It doesn't seem to matter where these two teams are in the standings or which players are out injured - when the Capitals and Penguins come to play, it's almost always an entertaining duel. Tonight was no different, as there was nothing certain and nothing settled until the final horn sounded... even if the outcome wasn't what we would have wanted.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Scary moment in the first when the puck is seemingly frozen by Neuvirth... then dribbles through and basically comes to a stop right on the goal line. Probably wouldn't have counted anyway thanks to a quick whistle, but that's one of those moments that dredges up a whole host of soul-crushing memories from this rivalry's "storied" history.
- The Caps got on the board first when a bad play by Kris Letang on the power play led to a shorthanded 2-on-1 break the other way - which we've seen plenty of times, yet rarely works (although it's still fun to see when it doesn't). This time, though, it did actually work and Brooks Laich put it past Marc-Andre Fleury to get the Caps on top by one. Nice job by Laich to not quit on the play after his initial shot failed to break through... of course that was only made possible by the fact that he had all the time in the world in front of the net, thanks to a Penguin who stopped skating. Lazy Russian-...oh wait, Sidney Crosby is Canadian, isn't he?
- Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond: still garbage.
- We've talked about how Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov are high risk, high reward players (and saw it on full display tonight, unfortunately); the same can be said for Kris Letang, who caused the play that led to the Caps' first goal and then scored the game-tying goal in the second. Sort of. Because it wouldn't be Caps-Pens if someone didn't score an own-goal, right?
- Throughout the chaos of the line changes among the top-six forwards, the one constant - as has been the case for most of the season, regardless of who centers it - is the consistently strong work by the third line, and it was on display again in the second period as the Caps went up 2-1. It all starts on the blue line, though, and Dmitry Orlov showed off why some people think he's sort of good with a sweet pass to Marcus Johansson, who deftly redirected it to Jason Chimera in front of the net.
- ...but of course, no lead is safe. Not for the Caps, and certainly not for more than a minute or two, which is about how much time elapsed between Chimera's go-ahead goal and Taylor Pyatt's tying tally. Granted, that lead is even less safe when John Erskine is doing whatever it was he was doing on that play. It certainly wasn't using his big body to clear out the crease like one would assume he's being paid to.
- Note to the rest of the League - whacking Ovechkin's stick out of his hand is just going to piss him off, and it's still not going to stop him from picking it up again and scoring on your ass. Although usually it would be on the power play, because yeah, that should be a penalty.
- Whenever the Caps and Pens meet, all eyes are (understandably) on Ovechkin - but tonight featured a couple of strong performances from some of his teammates, most notably one of his former linemates and one of his current ones in Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich. Both were very active all night, whether it was in the actual scoring of goals (in which both had a hand) or just in making life miserable for the Penguins. Johansson was particularly adept at setting up plays, both on the power play and at even strength, and his assists were both picture-perfect, while Laich had one of his best games of the season and was playing with an edge all night. And threw in some chirping at the Penguins' bench for good measure.
- This was a back-and-forth game from the start as far as chances were concerned, and from the second period on, as far as the scoring was concerned. So when Olli Maatta fired the puck through a screen to give the Penguins a lead late in the third, there was a part of all of us that probably felt it wasn't quite over yet. Between the see-saw effect of the game and the Caps' penchant for last-minute dramatics, surely this one would be tied up in the dying seconds of regulation, right?
- ...alas, 'twas not to be, as the Caps did everything but put the puck in the net with Michal Neuvirth on the bench (although they might have had a better shot had Ovechkin's stick not shattered on that shift) and that was it, 4-3 final.
So it was a much better effort by the Caps all-around, certainly better than their last dance with the Penguins and one of their better road games in general. But as has been the case all season long, so many good things are undone by a mental gaffe here, blown coverage there. The little mistakes are killing this team and making it impossible to gain any traction. And that is why at the end of this one, the Caps looked up and saw the gaping chasm in the standings between themselves and the Pens get even larger... and why it will continue to do so until they fix it.