The big story coming into this one was rivalry. Playoff eliminations, more playoff eliminations, even more playoff eliminations, and you know what, throw a few more playoff eliminations on top of those. This rivalry has been playoff elimination stew, and only one team has held the spoon.
But tonight the word rivalry had a bit more backing, with Washington and Pittsburgh squaring off for the Metropolitan Division lead, and with both their marquee superstars healthy, and performing accordingly. Unfortunately, for sixty minutes of hockey, there wasn't much competition at all, as the Penguins scored early and often and the Caps did neither en route to a 4-0 loss.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The last time the Capitals took down the Penguins in divisional play was 7,663 days ago. Woof. That number will have at least another 55 days tacked on to it, as the Caps won't see the Pens until January 15 of the new year.
- As is always the case when the Caps and Pens get together, and especially when they do so on a certain national network, the principal storyline- even with division tops at stake- is Sid The Kid versus Alex The Great. It was Crosby who got on the scoreboard before the first period was half through, winning a faceoff to Paul Martin at the point, who fluttered one past Braden Holtby. Sid tallied again, this time one-timing a sharp-angle shot top cheese on a filthy power-play setup. Tonight, advantage decidedly to Sid. Woof.
- Holtby entered tonight coming off one of the most impressive performances of his career, at least in the regular season. It took the Penguins only 7 shots to equal what the Blues achieved on 47. And then on shot number 12 (which came with 8 minutes left to play in the first), Holtby let Beau Bennet put one over his right pad. Neither were goals Holtby is likely to be keen on. Regardless, Holtby might historically play well when seeing a lot of rubber, but that doesn't mean the guys in front should spoon feed it to him.
- Ever since Adam Oates moved Martin Erat down to the second line, where he and Troy Brouwer would be centered by Brooks Laich, things haven't gone too swimmingly for the Caps' second triumvirate. They've been called "the black hole" line, a clever reference to their possession you struggles, you see. A comparison to an abyssal vacuum of spacetime. They did little to shirk the unflattering japes tonight, as they were at a 30% CF after just a single period- though it's worth noting that in that period the Caps were outshot 17-6, and out-attempted 22-8 at even strength. Erat finished at a relatively respectable 43.8% (and battled all night), but Brouwer was down at 35.3% and Laich at 31.6%. Yikes.
- In fairness to that "second line", they were only one link in a chain of suckitude. Not a single Caps skater had positive Fenwick tonight, and that was in a game that wasn't close for long. Woof. They've pulled wins from where it don't shine in games like these in the past, but tonight it wasn't to be.
- I write "second line" because on Sunday against the Blues, supposed third liners Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera all had more even strength time on ice than both Brouwer and Erat. Tonight, the trend continued, as the "third line" received substantially more even strength ice time than "the black hole line." In fact, with the game nearing the second intermission, the "third line" had seen more even-strength ice than the big guns. Might be time for some official relabeling on the line charts.
- The media story in Pittsburgh has been the slump of Evgeni Malkin (nevermind that the guy is 4th in the NHL in assists) - not unlike the dip in production the Capitals saw in for a time. The "slump" was not in effect tonight, as Malkin notched a first period assist. In that same period he was on the ice for 10 even strength shots for, and only 1 against. Woof. When the second buzzer sounded, the differential was 16-3. Woof. He finished with 17-4. Woof.
- This tweet came when the game was halfway over. Impressive, Caps. Wrong kind of impressive, but impressive.
- The pairing of Nate Schmidt and Tyson Strachan had an ugly outing, culminating in James Neal's third period dagger. As adequate a job as these two have done - and add Alexander Urbom to the list - none of their play seems to warrant keeping Dmitry Orlov in a suit. Not wanting to change a lineup when you're winning is understandable. Perhaps this loss will signal the start of Orlov's next on-ice stint in Washington. One can hope.
- Stop me if you've heard this one before: in the most hyped game of the season,with (reasonably) high-stakes, in front of a national audience, and in front of the home crowd besides, the boys in red lay an egg. Let's hope they got this one out of their system early. It hurts way less in November than it does in April. At least in our hurts. I mean hearts.
The Caps came in to the night with an opportunity to do something that they only did one time all of last season: win four consecutive games. Alas, the opportunity slipped by, and Sidney Crosby had a night, and the Penguins put two more points between first and second place, and it was just about the worst possible outcome. The good guys will look to try to start another streak- and they've been good about bouncing back from losses- on Friday when they host Les Habitants.