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Capitals vs Penguins Recap: A Wonderful Willy Winner

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The Capitals earn a split in the back half of a two-game set against the familiar flightless fowl.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

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The Capitals came into Thursday Night’s tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins treading water. Sure, their 22 points were good enough to stand alone in second place in the Mass Mutual Division, but that was only one up on the Penguins, the Flyers, and the Islanders, with each of the first two having at least a game in hand. Meanwhile, the Caps hadn’t exactly been setting the track on fire of late, dropping two of their last three, and that one win requiring comeback heroics to avoid a weekend sweep at the hands of the lowly Rangers and Devils. The Caps held on for an important-if-not-pretty win, and clawed back two of the points they’ve been in the habit of relinquishing to the Pens.

Here’s Thursday evening’s Plus/Minus:

Plus: T.J. Oshie’s spectacular goal. Scroll down for for the goodness on repeat.

Minus: Another lead against the Penguins, another lead blown. Regardless of outcome, the blown leads (not just against Pittsburgh...but especially against Pittsburgh) are a hideous, untenable trend.

And now this...

Here are some more notes on Thursday game:

  1. Ready for an ugly stat? The Capitals have held a lead in all five games against the Penguins this year heading into tonight, but only have one win to show for it. High-watermark win percentages for the Capitals in each of those losses registered at 69%, 90%, 63%, and 70%. Their odds of losing in each of those games is only slightly better than the odds of a fair coin landing on heads eight times in a row. Tonight, with a two goal lead in the third period, their odds of winning were at 96%. Three minutes later they were down to 49%. It’s a good thing the Caps pulled it out in the end, because believe me, you don’t want to see that math added to the equation...
  2. Vitek Vanecek got the nod in the cage yet again tonight. It was his fifteenth start in sixteen games, and he continues to get the job done. We explored last week how Vanecek is giving the Caps league-average level goaltending, and tonight he turned in a performance that was decidedly above least for the first two periods. Neither goal he relinquished in the third period was a particularly tough save.
  3. About halfway through the first period, Nicklas Backstrom found Tom Wilson for a semi-breakaway that was interrupted by a pretty clear hook on the hands - a play that gets whistled if it happens to any other player who saw ice tonight. But Wilson would get the last laugh tonight...
  4. Speaking of Nicklas Backstrom, the Super Swede’s goal scoring tear continued as he ushered a phenomenal cross-ice pass from Nick Jensen over the shoulder of Tristan Jarry to give the Caps an early 1-0 lead. It was Nick’s ninth goal in the nineteenth game of the season...which is one more goal than he scored in 48 games played back in 2013.
  5. Taking more penalties than they draw continues to be a theme for the Caps this year, and that habit threatened their early lead in this game, as the good guys had to kill off three dangerous-looking Pens powerplays before the Capitals got their first look a man-to-the-good. The powerplay differential at the end of the game favored the Pens by one. Hats off to the Caps penalty killers. As for the powerplay unit...well at least they finished they game breakeven.

6. The Caps looked great in the second stanza, owning 70% of shot attempts and 70% of expected goals at five-on-five, which made it all the more disappointing that they weren’t able to extend their one-goal lead before heading into intermission, and given their recent history with these leads, as well as their overtime failures against this Penguins team, the odor of familiar disappointment was beginning to permeate the air...

7. Instead, T.J. Oshie scored an absolutely incredible goal. It was big because it gave the Caps a two-goal lead in the third period, and it was, amazingly his first 5v5 tally on the season, but forget all of that for a second, and just drink it in.

8. But if you thought the Caps would have a moment of blissful cushion, you were wrong, because despite the favorable outcome that the powerplay they drew right after going up by two goals would suggest, Brandon Tanev scored shorthanded to bring the game back within one.

9. And then Jake Guentzel tied it up, because of course he did. Vanecek needs to make this save.

10. On a late game power play, Evgeny Kuznetsov teed up a slapshot that broke Kris Letang’s stick. The Caps’ powerplay put on a clinic for exposing a stickless defender for the next thirty seconds, and the powerplay terminated with Tom Wilson putting the puck in the back of the net off a pretty John Carlson feed, and the Caps taking a 3-2 lead. Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller would add empty netters to salt the game away.

Hope to see you all back here on Saturday afternoon for another matinee tilt against the Devils in New Jersey.