It did not take long for the Caps to put themselves in a hole. Zdeno Chara was sent to the penalty box 1:53 into the game on a holding call, putting the Pens on a power play. Then, Garnet Hathaway joined Chara in the box for goaltender interference at 3:32, giving Pittsburgh a 21 second 5-on-3 advantage. The Caps’ penalty kill came through, though, killing off both ends of the Penguin power play.
The early power plays gave the home team momentum in the possession area, but they could not convert, and the Caps clawed back some of that momentum over the last half the period, which ended scoreless.
-- Despite being out-shot, 10-5, over the first 7:29, the Caps rebounded to out-shoot the Pens, 10-3, over the last 12:31 to take a 15-13 edge in shots to the locker room. Pittsburgh still had a 21-18 edge in shot attempts.
-- While the Pens recorded five shots on their two power plays, the Caps led in even strength shots, 11-8.
-- Nick Jensen led the Caps with four shots on goal and four shot attempts.
-- The Caps were 8-for-22 (36.4 percent) on faceoffs in the first period. Nic Dowd was a perfect 5-for-5, while Evgeny Kuznetsov was 1-for-6 (16.7 percent). Dowd was the only Capital to win more than one draw in the period.
It was the Penguins’ turn to go short early as the period opened, Jake Guentzel heading to the penalty box on a holding call just 13 seconds into the period. But like the Pens in the first period, the Caps were unable to convert the opportunity, posting two shots on goal, both from Alex Ovechkin.
It would be the Caps drawing first blood, however, when Conor Sheary scored at the 4:52 mark, snapping a shot from the right wing circle over the left shoulder of goalie Tristan Jarry. The play was made, however, when Nick Jensen outfought two Penguins to pry the puck out of the corner and feed it to Richard Panik at the goal line, who relayed it to Sheary.
On the ensuing faceoff, Evgeny Kuznetsov was tripped by Evgeni Malkin, and the Caps had their second power play of the evening. The Caps did not convert, though, and they skated on with their one-goal lead.
Washington got their second power play of the period when Pierre-Olivier Joseph went off for high-sticking at the 9:12 mark. The Pens had a shorthanded opportunity early in the power play, but a Brandon Tanev breakaway was stymied by goalie Vitek Venecek.
The Caps did not score on the power play, but they made it 2-0 shortly after the Penguin penalty expired. Jakub Vrana got his fifth goal of the season when T.J. Oshie, skating down the left wing boards, whipped a backhand pass through the defense the width of the ice to Vrana circling into the right wing circle. Vrana whipped a shot over Jarry’s glove, and it was 2-0 at the 11:31 mark.
Pittsburgh’s lack of discipline rose up again at the 18:16 mark when Mike Matheson took a minor penalty for goaltender interference. The Caps did not convert, but they carried 44 seconds of man-advantage time in to the third period.
-- The Caps out-shot the Pens, 19-5, in the second period, and they out-attempted them, 27-12.
-- Lars Eller led the club through two periods with six shots on goal.
-- John Carlson’s 16:18 in ice time through two periods was almost two full minutes more than the next Capital (Ovechkin: 14:38).
The Caps got off to a fine start in the final frame when Lars Eller made it 3-0, 1:09 into the period. Richard Panik wrestled a loose puck from two Penguins in the left wing circle and created some separation to give him a passing lane to Eller in the low slot. The pass was right on Eller’s tape, and he smacked it past a diving Jarry to give the Caps the three-goal lead.
It got worse for the home teams when Joseph went off on his second penalty of the night, interference at 6:57 the call. Washington was unable to convert, but the power play did shave another two minutes off the clock, which was almost as good in a three-goal game.
The shutout bid by Vitek Vanecek came to an end at the 15:05 mark when Zach Aston-Reese took advantage of Justin Schultz pushing John Marino into Vanecek, giving Aston-Reese an opening for his shot to break the shutout.
Things got more interesting with just over a minute left when Sheary was whistled for hooking, giving the Pens a 6-on-4advantage with their net empty. Pittburgh could not find the back of the net with the advantage, though, and the Caps ended their losing streak, 3-1.
-- The Caps had four shorthanded shots on goal in the first period, ten power play shots on goal in the second period.
-- Conor Sheary’s goal was his third of the season. On the same scoring play, Richard Panik and Nick Jensen both recorded their third assists of the season.
-- This was the first time this season that the Caps had as many as five power play chances. It was the first time they enjoyed that many since they had five in a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia last March 4th and the first time on the road since they had six in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils last February 22nd, the night Alex Ovechkin recorded his 700th career goal.
-- Washington outshot Pittsburgh, 42-27. It was the first time they recorded more than 40 shots in a game since January 7th last season when they had 41 in a 6-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. The last time they had more than 40 in a road game was December 23, 2019 in Boston, a 7-3 loss to the Bruins.
-- The Caps out-attempted the Penguins, 60-46. After the Pens out-shot the Caps, 10-5, to start the game Washington out-shot the Penguins, 37-17.
-- Of 42 shots on goal for the Capitals, 17 came on special teams (four shorthanded and 13 on power plays).
-- Lars Eller led the Caps with seven shots on goal, and Nick Jensen added five to lead the team.
-- Washington and Pittsburgh split 58 faceoffs down the middle, 29 wins apiece.
-- John Carlson was the only defenseman to log more than 20 minutes (25:09).
-- This was the first game since his NHL debut against Buffalo on January 15th that Vitek Vanecek allowed fewer than two goals and only the third time in 12 appearances that he allowed fewer than three.
In the end…
Neither of these teams are at the top of their game, and it showed over significant stretches in this game. The Penguins could not take advantage of dominating possession early, and the Caps could not convert power plays. In that respect, the longer this game went, the more one thought the Caps should have had more than a three-goal lead in the third period. But it was a win, against Pittsburgh, in their barn. It still doesn’t get much better than that.