It was like taking a another picture for the family album from hell. The hell that is the Capitals-Penguins rivalry. The Washington Capitals fell behind by two goals in the first period for a second straight game and came back from that deficit for a second straight game. But this was not the Philadelphia Flyers the Caps were playing, a team they would beat despite the early deficit. This was a deeper, more skilled, more confident (especially when playing the Caps) team on its own ice, and the Caps fell away as the Pittsburgh Penguins skated to a 7-4 win at PPG Arena in what was a “Pretty Preposterous Game.”
Barely two minutes into the game, the Penguins had a lead. Riley Sheahan skated the puck around the back of the net, and with Capitals galore looking at Sheahan, he found Phil Kessel at the back door for a tap in goal on the far side to the right of goalie Braden Holtby. Late in the period the Pens had their 2-0 lead on a rookie error. Christian Djoos took a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov at the top of his own left wing circle as the Caps were setting for a move up ice. Djoos looked over his options and dialed up “pass the puck up the middle.” Bad move. He put it right on the stick of Carl Hagelin, and Hagelin had an easy time of skating in and beating Holtby at the 15:50 mark to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.
It might have remained that way going into the first intermission, but with less than two minutes left in the period, Alex Ovechkin halved the lead. Ovechkin took a long pass from Djoos at the red line along the left wing wall. He skated the puck into the offensive zone, treated Kris Letang like a swinging screen door, curled in and beat goalie Matt Murray from the top of the blue paint to make it 2-1 with just 1:50 left in the period.
Pittsburgh regained the two-goal lead in the first minute of the second period. On a power play that carried over from the first period, the Penguins worked the triangle play that the Caps work so well. From the top of the right wing faceoff circle, Evgeni Malkin fed the puck low to Sidney Crosby, who fed it out between the hash marks to Patric Hornqvist for a one-timer that beat Holtby 26 seconds into the period to make it 3-1.
The Caps came back to tie the game, though. Dmitry Orlov got the Caps back within a goal in the fourth minute of the period. Lars Eller backed the puck down the right side in the offensive zone and found Orlov stepping across the blue line. Orlov took advantage of open ice to step up and lean into a shot that beat goalie Matt Murray cleanly to make it 3-2 at the 3:08 mark.
Kuznetsov tied the game mid-way through the period. It was a bit of Harlem Globetrotter work on the part of the Caps, starting with Kuznetsov taking a floater pass from John Carlson and going behind the back to lay the puck out in front of him. He skated it in, lost it at the top of the right wing circle, and then collected it again along the wall. He fed Alex Ovechkin for a shot that was blocked into the air. Tom Wilson dove and got his hand on the puck, which might have been the basis for a hand pass, except Malkin got his stick on the puck just before Kuznetsov swooped in and swept it past Murray at the 11:57 mark.
The teams traded goals in the second minute of the third period, Malkin putting back his own rebound of a shot 61 seconds into the period. Ovechkin tied the game 49 seconds later, taking advantage of Kuznetsov’s keen eye. Kuznetsov skated the puck down the right wing wall, and after stopping at the far hash marks, he spied Ovechkin all alone across the ice in his office. Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left wing circle beat Murray to the near side inside the post, and it was 4-4, 1:50 into the period.
After that came the deluge. The Penguins scored three goals less than four minutes apart, two on power plays – Bryan Rust, Kessel (his second of the game), and Malkin (his second of the game) – to end the competitive portion of the contest.
-- If there is one disturbing fact coming out of this game, it is that the Caps suddenly can’t keep the puck out of their own net on this ice sheet. This is the third time in the last four games at PPG Arena that the Caps allowed six or more goals after not having allowed as many as six on it since January 2006.
-- Braden Holtby was once a Penguin killer. In his first 11 career appearances against Pittsburgh he was 5-6-0, 2.42, .925 with two shutouts, but that run ended with seven appearances over which he had a goals against average of 1.44 and a save percentage of .954 with those two shutouts. In nine appearances since then, he is 3-3-2 (one no-decision), 3.53, .893, and he was pulled three times.
-- Perhaps the oddest thing about the league’s top goal scorer getting a multi-goal game is that even with securing his fifth multi-goal game of the season, Ovechkin still trails Sean Couturier, Anders Lee, and John Tavares, each with six.
-- With a three-point game, Ovechkin is also one behind the leader in games with three or more points this season. Ovechkin had four, Blake Wheeler has five.
-- Dmitry Orlov had a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game of the season.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov (goal, assist) had his 12th multi-point game of the season and second in three games.
-- The Penguins had three power play goals, the second time they pulled that off this season. They had three power play goals on six chances in a 3-2 win over the Caps on October 11th. It was the third time this season that the Caps allowed an opponent three goals, allowing three on six chances to the Vancouver Canucks on October 26th.
-- Unlucky? The Caps allowed 13 shots on goal in each of the first, second, and third periods.
-- T.J. Oshie did not have a shot attempt in this game, one of three Caps to draw a blank (Brooks Orpik and Devante Smith-Pelly being the others).
-- John Carlson had something of an odd night. Not bad, just odd. A minutes-eater for much of the season, he finished with just 14:09 in even strength ice time. Orpik (14:50), Orlov (20:19), and Matt Niskanen (20:45) had more, and Madison Bowey was close (14:06).
In the end…
Click… there’s the Penguins scoring early. Click… there’s the Pens scoring on a giveaway. Click… there’s the Pens scoring on a power play. Click… and another power play. Click… and another.
The Capitals had better find a way to control this team and, at the same time, stop shooting themselves in the foot. Because this team looms in front of them once more, the annual obstacle to a deep playoff run, and it would seem for the moment that they have the Caps' penalty killing figured out. It is as if the Penguins have figuratively chambered another round and pointed it at the Caps’ playoff hopes.