Two formidable foes met Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center as the Washington Capitals looked to pick up an important two points in the Metropolitan division standings. The first place Penguins had other plans, scoring in the final two minutes of the game to cap a franchise-record thirteenth straight home victory, strengthening their hold on the division and the Eastern conference.
Washington Coach Adam Oates chose Michal Neuvirth in goal, earning his second start since Thanksgiving in what has been a revolving triangle of goalies, as the Capitals have no shortage of talent in the net.
It was an intense, fast paced game from start to finish as both teams traded chances and checks throughout the 60 minutes of Rivalry Night.
“Yeah, they’re our rival,” Capitals forward Brooks Laich admitted. “There’s a lot of distaste with our group and theirs, and we knew that coming in. It was going to be an intense, emotional game.”
Pittsburgh did a good job of muffling the Caps offensive tries early on, but came up short on their own power play 13 minutes in when Laich tallied a shorthanded goal to open the scoring while Joel Ward sat in the penalty box.
“Karl made a really good play actually. They bobbled the pass across…Karl had a great gap and bumped it up to me… (I) was able to be one-on-one with the goalie,” Laich said of his tally.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang sent an errant pass towards Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, who quickly sent the puck to Laich. The Capitals centerman exhibited great patience waiting out Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and putting a wrister behind the goalie to put the Capitals on the board first.
The Capitals would get their chance on the power play next as Nick Drazenovic was whistled for tripping the Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin. While Washington fared better than the home team, they also did not get another goal of their own, as the period ended with the Capitals leading by just one goal.
The Penguins would tie it up in the second period as Letang scored on a double deflection off of two Capitals sticks, notching his ninth tally of the season. The tie did not last for long, as Jason Chimera put the Capitals ahead less than six minutes later on a beautiful triangular passing play. When Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov sent a diagonal pass to forward Marcus Johansson, Chimera was wide open to the left of Fleury, waiting for the lateral pass from Johansson to put the one-timer into the back of the net.
Despite their dominance in the second period, Washington would surrender its lead before the period’s end, relenting to Penguins forward Taylor Pyatt as he netted his first of the season on a snap shot from Olli Maatta and Jussi Jokinen.
The unrelenting onslaught of chances for each team continued in the third, as play went north to south, giving both Fleury and Neuvirth a workout. A good play by Troy Brouwer sent the puck to Orlov in the slot, who failed to convert on one of the best chances of the period. At the other end of the ice, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz showed off their offensive prowess as two-some for Neuvirth, who prevailed in the face of their challenging threat.
It would be the away team who finally broke the tie as Ovechkin scored his league leading 34th of the season, going top-shelf during a 4-on-4 caused by coincidental penalties to Malkin and John Erskine.
“Four-on-Four, I lost a stick. I think they kind of lose me, JoJo[Johansson] gave me a good pass,” Ovechkin said of his goal.
Orlov was a victim of his own defensive effort just three minutes later when he aided in tying up the game, colliding with Jokinen at the perfect time for the puck to hop over Neuvirth’s pad, knotting the game at three.
Olli Maatta would be the hero for the crowd at Consol, getting the game-winner with less than two minutes to play as Malkin worked the puck around to Maatta, setting him up with a perfect pass while Pyatt screened Neuvirth.
Despite a late push by Washington, which included two broken sticks by Ovechkin, an extra skater, and chances by a myriad of players, they would fail to convert, falling one goal short at the final buzzer.
It was a deflating and depleting loss for Washington, who has been unable to get a win as of late despite their quality play and commitment to their system.
“I’m sure they’re depressed in there because they laid it on the table two nights in a row and they only got one point,” Oates concluded after the game on the state of his team.
He claimed that while his team played well, the little mistakes ultimately cost them the game, stating that his team “figured out a way to lose it.”
“It’s a shame, because you played a good hockey game. You don’t want to blow points…We did a lot of good things in the game. Tonight we played a good game and we figured out a way to get leads in the third, against a fresher team, and we didn’t sustain it,” lamented Oates in his postgame comments.
Laich echoed his sentiments.
“I thought we played a very good game. A tough one to give up with two minutes left for sure. It’s honestly sort of frustrating, because I think we are playing very good hockey…I don’t know what to take of it because it just seems frustrating to not get the results.”
Fehr commented on the streaking Penguins after the game.
“They’ve got twelve in a row, there’s a reason for that. They’re a good team. We did everything we could to keep ourselves in the game and to win it and it just didn’t work out.”
The team captain seemed to agree. “We made a couple mistakes, but every period we get the lead,” Ovechkin said. “Unfortunately, we lost the game, we lost the points.”
The Capitals schedule is unrelenting for the next stretch, with the next seven of eight games on the road. To keep up in the Metropolitan division, they need pick up points, especially against division foes like the Penguins.