Defenseman Kris Letang (#58) of the Pittsburgh Penguins

Pens trump Caps, win 4-3

The Washington Capitals failed to complete the season sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, dropping the fourth and final regular season meeting after winning the previous three.

For two teams lauded for their highly skilled players, claiming three of the top five points leaders on their rosters, it ended up being a game Caps coach Barry Trotz called “ugly.” There was a lot of weight thrown around and a lot of whistles. Through the first two periods, there was 20:30 of five-on-five hockey and 19:30 of five-on-four. The Metropolitan division foes pilled up 18 penalties total, 10 of those in the second period alone.

Trotz called his team’s infractions “bad” and “unacceptable.”

“I didn’t like out start,” he said. “I thought we were sluggish out of the gate and it showed on our power play…we weren’t sharp the way we needed to be. I didn’t like our focus.”

The Penguins, who have now won three-straight, came into tonight’s outing with the hopes of a different outcome than the previous meetings.

Brandon Sutter, who scored a shorthanded goal in the first period, said the team aimed to “tighten up defensively” against the Caps and hoped to “score a few more goals,” both things they accomplished. They shut down Washington early and kept captain Alex Ovechkin quiet on the second-ranked Caps power play until the final minutes of the contest.

“I think we were all off a little bit. I’d like to find a way to at least stop one or two of those, but that’s the way the game works sometimes,” said Washington goalie Braden Holtby. “The last few games against Pittsburgh I think they could’ve have some goals we got lucky on and tonight everything seemed to go their way.”

After Ovechkin’s late goal from his usual power play spot at the left faceoff dot, Washington made a final push to tie up the game, pulling goalie Braden Holtby with a little under three minutes left. Despite numerous close calls for the Pens, Marc-Andre Fleury prevailed, and Pittsburgh picked up two points from their rival and potential playoff match-up.

The Caps came up “a little short” in the first period according to John Carlson, who called the second period “overaggressive.” When giving the opposition six power plays in one period, a team can certainly be characterized as “overaggressive.” Carlson called the disadvantage “self-inflicted.”

“I thought we showed some resilience with the penalty kill and we should get momentum off that,” Trotz said. “We get it to 3-2 and the fourth goal we turned it over…I will say that there was no quit but we didn’t give our chance to win the hockey game.”

“We’ve got to do a better job,” said Carlson. “We’ve got to come out better.”

With nine chances of their own on the man-advantage, and five straight in the end of the first period, a power play unit with such previous success fell flat against the Pens. Carlson said it all came down to execution, or lack there of.

“You get caught thinking about what you should do next, you should just worry about what you can do now,” he said. “I think our special teams today certainly did not lose us the game, but you know, could’ve won us the game. It’s not good enough, we’ve got tons of capable players and we’ve got to do our jobs better.”

Trotz thought a “sloppy” morning skate could have possibly foreshadowed the sloppy performance for his team.

“’Fortunately, we aren’t playing in the morning,’” Trotz told his team, “’but hopefully we’re ready…there’s a correlation a little bit.”

After winning four straight, the Caps have now lost two straight and are three points behind the third place Pens with one game in hand. Occupying the first wild card spot and 13 points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps playoff hopes are not close to danger. But with a final stretch of the season ahead, Washington needs to stick to what go them here in the first place, things like their “speed” and “grit” according to Trotz.

“Tonight we weren’t as focused [as in the prior three meetings with Pittsburgh] and we deserved the loss,” he said.