When Evgeny Kuzentsov scored on a lucky bounce just 88 seconds into period three of a scoreless hockey game, it appeared the Washington Capitals would continue their winning ways against one of their three biggest rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (Flyers and Rangers).
Instead, some costly breakdowns on the defensive side of the puck turned a Caps lead into a quick one goal deficit in a matter of less than three minutes.
Beau Bennett scored after a great stretch pass from Olli Maata to Nick Bonino allowed him to streak in on the right wing and fire two biscuits on Braden Holtby (22 saves) and even things up just 24 seconds after the Kuznetsov goal. On that play, Washington’s forwards failed to cut off the center of the ice to yield a successful pass that is typically intercepted at the red line, when played properly. Compounding the problem was Brooks Orpik was too far to the center of the ice as he was trying to stop Bonino and that gave Bennett the lane to the cage.
If that wasn’t bad enough, then just over two minutes later, after the Capitals got caught in deep in the offensive zone, the Penguins worked a perfect cycle game and Phil Kessel beat Matt Niskanen to the net for the game winning tally. Bonino then added an empty net goal late to make it a 3-1 final.
The Caps now fall to 6-2 and their five game winning streak was snapped.
There were some things to like for Washington in this game. They killed off a lengthy five on three early on and another Penguins power play in the first period to go a perfect three for three on the PK on the night. Holtby was especially strong early on. In addition, they out-shot the Pens, 34-25, and out-shot attempted them for the game, 66-55. Marc Andre Fleury (33 saves) was outstanding in this game, so he deserves much credit for the win.
On the downside, I thought the Penguins did a great job of pre scouting the Capitals breakout and power play (0 for 3). Washington had a lot of trouble generating speed through the neutral zone and when they did, the Capitals often over passed the puck. They had 34 shots, but turnovers in the offensive zone probably cost them another seven to 10 attempts to the cage. When the other goalie is hot, you have to get pucks and traffic on him and the Caps were only successful at that in spurts.
I’ve seen the talk of the Penguins possibly getting rid of head coach Mike Johnston from some who cover the game. I’m not sure if there is any truth to those rumors, but based on what I saw, and granted this was the first time I’ve seen the Pens all season, I thought he did a great job of getting his club ready to play against the Caps. They had bodies and sticks in the Washington lanes all night and their puck support was strong.
Overall, the Pens deserved this one for their superior play in the final frame. They took advantage of the Caps mistakes and their goalie was excellent.
It’s only October 28th and the Caps will learn from this loss. They were too loose, at times, in this contest and they couldn’t bail themselves out with offense. Coach Trotz will have lots of good videotape to show and use after this one.
There are 74 games remaining. The Caps have the makings of a powerful team and are picked by many to win the division. That will happen, more likely than not, but on Wednesday, they didn’t bring anywhere close to their “A” game and lost a close one to a good hockey team.
Next up are the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. C-Bus is now coached by John Tortorella. Torts is 2-1 since taking over and they are riding a two game winning streak after starting 0-8. Expect a physical game and you can bet Columbus will be clutching, grabbing, hitting, and blocking shots. Tonight’s loss against the Penguins should be good preparation for that type of hockey since Pittsburgh did a fairly good job of keeping the Capitals to the perimeter.
So stay calm and be ready for Friday night.
Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle, 35-29. Sidney Crosby was held pointless but he was 18-8 from the dot…Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Oveckin both played over 22 minutes. John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:16 and Niskanen was close behind at 24:36…Brooks Laich only played 7:16 and Chandler Stephenson just 5:42. It was their line that got caught in the offensive zone on the game winner and allowed the Penguins to get a cycle advantage to set it up. Laich changed before the goal went in.