The Caps and Penguins faced off against each other twice in early February, and both times the Caps ended up on the short end of the stick. The biggest culprit? Allowing a high-scoring Penguins squad to build momentum (and run up the score) with a flurry of goals, putting the good guys out of it well before the final horn.
Tonight was a different story in so many ways, with the Caps doing a pretty good job overall to avoid the mistakes of the past two games and keeping things close right up until the end. That they came so close to winning and fell short was both frustrating and a little bit impressive - perhaps something to build on as they continue up north to face the Jets.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Watching Sidney Crosby’s head snap back when coming into contact with Jack Hillen’s stick to draw a call early in the first, can’t help but be reminded of a certain former GM’s rant about the Caps’ captain embellishing. Bet you all the money in my piggy bank that the same rant would never be made about Sid... nor should it be, because everyone embellishes. Even the League’s favorite son.
- Eric Fehr said it best at intermission: to come out of the first period tied at zero against the NHL’s best first period team (at least in terms of goals scored) is always a good thing. The Caps put together an excellent road period to open this one, taking the crowd out of it for long stretches. They didn’t completely shut down prime scoring chances by the Pens - a fairly tough task even without Malkin in the lineup - but they did minimize them, especially as the period went on, and generated a few prime scoring chances of their own.
- It was awfully nice to see Brooks Laich back out there, wasn't it? It didn't seem like it at first but Adam Oates was true to his word, easing Laich back into the lineup with just under thirteen minutes of ice time (although he couldn't resist using him for over two minutes of penalty-killing) and for the most part Laich slipped seamlessly back into the lineup. A blocked shot, a couple of hits and the best hip check of all time rounded out a decent but fairly quiet evening for Brooks in his first game back.
- It's no surprise that Alex Ovechkin is booed heartily in Pittsburgh (even if it's about as annoying and pointless as booing Sidney Crosby in DC) - still, it's nice to hear those boobirds silenced by an Ovechkin bullet like it was tonight. The way Ovechkin fired that slapper past Marc-Andre Fleury at close range was a thing of beauty with a little dose of luck thrown in... just the way we like it.
- "Jason Chimera, goal scorer" sounds so much better than "Jason Chimera, taker of dumb penalties", and yet it's the latter that's been uttered more often than not this season. You could argue that the call on Chimera was a weak one, but whether or not it was he definitely put himself in a position to get called - and it cost the Caps again.
- Of course the Penguins scoring a power play goal against the Caps is nothing new. Including tonight the Pens have scored six times with the extra man in just ten opportunities. But hey, at least the Caps took fewer penalties overall in this one... small victories?
- Speaking of power plays, twice tonight the Caps drew a call right at the end of a period - a good sign that they were putting pressure on the Penguins late in periods when one might expect a tired team to trail off. Having fresh ice to work with is never a bad thing, even if it didn't pay off tonight.
- The pivotal part of this one came late in the third period, as the Caps were served up a golden opportunity to take the game and put it away. Matt Cooke, already headed to the box for boarding Ovechkin, was slapped with an extra minor for whining (aka the Mike Ribeiro special), giving the Caps a prolonged shot with the extra man. Alas, they spent too much time setting up, too much time trying to make the perfect pass (or corral the bouncing puck) and not enough time putting pressure on what should have been exhausted penalty-killers by the end.
- It’s nothing new to all of us, but there’s still something so comforting about watching Karl Alzner shut someone down. Less familiar (although becoming more so) has been the work of Alzner’s partner, Steven Oleksy. Together the two of them did yeoman’s work shutting down the Penguins' top line, including Sidney Crosby, with each of them taking a turn at making the big, important play.
- Unfortunately the one time that didn't work out was right after that failed four minute power play. Out came Matt Cooke, up the ice came the Pens on a three-on-two, down went a sprawling Karl Alzner to block a shot that never hit him and just like that the Pens were up by one. A few more chances gone awry and this one was in the books.
It's funny how one bad moment (or more precisely, four bad minutes followed by one really bad moment) can sully what was an otherwise very good road game for the Caps... minus the result, of course. Washington was on its heels a bit in the third but for the most part they stayed right with the Penguins, not allowing them to ratchet up the score and keeping it close from start to finish.
And while you can say that it was only as close as it was because the Pens were missing Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang (and while it's not entirely incorrect), keep in mind that a power play with Mike Green on it might have cashed in a few more times, as well.
Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter because the end result is the same. The Caps drop all three to the Penguins and can't gain any ground on the teams in front of them - but the biggest test of the season is coming up in just a few days, with back-to-back games against the division-leading Winnipeg Jets looming.