WASHINGTON DC - DECEMBER 23: Mike Green #52 of the Washington Capitals battles for the puck against Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on December 23 2010 in Washington DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
It's always a bit of a letdown when a game like this has to be decided by a gimmick. When an evenly played, highly competitive match between two heated rivals is forced to end with what is essentially a skills competition...yeah, it's a little anticlimactic.
That being said, it did end up being a fairly exciting conclusion to what was a very exciting game overall. Hard to ask for much more, really (short of a win) and really it's the only type of loss that seems remotely palatable coming against an opponent like the Penguins. That they played well, got a point and set up a great rematch in just over a week is almost as good as a win.
Almost. After all, it IS the Penguins.
Ten more notes on the game:
- As well as the Caps played in front of him, especially in the first two periods, Michal Neuvirth still had to come up big from time to time - and he answered the bell. Aside from some key saves at key times, he also stoned Evgeni Malkin on a penalty shot and followed it up with a great save in tight on Sidney Crosby. He stood tall in the shootout, too, turning aside Penguin after Penguin before finally being beaten by Pascal Dupuis. Dominant performance for #30.
- At the other end of the rink it was his Pittsburgh counterpart who almost stole the show tonight. Marc-Andre Fleury committed highway robbery far too many times despite the Caps' multiple attempts to get traffic in front and collect the rebounds he'd occasionally let out, and stopped 24 shots in the first two periods alone. And in the shootout, it was only a slick move by the Caps' captain that got by him - after that he closed the door.
- Alex Ovechkin started the evening out with a bang - or more specifically, two bangs - as he absolutely leveled Malkin in the first minute of the game and then took out a second Penguin intent on revenge. The hits started the game's first scrum and seemed to throw #71 in white off his game a bit. Ovechkin also ended the evening well, with a beautiful shootout goal to put his team momentarily ahead. In between, however, he seemed to be trying to do too much - the intensity was there but the finish, as it's seemed to be for some time now, was not, and whether it was broken sticks or bouncing pucks he once again couldn't catch a break.
- It's awfully nice of the officials to cover for the fact that Mike Rupp can't stay on his feet by giving a phantom tripping call to the nearest Cap, Alex Ovechkin. Luckily the pure definition of a bad call also resulted in one of the most dominant penalty-killing displays of the night by Washington, as the entire team seemed to rally around the bad call. It's something, right?
- The game plan for Pittsburgh was clear from the outset: lay the body on Mike Green. Every chance they had to hit him, they did, and for the first period, at least, it seemed to be working. Green fought through it, though, and (thanks to yet another injury early in the game to Tom Poti) seemed to get better as the game went on while skating an impressive 34:03 on the night.
- Oh, and that look of relief on Green's face after he scored? That's what happens when your last goal was November 14...and he almost had two, had that puck been clearly in during the overtime. New rule: all goalies must wear see-through gloves.
- The power play goal by Green came after kind of an amazing stretch about halfway through the second period where ongoing Caps' pressure forced the Penguins to ice the puck at least four times in succession. During that time the Caps were able to maintain the zone at length and wear down the defenders until Dan Bylsma used his time out. Of course that's usually more helpful when you don't follow it up with a penalty, as the Pens did ten seconds later (and then again ten seconds after that).
- Before the extended five-on-three, the Caps had multiple opportunities on the power play and squandered them all. Had they been able to get one early on (particularly in their first man-advantage just over a minute in) the story might have had a different ending. Instead they failed to cash in and shortly after killing off the penalty Pittsburgh struck to take the 1-0 lead - on their first shot of the night.
- Is Mike Knuble the epitome of a Penguin-killer or what? He always seems to come up big against them, and tonight was no exception, as he gave life back to the Verizon Center faithful by collecting a great pass from Brooks Laich and tying the game up shorthanded.
- It's hard to say more about John Carlson than has already been said, but the kid was really good again tonight. Of particular note: a one-on-one battle with Sidney Crosby in the third period that Carlson handled with the calm, collected demeanor of a practiced veteran. Would love to see that every game for the next ten to fifteen years, wouldn't you?
So it does go in the books as a loss, and it's a bittersweet ending to what was a really great game. Losing is never fun, no matter what the circumstances, and it's really not fun when it happens against Pittsburgh.
But if the question for the Caps coming into this one was whether they could play with a team like the Penguins, whether they could match the pace and skill of another elite team, there's no question that the answer was yes. This game was a great preview for next Saturday - which hopefully will have a different end result.