To paraphrase our friends from the Steel City not too long ago, don't both sides have to do some winning for something to be a rivalry?
The Caps - almost every single one of 'em - showed up on Saturday and made rather quick work of a Pens team that was wrapping up a brutal road back-to-back (Saturday afternoon they won in Philly) for their fourth win in the last five match ups with Pittsburgh.
For the non-local media, the story was once again Alex vs. Sid (see this morning's Clips), but for Caps fans who've been paying attention, the real story was that the Caps showed up and took care of business at home against a team they should beat.
It was by no means perfect - three minor penalties in each period, a shaky start for the goalie on whom all hopes are pinned - but it was both satisfying and relieving, especially with another, tougher rival up next on the schedule.
Some thoughts on the game:
- Jose Theodore's rebounded (get it?) from two bad goals in the game's first 25 minutes to end the afternoon with great numbers (31 stops on 33 shots). Since getting yanked in NYC on December 23, he's 15-4-2/2.20/.921.
- The team's secondary scoring - an area of weakness lately - came through in a big way, with goals from Brooks Laich, Sergei Fedorov, Alex Semin, and a defenseman not named Mike Green.
- Nine minor penalties is way too many, even if some of the calls were questionable.
- Mystery du Jour: why did Gabby put out three forwards in the four-on-four on which the Pens scored their first goal? And speaking of four-on-four, how can this Caps team be in the bottom half of the League in four-on-four goals?
- Nicklas Backstrom had four hits to go along with his two helpers. Kid's playing with a surprising amount of jam lately, and he even looked good on the penalty kill.
- The third defensive pairing of John Erskine and Milan Jurcina was pretty much exactly what you'd want them to be - strong and physical. Erskine always seems to play better after getting a game off.
- Michael Nylander continues to underwhelm.
- You might not have noticed it, but Jeff Schultz had another hugely effective game. No Cap skater played more even strength minutes against the Pens' best player (Evgeni Malkin, natch) than Schultz did, and Sarge was +1 with four hits on the afternoon.
Alex Ovechkin saw less than twenty minutes of ice time for only the fourth time since December 13, but still managed a goal, an assist, nine shots on goal and five hits. Per Vogs, the Caps are now 35-2-1 in games in which he scores. MVP much?
- Alex Semin is an excellent penalty killer. Really. He should do it more often, not just because he's good at it, but it seems to focus the rest of his game as well.
- Shaone Morrisonn may be having a disappointing season, [cue NFL Films voiceover] but for twenty-five seconds in the middle of the second period, this young man from Western Canada was a god, racking up a goal, an assist and a plus-two rating. [And... scene]
- Brooks Orpik growled at Tomas Fleischmann early on, and Flash disappeared for the better part of the game.
There's plenty more to take away on the specifics of this game, but much of it was discussed in the 500+ comment open thread and the 150+ comment post-game thread, so go read up or chat it up in the comments here.
Bottom line: message sent, message received - the train seems to be back on the tracks... for now, at least.