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Capitals @ Penguins Recap: Vrana’s Two Goals, Ovechkin’s 1,200th Career Point Spoiled In 5-3 Defeat

Washington’s seven-game win streak evaporated in a two-minute stretch en route to a physical road loss to their Metro division rivals.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals saw a two-goal advantage quickly yield to a 5-3 defeat due to a bad defensive lapse late in the second period. It was a night of milestones as Ovi scored his 1,200th career point and Evgeni Malkin recorded the 1,000th of his career.

Here’s Tuesday night’s Plus/Minus:

Plus: Alex Ovechkin in recording his 1,200th career point has 653 goals, trailing only Brett Hull (656) for the most scores at that point plateau.

Minus: The Capitals struggles at the dot continued as they were just 27-of-59 (46%) from the faceoff dot, including just 5-of-14 on the powerplay.

And now, this...

Ten more notes on the game:

  1. The game began at playoff-level speed and intensity with both teams trading penalties (both killed off) in the opening minutes of the contest. In a game that seemed to be a harbinger of a playoff series to come, and one that would be an opening round matchup if the season ended, Washington entered the contest with a two point lead in the Metropolitan division, while Pittsburgh found themselves in the first wild card spot. The Pens had the better of the chances over the first ten minutes, out-shooting the Capitals by a by 7-2 margin. The two teams both ended the first period with nine shots on goal, while Washington went to the first intermission with nine blocked shots.
  2. Washington’s hard work in a classic “road first period” paid off in the final moments of the stanza. At the end of a long Penguins shift, the Caps found themselves in an odd-man rush in transition as T.J. Oshie dished to Nicklas Backstrom who found Jakub Vrana who buried the puck in the back of the net over the catching mitt of Matt Murray to give Washington the first goal of the game. With the marker, Vrana surpassed the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career.

Backstrom’s assist was his 50th career point scored (7 goals, 43 assists) in 46 games against Pittsburgh, which is the highest assist total among all active players against the Penguins.

3. Washington killed off a high-sticking call on Alex Ovechkin to start the second period in which it felt as though the ice was tilted in the Capitals direction. It was the 18th straight penalty the Capitals have killed off in a row, a streak that extends back over five games. As Isabelle Khurshudyan noted so aptly in the Post, what at one point was a real source of consternation for the Caps in the early stretch of the season has become a source of strength in the second half the the year. It’s hard not to credit the mid-season additions of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen as helping to shore up their short-handed special teams. Since Jensen’s Capitals’ debut on February 24th against the Rangers, the Capitals have killed 21 of their 25 penalties (84 percent), tied for the second-highest percentage in the NHL. Prior to Jensen’s debut in D.C., the Caps had killed 165 of their 210 penalties (78.6 percent), which was only 22nd in the NHL.

4. Speaking of Hagelin, the former two-time Cup winner returned to Pittsburgh for the first time as a member of the opposition and was honored with a nice tribute by the Pens. Hagelin was a menace to his former team with extremely physical along the boards, particularly on the PK.

5. Jake the Snake wasn’t done scoring, as he snapped a puck from the right side half-board which popped up high off Murray’s blocker, overtop of the net-minder and over the goal line to give Washington the two-goal lead. It was Vrana’s fourth career two-goal game, and the second of this season. With Oshie’s second assist of the night, he recorded the 300th apple of his career.

It’s hard to think, but at this time last year [Joe B voice] Jakub Vraaanaa was still not regularly earning a sweater every night for the Stanley Cup bound Capitals. While the jury may still be out on the team’s coaching changes last summer, the fact remains that this year has been a start-to-finish rousing success for the 23-year old Czech who has emerged as a must-keep cornerstone player for the Capitals “next generation.”

6. The Penguins couldn’t be held off the board for long, as Jared McCann picked Evgeny Kuznutzov’s pocket as he attempted to exit the defensive zone, finding Jake Guentzel for his 35th goal of the season. Just 47 seconds later in a similar turnover, Sidney Crosby evened the score at two apiece, beating Braden Holtby through the five-hole. Pittsburgh was not done as they capitalized on a Nicklas Backstrom tripping call as Crosby recorded his 84th career two-goal game courtesy of the powerplay marker. Once the dust had settled, what was a two-goal lead turned into a one-goal deficit over just a 1:48 span.

7. While Washington held the shot narrow advantage through two periods (24-21) the Penguins took a page out of the Capitals playbook and upped their physical play with 33 hits and 17 blocks by the second intermission (compared to just 5 and 24 respectively for the visitors.) The Caps did ring pucks off the iron three times through two periods and had a bevy of opportunities to tie or lead, but the puck luck went the Pens way on a soft, almost slushy home ice.

8. The Capitals made one (or maybe two) too many mistakes as highlighted by a too-many-men penalty with under ten minutes left in the third, which resulted in Phil Kessel capping off a crisp passing sequence with a goal on the doorstep to make it 4-2. After such a great stretch of penalty killing the Caps gave up their second man-down goal of the night. Evgeni Malkin picked up his second assist of the game, which was the 1000th point of his career. Malkin now has points in 13 of 16 games against the Caps, and extended a home point-scoring streak to seven games against Washington with eight goals and eight assists over that stretch.

Malkin became the 88th player in NHL history to get to 1,000 points, and is the only the fifth Russian-born player to ever hit that milestone.

10. The Capitals comeback bid was smothered as McCann picked up his second point of the night on an empty net goal.

It wouldn’t be a Caps-Pens recap (or any hockey segment on cable sports news) without mentioning Crosby vs. Ovechkin. In the 74th meeting between the two, Ovechkin reached the milestone, but Crosby got the better of the matchup with two goals en route to the win. The Pens have now won 43 of 74 matchups when the two stars collide, and Crosby reached 100 career points agains the Caps tonight, while Ovi has 84 all-time.

After what has been a very nice stretch, the Capitals seven-game win streak came to an end. Ultimately, the intensity and opportunities were there for Washington, but ultimately a highly-motivated Penguins team was able to capitalize on what amounted to a two-minute stretch to unravel the Caps. The loss means that the Penguins have claimed the season series between, but it left with the air of inevitability that this will not be the last time the two rivals meet this year.