Okay, narrative out of the way? Let’s get into it!
Here’s Wednesday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: Lars Eller is back on the scoreboard, and Tom Wilson did what Tom Wilson does.
Minus: Losing to the Penguins still stings, though less in the past. And Michal Kempny needs to stop taking penalties.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. The Capitals came into Wednesday night’s contest riding a 5-game winning streak, and the winners of 12 of their last 14 clashes. Alone atop the Metro Division, could they look down and put their mud-red boot in the face of rival Pittsburgh?
2. The Caps would be once again without two of their starting defensemen. Christian Djoos remains out indefinitely as he recovers from leg surgery, and veteran blueliner Brooks Orpik inches closer to a return every day, so rookies Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler got the call. Also out of the lineup was the speedy Chandler Stephenson, a healthy scratch for winger Dmitrij Jaskin.
3. Capitals and Penguins mix like vinegar and oil, or oil and water, or oil and.....well I guess what I’m saying is that Pittsburgh is oily. But from the get go, you knew this was going to be one contest that would live up to its billing on NBC as “Rivalry Night.”
4. In fact it only took 90 seconds for things to pop off like uncapped pens. Pittsburgh’s Jamie Oleksiak started a fight with Washington’s Tom Wilson, presumably a continuation of a beef that began with Wilson’s injuring of Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
I say started a fight, because Wilson ended it.
Tom Wilson lights up Jamie Oleksiak with a big right to the face pic.twitter.com/dBpTTlyeHK— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 20, 2018
Oleksiak would not return to the game.
Defenseman Madison Bowey was asked after the game if he expected such chaos right out of the gate.
Bowey said, “I didn’t know about a fight first shift. But that’s just the way hockey is. There’s high emotions, high intensity.” I asked Bowey what he thinks his role is as a blueliner in such a physical contest. He told me, “I think it’s just playing the same way...making sure I’m tough in the defensive zone, and being a hard guy to play against,” a phrase I’ve heard him use before.
5. There were more fireworks in the second period, but these were of the scoring variety and not the pugilistic. The aforementioned knucklebucket Tom Wilson slung a gorgeous pass from the center ice boards to a streaking Lars Eller, and just like that the Lartian was sprung on a breakaway. Of course, the Red Planet is the Lartian’s home, and he beat Matt Murray like iron oxide to make it 1-0 Caps halfway through the game.
I asked Eller after the game if Tom Wilson gets enough credit for his passing skill.
Eller told me, “I think Willy as a player probably doesn’t get enough credit.”
6. But the chief antagonist of our story would answer back. Just minutes later, Evgeni Malkin fired a slap pass to Sidney Crosby beside the crease, and with a smart redirection Crosby guided it into the net to tie it.
7. And then, with just a minute remaining in the frame, Bryan Rust was the last player to get a paddle on a bouncing, hopping, chaotic pop-fly of a puck in the crease, and tapped it in to get Pittsburgh's second of the night. It was 2-1 after forty minutes.
8. The third period was all thunderclaps and clashes of titans, including TWO, count ‘em, TWO Evgeny Kuznetsov wrist shots that trickled through Matt Murray but were saved before crossing the goal line (in the GIFs above).
9. Even with Braden Holtby pulled for the final two minutes, the Capitals couldn’t break through, and Pittsburgh would win this one 2-1.
10. The difference in this game tonight? Penalties, with Washington giving up four power play chances to the Penguins, and one decisive goal. Michal Kempny took two minors tonight, and now leads the entire Capitals team in PIM on the season with 30. Not a good look, Kemper.
Time to reset the win counter. Next up is the Buffalo Sabres at home on Friday.