Sunday, January 22, 2012

A ONE-point night -- Game 47: Penguins 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

The sun has risen in the east a trillion or so days in a row. Someday, that streak will end. All other streaks come to an end much sooner than that. So it was that the Washington Capitals saw their eight-game winning streak it the city of Pittsburgh end with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins this afternoon.

Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winner when he took a puck that rebounded off the end boards and snapped it over Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth 1:31 into the extra session. Before Malkin's goal, it was a game the Caps were going to lose ugly, then win valiantly, but ended up losing frustratingly. The ugly part came early as the Penguins got off to a 2-0 lead less than six minutes into the game on goals by Kris Letang and James Neal on the second and fourth shots for the Penguins.

But the Caps made a game of it in the second period on goals by Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin. When Alex Ovechkin scored barely a minute into the third period, it looked as if the Caps would extend their winning streak in Pittsburgh to nine. But that lasted about six minutes when James Neal got his second goal of the game to tie things up and set the stage for Malkin’s game-winner in overtime.

Other stuff…

-- The eight-game winning streak the Caps had in Pittsburgh before this game tied a Penguin franchise record for consecutive wins by an opponent in Pittsburgh. A ninth would have left the Caps all alone with that record.

-- The goal and two assists was Ovechkin’s first three-point game of the season. It is the latest, by far, that he has gone into a season without a three-point game. He had never failed to record a three-point game before December 31st in any season before this, and this was the first time since the 2006-2007 season that he did not do it at least once in the first ten games of the season.

-- It might be the last chance Ovechkin gets to post a three-point game for a while. One supposes that his hit on Zbynek Michalek early in the second period will be looked at by the league and that a video message from Brendan Shanahan might be forthcoming. We did, however, find Pierre McGuire’s breathless commentary on the hit a bit over the top, though.

-- Another game, another finish without topping 20 shots. The Caps had just 20 shots, the fourth time in their last six games they have not had more than 20 shots. They did break a streak of ten periods without reaching the ten shot mark. They had 10 shots in the second period of this game. The Penguins out-attempted the Caps, 72-50. The had more shots (27), more shots blocked (25), and as many misses (20) as the Caps had shots on goal.

-- Another disturbing trend. The Caps allowed the Penguins five power play opportunities this afternoon. Since holding the Penguins without a power play opportunity when they beat Pittsburgh, 1-0, on January 11th, the Caps have allowed teams five or more power play opportunities four times in six games and are 2-1-1 in those games. It is also the fifth time in those six games that the Caps have allowed a power play goal (23-for-30; 76.7 percent).

-- On the other side, the Caps had four power play chances without success. That makes 19 straight games they have not had as many as five power play opportunities. And, since going two-for-four against Tampa on January 13th, the Caps are 1-for-15 on the power play (6.7 percent).

-- The Caps are still having difficulty starting plays at the offensive end of the ice. There were 16 faceoffs in the offensive end for the Caps (nine wins; 56.3 percent) and 26 faceoffs in the defensive end (10 wins; 38.5 percent).

-- Dale Hunter leaned heavily of Brooks Laich this afternoon. Laich led everyone on the ice for both teams in ice time (27:57), had more than four minutes of power play time, more than three minutes of penalty killing time (his 7”12 in special teams time being by far the most of any player for either team), and took 39 of the 60 draws in the game for the Caps. He had a goal, four shots, seven attempts, three hits, and two blocked shots. The bad news…he was on the ice for each of the Penguins’ four goals.  Laich is now tied for the third highest number of goals scored against/on ice in the league.  Only Eric Staal and Shawn Horcoff have been on ice for more goals scored against.

-- The Caps have had 19 fighting majors this season. Seven of them have come in the last eight games. Today’s contestant was Troy Brouwer (his third of the season), who squared off with Tyler Kennedy.

-- Speaking of penalties, a lot of games have the majority of the infractions called be those of the obstruction variety – holding, interference, tripping. Not so in this one. In addition to the coincidental majors for fighting to Brouwer and Kennedy, there were 11 minor penalties called. Six of them might be termed physical fouls – three for Washington (all cross-checking), three for Pittsburgh (high-sticking, elbowing, slashing).

-- The Caps opened with a top line of Alex Ovechkin, Mathieu Perreault, and Mike Knuble. As a group, they finished the game with four shots on goal and one goal (Perreault and Ovechkin split four assists as well). It was kind of like a meal that seems satisfying at the time, but leaves one hungry for more in short order.

-- The top three centers – Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich, Jeff Halpern. The Caps have had trouble with settling on a second line center for years now. Today, everyone played at least one level higher than they probably should have with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson out.

In the end, one might say that it was a standings point hard-earned, that it was the tenth straight game earning a standings point in Pittsburgh, this one against a hot team. One could point to the fact that the Caps were without two productive centers, one of them being arguably their most valuable player so far this season. But if a team is going to be a Stanley Cup contender, moral victories go only so far. The Caps got behind the eight-ball early and had to scratch and claw to get even and then get a one-goal lead. But a thin team playing on a thin margin is going to have a tough time holding on to that lead after expending that kind of effort, and that is what happened to the Caps this afternoon. And when all is said and done about this, the fact remains that the Caps have played ten games in 2012 and have a record of 5-4-1. They are going to have to do better if they are to ensure that they play hockey past the first week in April.

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