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Capitals vs. Penguins Recap: Caps Can’t Find Stride in 4-2 Loss to Pens

The Caps find a little bit of life late but ultimately can’t get things together against the visiting Penguins.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The first time these two teams clashed in the 2021-22 season, it was a one-sided affair in the Caps’ favor, as the good guys bludgeoned the birds 6-1 (and it wasn’t that close). Things have changed a bit for both squads since that first meeting, with health issues continuing to play a role for each team.

So it was anyone’s guess what kind of game tonight would end up being... turns out not so great for the home team.

First up, here’s Friday night’s plus/minus:

Plus - The Caps finding a little life in the third period was definitely a positive in what was a tough game that saw them lose two players to injury.

Minus - Two more players to injury. Ugh.

More notes on the game:

  • The Pens had a slight edge in play early on in this one, with their best chance coming off an Evan Rodrigues breakaway that (thankfully) hit the post behind Ilya Samsonov and careened to safety. Just one of a handful of odd-man chances the Caps gave up early (and were saved by some excellent work by Samsonov).
  • And it was the Penguins striking first, with Danton Heinen (who I’m told is actually an NHL player of some kind) sneaking into the slot and putting one past Samsonov. Not a great shift for Connor McMichael, as the kid was nowhere to be found defensively on the play.
  • Simply far too many high-danger chances given up by the Caps through the first 20-30 minutes tonight, with the Penguins getting multiple odd-man rushes - something the team has been so good at limiting throughout the season.
  • Things went from bad to worse just before the halfway point, when a seeing-eye shot from the half boards bounced into the Caps’ net off of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s foot to make it 2-0 Penguins.
  • Then from worse to awful on a number of levels, as Brock McGinn caught Martin Fehervary’s head with his shoulder, sending Fehervary to the dressing room... but no Penguins to the penalty box, because of course.
  • And then Kasperi Kapanen, proving that being annoying is hereditary, puts the bad guys up by three after another defensive breakdown.
  • It’s been a hot second since the last injury (almost literally), so of course we find out that Tom Wilson is not on the bench to start the third period, later to learn that he would also not return to the game. Wilson was tripped up driving to the net toward the end of the second and went into Tristan Jarry hard. With back-to-back games ahead, here’s hoping both he and Fehervary were kept out for merely precautionary reasons.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps life about halfway through the third when he picked up an Ovechkin pass and skated in on a breakaway to flip the puck past Jarry for the Caps’ first of the night. A Kuznetsov breakaway from an Ovechkin pass against the Penguins... something so delightfully familiar about it, no?
  • With his team down by two, Peter Laviolette made the bold choice to pull Samsonov with just under three minutes remaining - and it paid off almost immediately, as a set play off the draw resulted in a perfect shot by Lars Eller to cut the lead to one.
  • Alas, empty net giveth, empty net taketh away when Jarry’s clear ends up turning into a breakout pass for Crosby, who tosses it to Jeff Carter, who emerges from his mummified state to score the only type of goal he could possibly score: an easy empty-net tap-in. Tough luck for the Caps.

The Penguins came into DC tonight at the tail-end of a five-game road swing (in which they were gifted a three-day break after returning from the west coast), but it was the Caps looking a step slow and a second off for most of the night, no doubt largely a factor of having missed two practices this week

That they were able to muster a little bit of life toward the end of the game is heartening, but this never felt like a game they were going to win - now we hope the newest injuries aren’t too serious.