It might be a just a mid-week, mid-season game for some, but for the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, it was about making a point against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Having lost last spring’s Eastern Conference semi-final playoff series to the Penguins, and losing to them on Opening Night this season as the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup Champion banner to the rafters, showing themselves to be competitive in this rivalry was something that needed to be established.
The Capitals certainly did that, pasting the Penguins at Verizon Center, 7-1, behind big nights from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. It was Oshie getting things started for the Caps in the first period. With Pittsburgh on a power play, Evgeni Malkin was a little too lackadaisical with the puck inside the Caps blue line. Trying to nudge the puck to teammate Kris Letang, it didn’t have enough juice, and Oshie got his stick on it. Oshie then chipped the puck out into open ice in the neutral zone where Jay Beagle gave chase. In alone on goalie Matt Murray, Beagle tried to deke Murray to the ice and tuck in a backhand. Murray got his right pad on the puck, but Oshie followed up to chip the puck over that right pad, and it was 1-0, 7:32 into the game.
Backstrom got on the board ten minutes later. Skating down the right side in front of the player benches, Oshie fed Backstrom in the middle cruising toward the Penguins blue line. Backstrom backed off defenseman Brian Dumoulin and snapped a shot that handcuffed Murray, sneaking under his left arm, to make it 2-0 at the 17:30 mark.
It was Oshie once more just before the first intermission. On a power play, the Caps moved the puck up ice smartly, starting with a pass from goalie Braden Holtby to John Carlson. It was Carlson up ice to Alex Ovechkin, who slid the puck to Oshie entering the zone, then back to Carlson for a shot from outside. Marc-Andre Fleury, in relief of the injured Murray, made the initial save, but Oshie swooped in and almost took the puck off the blade of Backstrom’s stick to chip the puck into the empty net with just 7.9 seconds left in the first period.
Dmitry Orlov got on the board early in the second period. It started when the Penguins fumbled the puck inside the Caps blue line, and Backstrom was there to move it out of harm’s way into the neutral zone. From there, Marcus Johansson scooped it up and headed down the right side. Gaining the offensive zone, he slid it across to Orlov trailing the play. Orlov stepped up and wrong-footed a wrist shot that beat Fleury past his right pad to make it 4-0 just over five minutes into the second period.
Five minutes into the third period, the Caps had their second power play goal of the evening. With Washington on a 5-on-3 advantage, Backstrom sent the puck through the blue paint to Oshie on the far side to Fleury’s right. Oshie collected the puck and threaded a pass into the middle through a maze of sticks where Justin Williams was waiting. Williams was patient enough to settle the puck and flip it under Fleury’s right arm to make it 5-0.
Five minutes later the Caps capitalized on another Penguin turnover. Duimoulin blew a tire just inside the Caps blue line, and Andre Burakovsky pulled the puck free. He fed Ovechkin overtaking him on the right wing, and Ovechkin had a clear lane down ice. With Letang trying to close the distance, Ovechkin warded him off, pulled the puck to his forehand, and tucked it around Fleury’s left pad to give the Caps a 6-0 lead 10:26 into the third period.
After Phil Kessel spoiled Holtby’s shutout bid on a rebound from in close at the 16:28 mark, Backstrom closed the scoring by taking a long feed from Nate Schmidt just outside the Pittsburgh blue line, skating down the middle, and rifling a shot over Fleury’s left shoulder at the 16:58 mark to seal the win.
-- Before last night, there were 16 instances of a Washington Capital player scoring both a power play and a shorthanded goal in the same game dating back to 1987. Last night, T.J. Oshie became the 14th Capital to do it (Peter Bondra did it four times, the only Capital to do it more than once). Mike Green had been the last one to do it, turning the special teams daily double in a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers back on February 7, 2009. It was part of Green’s record-setting eight-game goals streak by a defenseman.
-- Nicklas Backstrom took over second place in total games with five or more points since the 1987-1988 season. His two-goal, three-assist night gave him his fifth such game in his career, breaking his tie with Alex Ovechkin and put him one behind Peter Bondra.
-- Last night was the first time two Capitals recorded four or more points in a single game since Oshie and Alex Ovechkin did it in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 18, 2015.
-- When the Caps foiled the Penguins on four power play opportunities, it was the first time the Caps shut out an opponent on four or more power plays since the stopped four Winnipeg Jet power plays in a 3-2 win on November 1st. Curious thing about that is that in the seven games since that win, last night was just the third time the Caps allowed a team more than two power play chances.
-- Kris Letang…minus-5. First time that’s happened to a Penguin since March 2016 (cough – Sidney Crosby – cough).
-- Every Capital had a shot on goal except Andre Burakovsky and Zach Sanford. Eight Capitals had three or more shots, none had more than four. Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom were two of the four Caps with four shots on goal. Who said Swedes don’t shoot the puck.
-- The Caps had seven power play opportunities, their high for the season and the most since they had eight (no goals) in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers last February 2nd. Their two power play goals marked the first time since Game 3 (a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche) that the Caps had a multi-power play goal game.
-- Five of the six Capitals defensemen had points. Only Karl Alzner did not have a mark on his score sheet.
-- This was the worst beating the Caps gave the Penguins in a regular season, game, by goal differential, since the Caps beat the Pens, 8-0, on October 29, 1991, in Pittsburgh. The last time the Caps beat the Pens by more goals on home ice was in an 8-0 win on January 2, 1989.
-- Lost in the Fleury…uh, flurry of goals is the consistency of Braden Holtby in net. Since he allowed four goals on 29 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on October 26th, he is 6-1-0, 2.14, .935.
In the end…
Put aside that it is November, and just enjoy the highlights. Games like this don’t happen often. In 11 seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout, the Caps have scored seven or more goals 24 times, a little more than twice a season. And to do it against the team that has caused so much pain and despair over the years? Well, that just makes it better, November or not. Hope y’all recorded it to get through the next couple of months until the teams meet again.