The game was a preview of a potential first-round playoff matchup, and it was played as closely as a postseason game. The Penguins took an early lead on a goal by Evgeni Malkin, who led a 3-on-1 break and finished it when he chipped the puck past goalie Braden Holtby from the top of the crease at the 6:14 mark of the first period.
The Penguins doubled their lead early in the second period when they smartly broke down the Caps’ defense. Sidney Crosby started the play by skating the puck into the offensive zone and curling off to his right to create an opening. Olli Maatta filled in and took a pass from Crosby as he was skating down the middle. Maatta slid the puck under Matt Niskanen’s stick to Patric Hornqvist, who freed himself behind everyone. Hornqvist had only to backhand the puck under Holtby’s right pad, and it was 2-0, Penguins, 3:45 into the second period.
Less than a minute after the Hornqvist goal, the Caps started their comeback. A shot by Nate Schmidt was muffled by Malkin at the top of the right wing faceoff circle, but Mike Richards was first to get to the loose puck. Richards turned and fired, his shot sailing through a maze of bodies and eluding goalie Matt Murray to make it 2-1 4:24 into the period.
Washington tied the game late in the second period with speed. Andre Burakovsky stormed the Penguins’ zone carrying the puck down the left wing along the boards. He left it for Justin Williams, who skated past Nick Bonino and circled around the Penguin net. Coming out the other side, Williams backhanded a shot that Murray stopped but could not control. Evgeny Kuznetsov was quick to pounce on the loose puck and chip it past Murray’s right pad to tie the game with just 3:57 left in the second period.
Mid-way through the third period, each team had been the beneficiary of two power play chances, none of them successful. Then, Malkin took a high-sticking penalty. A familiar face did them in on the ensuing power play. With the Penguins unable to clear the puck, Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom played catch with it at the top of the zone. A pass from Niskanen was returned by Backstrom, and Niskanen’s one-timer off that pass flew through a Marcus Johansson screen and Murray’s glove to give the Caps their first lead of the contest.
The Caps held the Penguins to one shot on goal in the final 6:22 of the contest after the Niskanen goal, and Washington had their 3-2 win.
-- The Caps’ 46th win ties the club with the sixth-most wins in franchise history, the 1984-1985 team that finished with a 46-25-9 record.
-- This was the tenth time in 46 wins that the Caps won by a 3-2 margin and their 13th 3-2 decision of the season (10-2-1).
-- It was the 18th time this season that the Caps won when allowing the first goal, by far the most such wins in the league (Los Angeles has 14 wins when allowing the first goal). Last season the Caps had only eight wins when allowing the first goal.
-- The Caps spread their scoring around, getting goals from three different players –Matt Niskanen, Mike Richards, and Evgeny Kuznetsov – and single points from eight skaters overall.
-- If 16 of 18 skaters recorded a shot on goal, you might think it was the “defensive defensemen” who did not get a mark on that column of the score sheet. And, you would be right. Brooks Orpik and Mike Weber, the latter playing in his first game as a Capital, did not record a shot on goal.
-- Dmitry Orlov was sent to the box twice, once for embellishing a hook by Ian Cole, and again for a tripping call. It was the first time he was charged with two penalties since January 10th against Ottawa. The four minutes made it 20 penalty minutes for the season, a new career-high, eclipsing the 19 minutes he had in 54 games last season.
-- The embellishment call on Orlov was one of two such infractions called on the Caps. Jason Chimera was given the Oscar for his role in “Kris Letang: Holding” just 1:29 before Orlov’s turn on the stage.
-- Jay Beagle is easing back into one of his roles slowly. He took only two faceoffs against Chicago in Sunday’s loss, losing both, and he took only three faceoffs in this game, losing two of them. He did record four shots on goal, though, to tie Andre Burakovsky for the team lead.
-- Braden Holtby faced 30 shots in this game. It makes him 16-1-2, 1.80, .947, with two shutouts when facing 30 or more shots in a game this season.
-- The Caps never quite grabbed an advantage in the shot attempts battle, but they did slowly tilt the ice as the game wore on. At 5-on-5, the Penguins out-attempted the Caps, 22-11, in the first period, and they held a 20-19 edge in the second period. The Caps had the edge in the third period, 14-12, and they held the Penguins two just three attempts (two blocked, one shot on goal) in the last 6:22 after what would be Matt Niskanen’s game-winning goal.
In the end…
On a night where most of the attention seemed to gravitate to the first ever Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel matchup in Buffalo, the two veterans of the head-to-head matchup went at it. Sidney Crosby got the point (an assist), but Alex Ovechkin got the win. How many times over their respective careers was the outcome reversed?
We like it this way better.