It has been approximately eight million years since the Washington Capitals faced the Pittsburgh Penguins — okay, so it was February 25, but time is an illusion so who can really say? The Caps and Pens are currently vying for first place in the MassMutual East Division, and both teams have playoff spot clinching scenarios in play tonight that also depend on the outcome of the Rangers-Islanders game three hours away. If the Capitals take more points in their game than the Rangers do in theirs, the Caps will clinch a playoff spot. If the Penguins and Islanders both win in regulation, the Penguins will clinch a playoff spot. Let’s go, boys and girls and babes.
A handful of lineup notes: Justin Schultz is back in the lineup after missing three games, Alex Ovechkin will miss his third-straight game, and John Carlson joins Ovi on the injury list with a lower body injury. According to Joe Beninati, this is the first Capitals-Penguins game that Alex Ovechkin has missed in his entire career. Here are the line combos for tonight:
#Caps' lines/pairs vs. PIT:— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) April 29, 2021
10-Sprong, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
39-Mantha, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
73-Sheary, 20-Eller, 17-Raffl
62-Hagelin, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
4-Dillon, 57-van Riemsdyk
Vanecek vs. Jarry. #CapsPens
Also missing from the ice? Penguins centerman Evgeni Malkin, who is missing his 22nd game with a lower body injury. Pittsburgh does, however, have Jeff Carter in their lineup now. Let’s see what happens.
Here’s Thursday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: Caps are playoff bound, folks. Also: Daniel Sprong.
Minus: The Caps still can’t buy a save, despite Vitek Vanecek coming off a stellar shutout performance on Tuesday.
And now, with both Ovechkin and Carlson out of the lineup, introducing your newest alternate captain...
Fourteen more notes on the game:
1. 7:15 into the game, the Penguins took a delay of game penalty and gave the Capitals the first power play of the game. The Caps only needed 12 seconds to get on the board with a beautiful redirection from T.J. Oshie on a Justin Schultz shot from the blue line. This is Oshbabe’s 18th goal of the season and his 11th power play tally, which is tied for the most PPGs Oshie has recorded in a season (2015-2016). 11 power play goals leads the Caps this season, and also ties Oshie for second-most in the NHL with the Rangers’ Chris Kreider.
T.J. Oshie is so good guys pic.twitter.com/Xali6XMeYH— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 29, 2021
2. About 30 seconds later, Justin Schultz was called for interference on Jake Guentzel. The Capitals’ penalty kill is ranked eighth-best in the league on the season, and the Penguins’ power play is...also ranked eighth. The Caps’ PK unit came out on top of this matchup and held Pittsburgh to no shots for Pittsburgh on the man-advantage, but there was one event of note: Evan Rodrigues took a howler of a slap shot off his left leg in front of the net and had to be helped off the ice and down the tunnel.
3. Kasperi Kapanen got the Penguins on the board with 4:33 to go in the first. He capitalized on a rare mistake from Nicklas Backstrom, who tried to pass the puck through traffic in front of Vitek Vanecek. Kapanen batted the puck out of the air in the slot and fired it past Vanecek.
4. Evgeny Kuznetsov took a holding penalty just under two minutes into the second period, giving the Penguins power play another chance. The Pittsburgh man-advantage is running at about 22% effective on the road this season, and the Caps’ PK has been 80.8% effective on home ice. They once again came out on top and held the Pens to zero power play shots.
5. Frederick Gaudreau gave the Penguins their first lead of the evening off a pretty sweet pass by Jason Zucker from the boards. Daniel Sprong made a near-zero attempt at defense, and Gaudreau poked the puck past Vanecek to make it 2-1 Pittsburgh.
6. A mere 30 seconds later, Dmitry Orlov decided to even things up with an absolute rocket of a shot past Tristan Jarry. After a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom the puck made its way to Orlov at the left point, who did not miss. Well, sort of — the puck actually bounced off the crossbar, but rebounded off Jarry’s body and into the net. This was Orlov’s third goal in his last seven games and his eighth goal of the season, just two shy of the ten-goal career high he set in the 2017-2018 season.
Also of note on the goal: with the lone assist on the play, Nicklas Backstrom reached the 50-point mark. This is now the eighth-straight season in which NB19 has recorded at least 50 points.
7. Marcus Pettersson was called for holding on T.J. Oshie with 10:38 left, evening up the power play chances on the night. Despite operating at a league-best 33.9% at home on the season and converting quickly on their last opportunity, the Caps’ power play did not manage to regain the lead.
8. With 4:53 to go in the first, who else but Daniel Sprong to put the Caps back in the league. With Ovechkin out of the lineup, Sprong has been playing like a man possessed in his best attempt to convince the coaches to keep him in the lineup. Evgeny Kuznetsov won the faceoff and eventually Justin Schultz fired the puck on net, where Sprong was waiting to tap it in to the right of Jarry. This is Sprong’s fourth goal in his last three games, no big deal.
9. Zach Aston-Reese tied things up at 3-3 with 1:49 remaining. Schultz gave the puck away by the boards and Aston-Reese had way too much time and space to Vanecek’s right to make a backhand five-hole shot.
10. The Capitals got their third power play chance of the night when Bryan Rust got called for holding Lars Eller’s stick at 7:45 of the third. The Caps recorded two shots on goal and Anthony Mantha got a good look towards the end of the man-advantage, but Tristan Jarry came up with a better save to keep the game tied at 3 apiece. The Washington power play without Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson has been...suffering a bit tonight.
11. Kasperi Kapanen scored his second goal of the game with 9:05 left off a rush down the ice. Kapanen beat Vanecek with a high short side bullet, although it’s hard to fault Vanecek on this one. 4-3 Pittsburgh, who could clinch a playoff spot tonight after the Islanders just shut out the Rangers 4-0.
12. Michael Raffl was called for holding with 4:25 remaining in the game after getting tangled up with Marcus Pettersson along the boards behind Tristan Jarry. An unnecessary offensive-zone penalty? Raffl is fitting in just fine. Thankfully, the Caps’ penalty kill remained perfect on the night.
13. Laviolette pulled Vanecek with roughly two minutes to go, and with 14.3 seconds to go Tom Wilson rewarded DC-area Caps fans with free McNuggets tomorrow with the first six-on-five for the Capitals this season. To overtime we go!
14. The Capitals had some excellent puck control to kick off overtime, but it was Jake Guentzel who found the back of the net 2:11 into OT to seal the 5-4 win for Pittsburgh.
Because both the Caps and Pens got at least one standings point tonight, both teams clinched playoff berth. Up next for the Capitals: a rematch against Pittsburgh on Saturday night at Capital One Arena to wrap up this three-game home stand.