Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 70: Penguins 5 - Capitals 3

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins renewed their rivalry on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. The Caps dominated for most of the game, but a two-minute collapse in the second period was enough to do them in, 5-3, breaking their winning streak at seven games.

First Period

The Capitals enjoyed a power play before the game was a minute old, but nothing came of it, and for good (meaning: “bad”) measure, they took a penalty of their before their own power play expired.  The Caps killed off the ensuing power play, and the teams resumed their full strength version of animosity.

There was a scary moment not long after when T.J. Oshie and Brian Dumoulin were tangled up behind the net, Oshie went down, and the back of Dumoulin’s skate clipped Oshie in the jaw.  Oshie stayed down for a seven count, but he got up, and the teams resumed their mutual annoyances.  The period hummed on with the low crackle you might find if you walked past a power transformer, until the last minute.  And then…

Jakub Vrana fed Oshie cruising down the middle in the neutral zone.  Gaining the offensive blue line, Oshie laid off the puck to Vrana just inside the blue line.  Vrana fed the puck to a trailing Nicklas Backstrom, who fed it right back to Vrana.  Collecting the feed at the top of the right wing circle, Vrana settled the puck and then wristed a shot over goalie Matt Murray’s left shoulder to make it 1-0 at the 19:27 mark.  Michal Kempny almost snuck a shot through Murray’s pads on a rush in the dying seconds of the period, but 1-0 is how the teams would go to intermission.

-- The teams halved 18 shots evenly, but the Caps dominated the shot attempts, 24-13, a product of tilting the ice to a severe angle toward the Pittsburgh end in the last half of the frame.

-- Vrana and Oshie led the team in shots on goal with two apiece, while Alex Ovechkin had five shot attempts (two blocked, three misses).

-- The first period was one of those periods in which one wonders…physical game or generous scoring, because the Pens were credited with 16 hits, the Caps with 13.

-- Another period of no Caps over 50 percent on draws.  They did have three players – Backstrom, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson – at 50 percent, though.

Second Period

The Caps found themselves behind the eight-ball early, Ovechkin charged for a high-sticking minor barely 90 seconds into the period, although it looked as if it might have been a case of his stick lifted into the Penguin player.  The Penguins could not, however, convert that opportunity. 

There would be no more excitement until the teams reached the mid-way point of the period.  It was then that Jakub Vrana wrong-footed a shot from the right wing circle that Murray got a piece of, but the puck popped up and over his back, settling on the ice behind him.  He just managed to get his skate on it enough to kick it all the way into the net, and the Caps were up, 2-0, 10:24 into the period.

And thus we had the two-goal lead, the most dangerous lead in hockey.  Well, the shortest, anyway.  The Caps gave up the lead on goals 47 seconds apart.  Jake Guentzel got one, and Sidney Crosby got the other.  They do that, and the game was tied 13:24 into the period.

Nicklas Backstrom then took a tripping penalty, and Pittsburgh had their third power play of the evening.  The third time was the charm, Crosby getting his second goal of the night to put the Penguins up, 3-2, 14:25 into the period.  There was no further damage, but there was much damage for the Caps to repair as the teams went to the second intermission.

-- Three goals in 1:48 negated 32 minutes of pretty fine play by the Caps to open the game.  It seems that happens a lot between these teams.

-- Weird stat through two periods.  The Caps had five blocked shots.  Four of them were shot attempts by Evgeny Malkin.

-- Tom Wilson had almost a third (seven) of the Caps 24 credited hits through 40 minutes.

Third Period

There teams skated without incident over the first four minutes of the period, but Tom Wilson and Erik Gudbranson disagreed on whether fries should go ON the sandwich or be a side, and they went to their respective penalty boxes at the 4:06 mark.

Then, after hitting the post or crossbar for the 3,928th time in this game, the Caps took a too-many-men  on the ice penalty to put the Penguins on a power play 10:33 into the period.  The Pens converted the man advantage, courtesy of Phil Kessel, at he 11:56 mark.

The Caps were beneficiaries of a Pens too-many-men penalty put the Caps on a power play late, and the Caps inched back to within a goal.  An Alex Ovechkin drive was kicked out by Murray, but into the left wing circle where John Carlson was camped out.  Carlson wasted no time swatting the puck behind Murray before the goalie could square up, and it was 4-3 at the 14:02 mark.

Pittsburgh wrapped up the scoring with an empty net goal by Jared McCann in the last minute, putting an end to the Caps’ winning streak at seven games, 5-3.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s assist on the John Carlson goal was his 1,200th point in the NHL.  He became the 49th player in league history to reach that mark and tied former Cap Dino Ciccarelli on the all-time list.  He is third among active players in points, trailing only Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby.

-- Jakub Vrana’s goal was his 20th, the first time in his career he reached the 20-goal mark.  He is the 66th player in Caps history to record at least one 20-goal season for the club.

- Sidney Crosby’s power play goal broke a string of 18 straight power plays killed off by the Caps over five-plus games.

-- Washington out-shot Pittsburgh, 41-30, and they out-attempted the Pens, 74-46.  That’s right… 74-46.

-- The teams combined for 76 hits, the Pens with 42 and the Caps with 34.  Sixteen of the 18 Penguin skaters were credited with at least one.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was the only Cap taking at least two faceoffs who was over 50 percent on draws (9-for-16).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov was charged with one giveaway.  It sure seemed like more.

-- Alex Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts, five shots on goal, and eight hits.  He showed up to play.

-- Jakub Vrana’s two-goal night was his fourth as a Capital. 

-- This was the fifth time in his last nine appearances in Pittsburgh that Braden Holtby allowed four or more goals to the Penguins.

In the end…

It is said often that hockey is a 60-minute game.  That is usually invoked when a team gives up a late lead to lose.  But sometimes, the critical lapse comes buried somewhere in the middle of the game.  Over the first 58 minutes, until they pulled their goalie, the Caps played well enough to win and even dominated in places in 56 of those minutes.  But there was that two-minute stretch in the second period when the Pens wiped out a 2-0 Caps lead and took the lead for themselves.  If it was against the St. Louis Blues or the Nashville Predators, a Caps fan might be disappointed, but they might also shrug it off with a “that happens.”  That it happened in Pittsburgh against the Penguins it what makes it sting, and it shows that this rivalry still matters.  Remember than when these teams meet again next month when the stakes are higher, as we suspect they will.