Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 4 - Penguins 1

The Washington Capitals gave new Pittsburgh Penguin head coach Mike Sullivan a rude welcome to the NHL on Monday night as the Caps defeated the Penguins, 4-1, at Consol Energy Arena in Pittsburgh.

The Caps scored early, and they scored late, and goalie Braden Holtby did the rest to wrap up the Capitals’ three-game road trip in successful fashion.  With the win, the Caps went to 9-1-1 in their last 11 games.

Nicklas Backstrom got the Caps going just before the four-minute mark on a simple case of a smooth offensive zone entry.  With the Penguins having numbers on defense at their own blue line, T.J. Oshie still managed to carry the puck on the right side over the line and curl off.  Backstrom filled in the middle, and Oshie hit him with a pass in stride.  With the Penguins still backing off, Backstrom stepped up and snapped a shot over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove and under the crossbar to make it 1-0.

Just over three minutes later the Caps struck again.  Working the puck below the Penguins’ goal line, Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle exchanged passes, Chimera eventually working the puck out and around the corner to Fleury’s left.  He sent the puck across on what looked like a pass to Tom Wilson in the slot.  The puck slid through, though, to John Carlson pinching in on the weak side.  His initial shot was stopped by Fleury, but the puck came back to Carlson.  Without having a defender close on him, Carlson was free to put the rebound back and past Fleury to make it 2-0 just over seven minutes into the game.

Pittsburgh got one back just before the 14-minute mark when they caught the Caps on a sluggish line change.  Phil Kessel carried the puck down an open right wing and as he gained the offensive zone dropped it off for Ben Lovejoy at the point.  Lovejoy fired a slap-pass into the middle where Evgeni Malkin redirected it past Holtby and off the pipe to give the Penguins some life.

It would not be much, though.  The 2-1 score held up for the rest of the first period and through the second.  In the third period, T.J. Oshie took over.  With the clock ticking toward the nine-minute mark, Oshie tried to flip the puck into the Penguin zone, but the attempt was blocked.  Backstrom collected the loose puck just outside the blue line and carried it in, where he slid a pass to Oshie on his right.  Oshie took the puck off the wall and skated down the right wing with defenseman Ian Cole on his hip.  Oshie carried him all the way around the back of the net, and with Fleury unable to get from the left post to the right, Oshie completed the wrap-around to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.

Oshie capped the scoring in the final minute when, with Malkin off on a tripping call joining Olli Maatta, who was in the penalty box on a hooking penalty, he one-timed a pass from Backstrom through the slot past Fleury’s blocker.  Fleury could only whack his stick on the end boards in frustration as the Caps skated off with a 4-1 win.

Other stuff…

--  Nice view…

-- Oshie had his second two-goal game in his last six contests.  He became the third Capital to reach the ten-goal mark this season.  Nicklas Backstrom also joined the ten-goal club earlier in the game, joining Alex Ovechkin (14) as Caps with ten or more.

-- John Carlson had a two-point game (1-1-2), extending a nice little run for him.  He has points in eight of his last 11 games (2-9-11) and is now tied for fourth in scoring among defensemen (5-18-23) with Rasmus Ristolainen of Buffalo and San Jose’s Brent Burns.

-- The 79 combined shots recorded by the teams – 45 for Pittsburgh and 34 for the Caps – are the most in any game played thus far by the Caps this season.  The 45 shots allowed was the first time this season Washington allowed more than 40 shots on goal.

-- At an individual level, the shooting was odd for both teams.  John Carlson led the Caps with eight shots on goal, a personal high this season, tying a career high he set twice before.  On the other side, Matt Cullen was the only Penguin not to record a shot on goal.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov skated just 13:41 in this game.  That is a season low in ice time for the center.  He also lost 12 of 16 faceoffs, including eight of ten in the defensive zone.

-- Nate Schmidt continues to do well even when not getting on the scoreboard himself.  In just over 20 minutes of ice time he had six shot attempts (three on goal) and seven blocked shots to lead both teams.

-- The win was the Caps’ tenth on the road this season.  They joined the Boston Bruins as the only clubs in the Eastern Conference with ten road wins.

-- Braden Holtby just keeps rolling along.  This was his seventh straight game allowing two or fewer goals.  In his last 15 appearances he is 13-1-1, 1.64, .945.

-- The rivals were held off the scoreboard in this one.  Neither Alex Ovechkin nor Sidney Crosby recorded a point and fired blanks on nine combined shots on goal, but Ovechkin was a plus-1 (plus-13 for the season), while Crosby finished minus-1 (now a minus-7, although it was his first “minus” game in his last seven games).

In the end…

It is never bad beating Pittsburgh.  But really, 45 shots on goal?  A total of 79 shot attempts allowed?   This was the second straight game in which Washington’s Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 overall was below 40 percent, and it was their worst of the season (36.6).  They barely escaped their worst score-adjusted Corsi-for of the season.  It was another case of lots of Holtby and taking advantage of opportunities (and in this case, a weak and depleted defense).  The Caps sit atop the Eastern Conference, but not in a way that suggests a long term stay there.  Still…