The Caps lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-2, on Sunday night, the seventh time in 15 regulation losses this season in which they lost by three or more goals. Pittsburgh scored early, and they scored late to offset a mid-game push by the Caps as the Caps lost their third consecutive road game.
It was a case of the Penguins getting contributions from the unexpected portions of their lineup. Bryan Rust got the Pens off and running mid-way through the first period when he took a spin-o-rama pass from Tom Kuhnhackl, deked goalie Braden Holtby to the ice, and tucked the puck around Holtby’s left pad to make it 1-0, 8:33 into the first period.
Less than two minutes later, it was 2-0. When the puck squirted free from a scrum at the left wing wall in the Caps’ zone, it ended up on the stick of Sidney Crosby, who threaded a pass between two Caps defenders to Trevor Daley pinching in on the right side. Daley kicked the puck to his stick, leaned in, and lifted a backhander over Holtby’s glove, off the near post, and into the back of the net to make it 2-0 at the 9:59 mark.
That would do it for the scoring in the first period, and the Caps would make a game of it in the second. Jason Chimera got the Caps on the board less than two minutes into the period on an odd play. With the puck sliding into the Penguins’ end, Chimera and Daley were in a race to chase it down. Chimera got a step on Daley, and seeing this, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury tried to poke check the puck out of harm’s way. He got a stick on the puck but managed only to bat it off Chimera’s helmet, from which it ricocheted into the net to make it 2-1 just 1:18 into the period.
Washington tied the game late in the period when Jay Beagle collected a loose puck inside his blue line and fed the puck up to Andre Burakovsky behind the Penguin defense after stepping out of the penalty box. With nothing but clean ice in front of him, Burakovsky skated in and snapped a shot under the left arm of Fleury to make it 2-2 at the 15:12 mark.
If the Caps could have gotten out of the period with no further scoring, things might have been different. They didn’t, and they weren’t. On the next shift the Penguins took the lead back. Tom Kuhnhackl made lemonade out of lemons for what would be the game-winning goal. After getting knocked off the puck by Justin Williams, he was more or less left alone as the puck found its way to Matt Cullen, who found Kuhnhackl all alone in the right wing circle for a one-timer that beat Holtby to make it 3-2 with 4:06 left in the period.
The third period was all Penguins. Cullen scored a goal of his own 3:46 into the period when he snuck behind the Caps’ defense, took a pass from Kuhnhackl, and chipped a shot that rolled up and over Holtby to drop into the net to make it 4-2.
Less than four minute later the Pens put an end to the competitive portion of the game when Sidney Croaby tacked down a puck that floated into the Caps’ zone and backhanded a pass to Chris Kunitz skating down the middle. Kunitz rifled a shot off the post and behind Holtby to make it 5-2, 7:18 into the period and ending Holtby’s night.
Pittsburgh ended the scoring on a power play 13 minutes into the period on one-timer by Justin Schultz, his first as a Penguin, that sailed past the glove of Philipp Grubauer.
-- The hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh away. Evgeny Kuznetsov had three assists against Nashville on Friday night. He was a minus-4 in this game, the worst plus-minus game of his career to date.
-- The six goals allowed by the Caps is the most allowed to an opponent in any game this season. They allowed five goals on five occasions.
-- Until tonight, the Caps had a single misconduct penalty on their team penalty record for the season. Mike Weber and Daniel Winnik made it three with the misconduct penalties they took in the third period.
-- Washington had a season-low 18 shots on goal. It was the second game this season in which they recorded fewer than 20 shots, the other one a 19-shot performance on December 3rd in a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It was just the third time in 13 games that the Caps lost when recording fewer than 25 shots on goal.
-- This was just the second game this season in which the Caps lost by four or more goals, the other coming against San Jose in a 5-0 decision on October 13th. If you are wondering, the club record for fewest losses by four or more goals in a season is one, set twice – once in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season and again in 2014-2015.
-- In the “records you don’t want” department, this was the 16th time in Braden Holtby’s career he allowed five goals in a game. That ties him with Brent Johnson and Clint Malarchuk for third-most in Caps history, behind Don Beaupre (43) and Olaf Kolzig (84).
-- By the end of this game, the “Jay Beagle Experiment” appeared to be over. The top line was once more Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie.
-- This was an odd game in terms of penalties. It was the first time this season that two Capitals recorded more than 10 minutes in penalties in a single game. It was also the first time this season that a player other than Tom Wilson was the one recording more than 10 minutes. Mike Weber finished with 19 penalty minutes, while Daniel Winnik finished with 14 minutes in penalties.
-- The Caps had just two shots on goal from defensemen, and they came from two defensemen one might not have anticipated. Mike Weber and Nate Schmidt had one shot apiece.
-- The possession battle was a bit strange. Take away special teams, where the Penguins had an 11-2 advantage in shots, and the shots on goal were relatively even, 20-16 in favor of Pittsburgh. At a more discrete level, the 5-on-5 shot attempts favored the Pens, but only by a 37-34 margin overall. It was close among the periods, too. Pittsburgh had a 16-12 edge in the first period, but the Caps had a 12-11 advantage in the second. The teams were 10-10 in the third period (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
In the end…
If it wasn’t the Penguins, one could chalk this up to it being a bad, but essentially meaningless game late in a regular season that is all but settled for the Caps. And truth be told, this one might mean more to fans than to the players, whose sights might be trained on April more than they are on the last dozen games of the regular season. But it was the Penguins, and that matchup will always have meaning on some level. This was the fourth time since the 2004-2005 lockout that a Capitals-Penguins game was settled by four or more goals, the Penguins winning their third such game. It that respect, one should be thankful it does not happen often. On the other, let’s hope the next one, at least one ending in the Penguins’ favor, doesn’t happen for quite some time to come.