Photo credit: Justin K. Aller
Yawn. These Washington Capitals / Pittsburgh Penguins games are always such tedious affairs. Nothing interesting ever happens.
Okay, but for real. This game was a monster. The Capitals looked wounded in the first period, surrendering easy goals early and firing just four shots on net. They came back in the second transformed and reinvigorated. After Mike Knuble crashed the net and just barely missed a goal, the offense turned on. The Capitals regained the shot lead and kept their foot on the gas until the very end.
No one challenged Kris Letang on the power play, so he had a great lane and great screen on the game’s first goal. James Neal flicked one past Neuvirth right after a face off to make it 2-0. The game was six minutes old.
In the second, Dennis Wideman set up Brooks Laich for a crucial goal during 4-on-4. Alex Semin cleaned up Mathieu Perreault’s rebound to tie the game and blow our freaking minds.
In the third, Alex Ovechkin caught a wide pass from Alex Semin and beat Marc-Andre Fleury to open up a lead. James Neal finished off a brilliant zone entry by Evgeni Malkin to knot the score again. That tie took us all the way into overtime, where Malkin casually tipped in the game-winner. Pens beat Caps 4-3 (OT).
- We got bad news this morning: Marcus Johansson would miss this game due to injury. Without him and Nick Backstrom, the Capitals had just two viable options at center: Brooks Laich (who is a winger) and Mathieu Perreault (who is tiny). I wrote extensively about the center problem in Washington earlier, but now this long-smoldering problem is a four-alarm fire.
- That said, Mathieu Perreault was freaking awesome today.
- Going down two goals is the kiss of death. Washington is ranked 27 out of 30 at puck possession while down two goals. This game should have been unwinnable after the first Neal goal. That’s how bad our hockey team seems right now. But the players on ice rejected that common wisdom.
- Alex Ovechkin leveled a bad hit on Zbynek Michalek in the second period, but we don’t think it’ll be suspension. Check out our post for video and analysis.
- A few minutes later, Michalek elbowed Matt Hendricks in the head from behind. There was a call on that one, and it should yield supplemental attention.
- The second period was scrappy– seeing a fight between Tyler Kennedy and Troy Brouwer as well as a bunch of tense scrums. At the end of the period, Paul Martin might have said some naughty words to Jason Chimera.
- Martin and Michalek didn’t start in the defensive zone once. For whatever reason, those players are being protected fiercely by Bylsma.
- Brooks Laich took 39 faceoffs. He didn’t win half of them, but after number 30 you stop caring about that.
- Kris Letang is a monster and a boon to the NHL. With a sterling Corsi rating (plus-11) and a gorgeous goal, the Penguins are a dramatically better team when he’s on the ice.
- Cody Eakin and Jay Beagle got under 8 minutes of ice time in a game that went to OT. They weren’t that bad when they got on, but man— that’s not a vote of confidence by the coach. It’s hard not to assume that this coach dislikes his roster.
- Evgeni Malkin, with two assists and the game-winner, is the best player in the NHL right now. It’s not up for debate.
What an exhausting game. From above, the Capitals look wounded. Their systems are broken, and their offense is inert. But each game is a universe unto itself, and we could not have predicted the heartfelt performance these players gave us. From Mike Knuble’s first net-crash and all the way into overtime, the Capitals were a team possessed. They put aside the off-ice drama, the injuries, the doubts, and the uncertainty. They played some gritty end-to-end hockey of the exact brand that Caps fans fell in love with a few years back.
The outcome isn’t what we wanted, but there were a lot of good things that the team can hang their hats on. This was the best loss of the season.
Washington’s ability to repeat performances like this is dubious, but it serves a stern reminder to the most cynical fans: anything can happen. And thank goodness for that.