A scoreless game through two periods, the Caps broke through early in the third period on what looked like a harmless shot. Evgeny Kuznetsov weaved his way up ice out of the Capitals’end, slowly backing off the Penguin defense. As he got to the top of the left wing circle in the Pittsburgh end, he snapped a low shot that grazed the stick of defenseman Olli Maatta, then deflected off the skate of defenseman Rob Scuderi before sliding between the pads of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Caps a 1-0 lead 89 seconds into the period.
The cheers barely subsided when the game was tied. Beau Bennett took a feed from Nick Bonino and got behind the Caps’ defense. His initial shot was stopped by Braden Holtby, but he was all alone to follow up and put home his own rebound just 24 seconds after the Kuznetsov goal.
Phil Kessel broke the tie less than two minutes later, taking a brilliant feed from Evgeni Malkin through the legs of defenseman Karl Alzner at the top of the Capitals’ crease and sending the puck past Holtby’s left pad.
Bonino ended the scoring with an empty net goal with 1:43 left to leave the Caps and their fans quiet and in search of starting a new winning streak.
-- For all the lack of scoring early, it was not a matter of low shot volumes. The teams combined for 27 shots on goal in the first period, 14 for Pittsburgh and 13 for Washington.
-- On the other hand, the four goals in the third period scored by the two teams came on a total of only 14 shots, seven for each team.
-- The Caps finished with their fifth straight game allowing 25 or fewer shots. They have allowed the fewest shots on goal per game in the league (24.3).
-- With the goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov extended his points streak to four games, tying his longest in the NHL, set last season.
-- The Caps came into this contest with a home power play hitting at 35.7 percent (5-for-14). They went 0-for-3 in this game despite getting seven shots on goal.
-- The Caps could have found themselves in a hole early, taking three penalties in the first nine minutes of the contest, including a pair that put the Penguins on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:45. The Caps held the Penguins to just three power play shots on goal.
-- The TKO line that combined for three goals, nine points and 13 shots on goal against Edmonton last week was a bit quieter in this game. T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were a combined 1-0-1 (Kuznetsov’s goal) with another 13 shots on goal.
-- Braden Holtby’s save percentage at 5-on-5 was .889. That makes it three games in his past four in which his 5-on-5 save percentage was under .900 after starting the season with three games at .900 or higher at fives.
-- This was just the second game in eight for the Caps in which neither team recorded a power play goal. The other was a 6-2 win against the Calgary Flames on October 20th.
-- Although the Caps did not gain any ground on either of the New York teams ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings, the Caps are two points ahead of the pace they had last season after eight games (4-2-2).
In the end…
It’s not the end of the world, Caps fans. There are still 74 games left in the season and four more against the Penguins. Pittsburgh played a decent road game, despite getting no production out of Sidney Crosby, who is now without a point in eight of the nine games in which he has played. As has been the case more often than not this season, the key on the Penguin side of the ice was the play of Marc-Andre Fleury. The Caps played well enough to hold their own (their shot attempts were 11 more than the Pens, 66-55), but the Penguins got better results in net.
The trick in these things is always to keep “one” loss from becoming “two in a row,” especially at home, where the Caps will host Columbus on Friday before heading to Florida on Saturday. It means looking forward, not dwelling on this outcome.