Recap: Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 22: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save on Mike Knuble #22 of the Washington Capitals during the game at Consol Energy Center on January 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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Coming off of two ugly shutout losses in the last three games, the Washington Capitals traveled to western Pennsylvania for a matinee game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unlike the last game, today the Pens entered the afternoon with a 5 game winning streak, their last loss coming against the Caps in Verizon Center. The Caps dug themselves out of an early hole and put themselves in position to snap the Pens' streak, but in the end James Neal and Evgeni Malkin were too much and the Pens went home happy. At least the Caps got the charity point, right?

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Last time these two teams played fans got 10 minutes of good, entertaining hockey. After a slow start this game turned out to be much more like the Caps v. Pens games fans have been used to since the lockout. Seven goals were scored, all of them involved Alex Ovechkin or Malkin (although Malkin didn't point on the first goal, he helped set up the Pens' PP and then picked Brooks Laich to buy Kris Letang some time to get his shot off).
  • The Caps scored two goals off the rush tonight. One of them came off of a terrible Pittsburgh turnover (Steve Sullivan has to take a shot) and the other came after some lax forechecking/neutral zone play allowed the Caps to break up ice with speed. Dale Hunter has been trying to transition the Caps away from scoring on the rush, believing that those goals won't be around in the playoffs. But with the other Caps goal coming 4 on 4 after a power play expired, it has to be asked: What is the even strength strategy for creating offense, if it's not supposed to be on the rush?
  • With Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson out of the game, this was a huge chance for Mathieu Perreault. Perreault responded with a solid game, including two assists. On the first assist he made a nice play to receive the puck and then get the shot off quickly, low, and hard. That created the perfect rebound for Alex Semin to tap home. On the other assist Perreault drew Brooks Orpik out of position looking for a big hit and then slid the puck to Semin for a two on one that Ovechkin finished. It's always good to see goals scored while Orpik is out of position.
  • The first Caps goal came on a four on four and was the result of textbook play by Dennis Wideman. The Pens defender on the point broke his stick, so Wideman carried the puck down that wing and challenged the stickless defender. Ultimately he found a passing lane to Laich out front, and Laich managed to bury it past Marc-Andre Fleury and get the Caps back in the game.
  • Tonight was Ovechkin's first 3-point game of the season. It turns out the rumors of his demise have been moderately exaggerated.
  • All season we've noted that Semin has tended to disappear after taking a penalty. Tonight he took a penalty early in the game but rebounded to end the game with a goal and an assist.
  • At the end of the day the game comes down to puck battles. The Pens dominated the first period largely because they were winning the puck battles. On the Pens' third goal Malkin dominated Hamrlik in the corner and then fed Neal for an open shot below the faceoff dot. When you aren't winning puck battles the possession game is going to suffer and the other team will have scoring chances, it's as simple as that.
  • Just like the last time these teams met, Malkin and Neal dominated the Caps. In particular, Malkin was taking Hamrlik's lunch money all night. It would be so nice if the Caps had a defenseman with a history of controlling Malkin with a long reach and solid positional game.
  • After a listless first period the Caps needed some energy. Alex Ovechkin came out throwing the body, and the team responded with a 2 goal period. The final 40+ minutes were much more evenly contested than that opening 20 minutes, and that was almost exclusively due to the work of the top line.
  • "Oh he pushed me a little... Lean forward... and... fall down... but gently so I don't hurt myself." You could actually see the thought process in Paul Martin's mind as he drew a penalty against Troy Brouwer, ending the Caps' 5 on 3. Not a smart play by Brouwer to give the refs a chance to blow a call, but that's awfully questionable. I'm sure the ref 100 feet away must have had a pretty good look at it, though.

Life without Nick continues, and it's bound to be ugly. The Caps were lucky to get a point out of tonight, but they were also opportunistic in converting their chances (or lucky, whatever). The season is going to be a grind from here on out, coin flip games take their toll on everybody. At some point you expect the Caps to get hot and take a (relatively) firm grip on the division, but there's no denying this is a seriously flawed team. Not even Nick is going to change that. Hey, at least they got 20 shots again tonight.

Game highlights:

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