On Thursday night, the Washington Capitals began their 2016-2017 season where their 2015-2016 season ended, and it ended in much the same way as that season ending game ended, on the short end of an extra-time decision.
This time it was Phil Kessel shoving the dagger into the Caps with a goal in the trick shot phase of the competition. Before that, the teams played a game that looked at times more like a postseason contest than one to open the season. Andre Burakovsky got the Caps off and running in the first minute when he took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom at the Penguin blue line, split two defenders, and buried a snap shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins took the lead in the second period on a power play goal by Patric Hornqvist, a deflection of a Kris Letang drive that caromed off the post tp the right of goalie Braden Holtby, and a tally by Evgeni Malkin late in the period off a turnover at the Caps’ blue line.
Burakovsky and Backstrom teamed up a second time to tie the game six minutes into the third period when Backstrom took a pass at the Penguin blue line, curled into the offensive zone, and dropped a pass for Burakovsky, who wired the puck past Fleury.
Neither team could score in the extra session, leaving things to be settled in the freestyle competition. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom goals were matched by Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Phil Kessel scored in top of the fourth round, and when Alex Ovechkin failed to get the equalizer in the bottom of the frame, the Caps skated off the ice in Pittsburgh disappointed once more.
-- The Caps had 41 shots on goal. They did not hit the 40-shot mark in a game last season until Game 26 against the Detroit Red Wings (another Gimmick outcome, that one a 3-2 win).
-- Washington finished the game with 68 total shot attempts to 48 for the Pens. Alex Ovechkin had 12 of those shot attempts, five of them on goal.
-- Andre Burakovsky might not have had as big a night as rookie Auston Matthews had in his debut in Toronto the previous evening, but he did score goals on his only two shots of the contest. It is the second time in three seasons he recorded the Caps’ first goal of the season. He did it on Opening Night of the 2014-2015 season against the Montreal Canadiens.
-- The Caps finished strong, shot-wise, putting 21 shots on goal in the third period and overtime to ten for the Penguins.
-- Zach Sanford skated 14:48 in his NHL debut, recording one shot on goal and a hit, and he won all three faceoffs he took, two of them from Evgeni Malkin.
-- Nicklas Backstrom did what Nicklas Backstrom does, assisting on both Capitals goals. It was his 117th multi-assist game in his career (a franchise best), his tenth against the Penguins, tying Mike Ridley for most in Caps history against Pittsburgh.
-- Burakovsky became the 27th player in Caps history to record a multi-goal game against the Penguins.
-- Want to concern yourself over something early? Tom Wilson skated just 5:31 (only three of his 11 shifts lasted more than 40 seconds), did not record a shot attempt, and had a fighting major penalty.
-- Karl Alzner had three shots on goal. He had just six games with three or more shots on goal last season, and his first one didn’t come until New Year’s Eve, in Game 37.
-- Braden Holtby’s record sank to 5-7-2 against Pittsburgh. And again, he suffered from a lack of run support. This was his fourth loss to the Pens having allowed three or fewer goals. Oddly, though, it was the sixth loss (first in extra time) in which he faced 30 or fewer shots (he faced 20 in this game). He is 1-5-1 against the Pens when facing 30 or fewer shots (including games in which he had less than a full game of ice time).
In the end…
Hey, the Pens got shutout on Opening Night last season and won the Stanley Cup. Then again, they fired their coach a couple of months later. The point is, don’t make too much of this. The Caps played very well, even with Sidney Crosby missing from action. The second line of Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky was very good. The top line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie had a combined nine shots on goal. Braden Holtby was, for the most part, sharp. This is a team that is going to be fun to watch.