-3 (33 points) and are 11 points back in fifth place (the Devils are in fourth).
Next up for the Caps are the very fast and skilled Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. The Sens defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 5-3, on Monday to improve to 16-10-5 (37 points), which puts them in third place in the Atlantic Division.
Notes: Shot attempts were 79-52 for Pittsburgh, but the Caps had 24 blocks. The official stats had Washington with only five missed shot attempts, so I question the validity of some of the Capitals totals (home cooking?)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 41-35. Jay Beagle was 11-7 while Evgeny Kuznetsov, who only played 13:41, was 4-12…power plays were 4 to 2 in favor of the Caps, although the last two came in the closing minutes…the Caps had a goal by Justin Williams correctly waved off for incidental contact with the goalie…Dave Jackson and Trevor Hanson called a very good game. Jackson is the best referee in the league because he lets the skaters play and the players seem to always know what type of contest they’ll get with him. I wish the league had more zebras like him.