Special Delivery – Special teams was the story early in Sunday afternoon’s game as the Caps’ tenacious penalty killers and skillfully precise power play unit gave the Caps an early lead and kept the Pens from taking charge of the contest themselves. Washington won, 5-2.
Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal to give the Caps the lead at 6:53 of the first period. Ovi’s goal was remarkably similar to a power play goal the Caps scored earlier on the current homestand. Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov worked a give-and-go down low in the Pittsburgh zone, but instead of firing the puck into the net for a goal of his own as he did on Tuesday against Montreal, Backstrom threaded a perfect pass through the slot and set up Ovechkin for a one-timer that he promptly buried.
The Pens tied it on a 4-on-4 goal midway through the frame, but Washington’s strong penalty killing kept Pittsburgh’s power play in check and prevented the visitors from ever taking the lead.
Less than a minute after Maxime Talbot’s tally tied it, Alexander Semin’s nifty power play stick work at the top of the Pittsburgh crease undressed Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and gave the Caps a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
The Penguins were benefactors of each of the game’s last six power plays, but Washington’s penalty killers were brilliant. Ex-Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar scored a power play goal with a high blocker-side blast that beat Caps goalie Jose Theodore, but that was all the Pens could muster on eight power play chances that totaled 14:02 in duration.
“They put pressure up ice,” noted Penguins interim head coach Dan Bylsma of Washington’s penalty killing corps. “When you do that, you can interrupt and delay and the the time off for the power play breakout. They’re aggressive in [the] zone. It really comes down to execution on a large part on several different plays.”
With two power play goals in just three tries on Sunday, Washington is now 13-for-36 (36.1%) with the extra man in its last 11 games. The Caps are up to 24.1% in power play efficiency on the season.
The Caps have not been above 20% in power play success for an entire regular season since 2000-01 when they finished at 21.2%. Washington’s all-time franchise record is 23.9%, established in 1984-85.
Give Me Your Lunch Money – Washington bullied the Penguins over the last half of the second period, taking away any hope the Pens might have had of authoring a four-point weekend.
Washington outshot the Pens by a 9-2 margin during the second half of the middle frame. The Caps scored on consecutive shots on goal in a span of just 25 seconds to send Fleury off to an early shower. All four Washington lines took turns working the Pens over in their own end for the rest of the period as the Caps dominated the visitors territorially, wearing down the team that had played an afternoon earlier in Philadelphia.
“We thought if we could keep attacking they would get tired,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “It’s natural. Teams tire in the second games of back-to-backs. The rivalry they have with Philadelphia and getting up for it and the rivalry they have with us, when you get a 4-2 or 5-2 lead you can see the shoulders start to sag a little bit.
“I thought we had a lot of chances in the third that we didn’t finish. Our key today, was that I believe all four lines can score and we didn’t do this against Colorado [on Friday], but all four lines when we don’t have the puck have to be able to check. I thought we did a great job of limiting [Pittsburgh’s odd man rushes].”
Overpowering – The Caps had two power play goals in Sunday’s game. They’ve won each of the last nine games in which they’ve had multiple power play goals, including two over Pittsburgh in that span. Washington is now 12-2 overall when it scores multiple power play goals in a game.
It’s Over Now – Ovechkin scoring is a virtual death sentence to Washington opponents. Washington is now 35-2-1 in games when Ovechkin scores.
Bad Boys – In their last 11 games, the Caps have come out on the short end of an extremely large disparity in power plays.
Washington has enjoyed the fruits of 36 power plays in those 11 games, compared to a whopping 59 for the opposition. The disparity is even more ridiculous when it is isolated to include just the third period. Opponents have had 26 third period power plays to Washington’s four over the last 11 games.
On Sunday against Pittsburgh, the Pens had eight power play chances to Washington’s three, and Washington had only one full two-minute power play on the afternoon. The Penguins had three third period power plays while the Capitals had none.
Here’s another stat for you. The saintly Penguins did not face a single Washington power play in the game’s final 43 minutes. The irascible Capitals were whistled for six penalties that resulted in Pittsburgh power plays during the same stretch.
Two-Man Trouble – Once again, the Caps had to face down a two-man disadvantage in this game, and they managed to do so without incident.
Washington’s opponents have had 28 two-man advantage opportunities good for a total of 24:20. Capitals foes have cashed in on nine of those 28 chances this season.
The Capitals have had 15 two-man advantage opportunities of their own this season totaling 10:15 in duration. Washington has not scored a goal on the two-man advantage since Nicklas Backstrom did so in Los Angeles on Nov. 20.
After 60 – The Caps are 38-17-5 at the 60-game mark of the 2008-09 season, the best mark in franchise history at that stage of the season. The Capitals have 81 points in 60 games, meaning they could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still finish with 103 points.
Home Cooking – Sunday was Washington’s eighth consecutive sellout on home ice, matching a franchise record. The Capitals have won 13 straight home games against Eastern Conference foes, and they are 19-1-1 this season against fellow Eastern denizens. The Caps are 24-5-1 on home ice overall. They now have one more win at home than they had all of last season.
Atlantic Assassins – The Caps have had a great deal of success against the Atlantic Division this season, going 12-1-3 against the division that is comprised of Washington’s former Patrick Division foes.
The Capitals have two games remaining with Philadelphia, one with Pittsburgh and one with the Islanders this season.
Turning the Page – Today’s victory over the Penguins was Washington’s first on home ice since March 8, 2006, when the Caps turned back the Pens by a 6-3 count at Verizon Center.
In the first nine games between the Capitals and Penguins coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, Washington posted a dismal 1-7-1 record. Since Boudreau took over behind the Capitals bench in November of 2007, the Caps are 4-1-1 against the Pens.
With today’s win over the Flightless Fowl, Washington has clinched the season’s series between the two teams for just the second time in the last 16 seasons. The only other time in that span that the Caps got the best of the Pens was in 2002-03, when Washington was 3-1 against Pittsburgh.
Washington has never swept a season’s series from Pittsburgh. The Pens will be back at Verizon Center two weeks from today (March 8) to play the last of the four regular season games between the two teams in 2008-09.
Owning – Caps goaltender Jose Theodore is 3-0 with a 2.67 GAA against the Penguins this season. He is now 15-4-1 with three shutouts, a 2.27 GAA and a .916 save pct. lifetime against the Penguins.
Putting Up the Points – With his second period assist on Shaone Morrisonn’s goal, Caps right wing Eric Fehr continued his recent strong stretch of play. Fehr now has six goals and five assists for 11 points in his last 11 games. He is a plus-8 defensively during that span.
Got His Number Now – In his first seven career starts against the Capitals, Fleury posted a perfect 7-0 record while compiling a 1.98 GAA and a .939 save pct.
In his last three starts against Washington, Fleury is 0-3 with a 5.56 GAA and an .846 save pct.
Strange Slate – The Penguins have had difficulty on the road of late, going 1-4-2 in their last seven games away from Mellon Arena. If Pittsburgh hopes to make a strong late charge for a playoff berth, they’d better straighten out their road act.
The Penguins head home after Sunday’s loss in Washington for a Wednesday game in Pittsburgh against the lowly Islanders. After that, they’ll play five straight and six out of seven on the road. The Penguins then enjoy an eight-game homestand that runs from March 14-April 1 before playing four of their last five regular season games on the road.
Happy Birthday – To ex-Caps defenseman Joe Reekie, born on this date in 1965.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie