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Tonight the Washington Capitals mercifully returned home after a brutal trip to California to face a longtime foe: the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately for both teams, this game was more notable because of who wasn't playing rather than who was. There's a pretty good argument that the best combination of players tonight was the group that was scratched.
Despite that, the game still needed to be played, and even without some of the stars, it still had all the intensity and skill of two powerhouse teams battling for eighth place in the conference. And in the end, the Caps got the 1-0 win with a great game from Tomas Vokoun and a goal from Jason Chimera.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Congratulations to Vokoun for earning his 46th career shutout. He's been playing great lately, hopefully it's not because the Caps have been looking a lot more like the teams he's played with for most of his career than the team everyone thought this was going to be. Of all of his shutouts, this is by far our favorite.
- Over the first two periods the game was pretty close-checking and conservative. Both teams were trying for the perfect road game and the Caps seemed comfortable nursing their 1-0. But the third period opened up and saw great chances for both teams, with even better goaltending, and while the scoreboard may not give it away we were reminded that even with all the injuries there was still a lot of talent on that ice.
- Normally when the Caps and Pens play, and Marc-Andre Fleury goes behind the goal line, the puck ends up in the net. I guess tonight Alexander Semin just felt some sympathy. Catch and release.
- Chimera's goal was a nice defensive play by his entire line, but it was also their only shot on goal of the entire game. Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal combined for 10 shots on goal, a third of the Pens' total. It's hard to say that shutdown line did much "shutting down" tonight.
- Usually when these teams get together the stars come to shine, whether it's dueling hat tricks or Eric Fehr dominating the Winter Classic, the best players bring their A game. And tonight was no different. Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with 4 shots on goal and his line was the only one that created any real offense tonight. It wasn't just Ovechkin for the Caps, either, as Semin had two of the best chances on the game, even if neither of them were even recorded as shots on net. On the other side, Malkin led the Pens with 6 shots on goal, Neal tacked on 4 more. Those two seemed to be involved in every chance the Pens had.
- Since taking over, Dale Hunter has played his top players more heavily than we'd seen under Bruce Boudreau. We expected to see more of the same tonight with two rookies on the blueline, one making his NHL debut, and we did. Tomas Kundratek held his own in 11 minutes of ice, but it was clear Hunter wasn't going to give him a chance to get in over his head, playing him with Roman Hamrlik and in conservative situations.
- So last week we mentioned that Matt Hendricks seems to have slowed his fighting pace. Well he has fights in his last two games and had one of his best games in a Caps jersey tonight. Just check the byline please, Mr. Hendricks, sir.
- It was an uneven night for Dmitri Orlov. He made some nice offensive plays, and seems to be getting more comfortable with the puck every game, but he also had some significant defensive miscues and at one point ended up pinned in his zone by the Pens' fourth line. He'd better be a fast learner, because it looks like he's here to stay - and Mike Green won't be around very much.
- Of the defensemen that weren't making their NHL debut, the distribution of ice time was reasonable. No defenseman got less ice time than 19:04 (Karl Alzner) or more ice than 25:21 (Dennis Wideman). Even in a game where the Caps avoided going shorthanded even once, it's odd to see Orlov skating more minutes than Alzner.
- Neither of these teams needs to see any more injuries, so it was good to see Pascal Dupuis stay in the game after his foot-first collision with the end boards. And it was also nice when he racked up 50% of the game's penalty minutes in the third period with the Pens trying to take momentum.
Tonight the Caps were victorious in the battle for the eighth seed, and beating the Penguins always feels good - but being out-shot every night is no way to go through an NHL season. The team and the fans will always take the two points, but at some point something has to turn and the Caps will need to play better hockey. Next up is a visit from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.