Looking to bounce back from a disappointing finish — and an emotional milestone moment for their captain Alex Ovechkin — in Newark Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals got set for another emotional game as they faced the rival Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday back in DC.
For once, a slow start wasn’t in the cards, with Jakub Vrana driving the net to get the Caps on the board first. By the end of the second period, however, things had gone sideways, upside-down and into a weird sci-fi disastrous 12th dimension for the Capitals. Two goals in just 26 seconds by the Penguins had them in a 2-1 hole after 40, the go-ahead goal scored by the District’s favorite villain, Sidney Crosby.
But the Caps had their own “villain” to use in response: Tom Wilson. Whip’s four-on-four mini breakaway tied the game early in the final frame, helping change the momentum. Goals from T.J. “Pens-killer” Oshie and Carl Hagelin put the Caps back on top, and Holtby’s strong play led the way to a massive two points.
Plus: The penalty kill was excellent today against a rejuvenated Penguins’ power play, backstopped by Braden Holtby (who is undergoing his recent renaissance, with another strong game).
Minus: Radko Gudas, Michal Kempny and Brendan Leipsic five minutes into the second period. None of them could beat Patric Hornqvist for the puck near the blue line; Hornqvist then fed the puck to a teammate, drove to the net and tapped in what was then the game-tying goal.
And now, this:
There was a goosebump-inducing moment during the Capitals traditional military salute when they honored a veteran who is anything but traditional: retired Marine Corporal Woody Willams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific Theater of World War II.
More notes on the game:
- Jakub Vrana had not scored in 11 games coming into today’s matchup. He was still creating offense with slick passes, especially after being moved to the first power play unit, but couldn’t find the back of the net (and added a couple of shots that hit the post Saturday against the Devils). That ended with a strong drive to the net — and a little bit of needed luck — as Vrana put the Caps on top and tied his career-high in goals with 20 games left to play in the season.
- John Carlson, with his eye-popping 57th assist of the season, passed Calle Johansson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history. Alex Ovechkin who?
- Braden Holtby faced over 35 shots and was excellent again today, keeping the Caps in it early and holding down the fort on the penalty kill. The Beast is reclaiming his starting job.
- For the first half of the game, it seemed like the Caps were focusing on defense, almost at the expense of the offense (as you may have noticed given the constant reminder of their low shot total early on). Give the Pens (some) credit for keeping the Caps in check, but it’s also worth noting that at even-strength the Capitals were pretty much doing the same in return. The result: keeping the score close and allowing for the Caps to explode for four goals in the third.
- How about Nicklas Backstrom on T.J. Oshie’s eventual game-winning goal? Officially the goal went down as unassisted, but soft-spoken Nick hammered multiple Pens behind the net, turning the puck over to Oshie, who was parked in front of the net and poked the puck past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.
- A negative: the Capitals had 14 minutes of penalty minutes. They cleaned up their sloppy play with better forechecking and defensive zone clearing Sunday, but penalties can bite teams in the playoffs.
- It was to see Brenden Dillon jumping right into the heart of the rivalry, going after Evengi Malkin in the first period, and earning the love of Caps fans everywhere for his efforts.
Look at that. The Capitals are on top of the Metropolitan Division again. They beat their biggest rival. We can all calm down for a bit.