Seventy in Fifty – It was just another regular season game in mid-January. But it was also against the defending Stanley Cup champions. And it was against the team that ousted Washington from the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.
The Caps came to play tonight, and it showed. They came out hard and strong, and worked their way past a few speed bumps on their way to an impressive 6-3 win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Too much time spent in their own zone plagued the Caps against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series between the two teams last May. Despite the absence of defenseman Mike Green from the lineup tonight, the Caps were generally efficient at moving the puck and preventing Pittsburgh from establishing a consistent forecheck.
All four Washington lines were able to generate scoring chances and wear down the Penguins defense.
An oddball goal put the Pens up 1-0 early in the first. Caps goaltender Jose Theodore went out to play the puck, but the puck went off the heel of his blade and skittered back toward the crease. A bunch of bodies converged on the net as the puck teetered on the goal line. The Caps weren’t able to clear it before Sidney Crosby tapped it in.
Theodore and the Caps maintained their poise, and the Washington netminder continued his strong play of late as he made several strong stops in the first after the fluky goal that gave the Pens an early edge.
Alex Ovechkin created the goal that evened it up 10 minutes after Crosby’s tally. He undressed Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and drove the net, only to have Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson make the stop. But Mike Knuble was there to poke the rebound home.
Washington grabbed a short-lived lead on Eric Fehr’s 13th goal early in the second, but Pittsburgh’s Nick Johnson netted the first of his career just 28 seconds later.
Midway through the middle frame, Letang converted a superb pass from Ruslan Fedotenko to give the Pens the lead at 3-2. That goal came just as the Caps’ John Carlson was released from the penalty box after serving a hooking sentence.
Ovechkin evened the score late in the second when he scored his team-leading eighth power play goal of the season.
For the second time in as many games, the Caps gained control of a tight contest with a pair of quick goals in the third. Washington scored twice in 46 seconds in Tuesday’s win over the Red Wings and it scored twice in 53 seconds early in the third to take a 5-3 lead.
Alexander Semin’s brilliant pass sprung Tomas Fleischmann on a breakaway and he beat Johnson to score what would prove to be the game-winner. Less than a minute later, Nicklas Backstrom curled around the cage and ripped a wrister to the roof, just over Johnson’s glove hand.
The Caps killed off a Pittsburgh power play, Theodore kept the Pens at bay and Ovechkin added an empty-netter to seal the deal.
Washington is now 50 games into the 2009-10 season, and tonight’s win puts it squarely at 70 points. The win in Pittsburgh is the team’s 15th road victory of the season (15-9-3).
Elite Company – Ovechkin’s first goal was the 250th of his NHL career. He joins an elite group of players who have reached the 250-goal plateau in their first five seasons in the league: Wayne Gretzky (356), Mike Bossy (305) and Mario Lemieux (300).
Extra-Man Assassins – With two goals on as many shots on the power play tonight, the Capitals have now scored on four straight shots on the power play in a span that covers three games.
The Caps had one power play shot and one goal in a 5-3 win over the Flyers on Sunday and again had a power play goal on their lone extra man shot of the contest in Tuesday’s 3-2 trimming of the Red Wings.
Well-Behaved – When Letang went off for holding at 15:49 of the second, it marked the end of eight successive power plays for Pittsburgh against Washington, dating back to the third period of Game 6 of last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff series between the Caps and Pens.
At the point when Letang was seated in the box, it ended a stretch of nearly two entire games (116:48) in which Washington did not have a power play against Pittsburgh.
Shooting Gallery – Coming into Thursday’s game against the Pens, the Caps had mustered fewer than 25 shots on goal in each of their three previous games. It was the first time in more than four years that the Capitals have been held to fewer than 25 shots in three straight games.
The Capitals fired 34 shots in Thursday’s game, more than they managed in any of the seven playoff games they played against Pittsburgh last spring. And don’t forget, three of those games went into overtime.
Streaking – The Caps have now won five straight games, their third winning streak of at least five games this season. Washington had two six-game winning runs earlier in 2009-10.
Eight En Fuego – Ovechkin pushed his scoring streak to eight straight games (six goals, 12 assists, plus-11). He is second in the NHL with 68 points, third with 32 goals and he leads the circuit with a plus-29.
The Caps’ captain has 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 21 games since returning from a two-game NHL suspension in early December.
Dominance – With tonight’s victory, Theodore ran his career record against Pittsburgh to 16-4-3. He has more career victories against the Penguins than against any other opponent. Theodore has a 2.33 GAA and a .915 save pct. lifetime against the Flightless Fowl.
Welcome To The Club – Johnson became the 71st goaltender to give up a goal to Ovechkin when the Caps winger scored on the power play late in the second period.
No Green – Green missed a game for just the second time this season. Without Green in the lineup, the Caps’ defense featured five defensemen (Shaone Morrison, Jeff Schultz, Tyler Sloan, Karl Alzner and Carlson) whose combined total of NHL experience (709 games) was less than that of the most experienced Washington blueliner (Tom Poti, 758 games).
The Caps are 2-0 in games he has not played and they are 7-2 in games without Green and/or Ovechkin this season.
Schooled in the Circle – Washington dominated Pittsburgh in the face-off circle. Brendan Morrison (8-for-8, 100%) and Tomas Fleischmann (11-for 16, 69%) led the way as the Capitals won 41 of the 66 (62%) face-offs on the night. Crosby was an abysmal 10-for-30 (33%) on the night and Jordan Staal was 6-for-18 (33%).
The Future – Tonight’s game was the first in which first-round drafted defensemen Alzner and Carlson both played for Washington. The two have been groomed as a tandem for the Caps at AHL Hershey, but it may be a while before the two youngsters skate as a defensive duo in the District.
Carlson picked up the first point (an assist) on Fleischmann’s game-winning goal in Thursday’s game. He also logged a single-game high of 17:43. Carlson was plus-2 on the night and he is plus-6 in his last three games.
Helping Hands – Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn had a pair of assists in Thursday night’s game. It is his first two-point game since he had a pair of helpers against the Lightning on March 19, 2009.
Morrisonn was also plus-3 in 20:02 of work against the Pens. He is now plus-6 in his last three games.
By The Numbers –Tyler Sloan led all skaters on both sides with four blocked shots … Knuble now has four goals in his last four games and seven goals in his last eight contests … Ovechkin led all skaters on both sides with seven hits … Pittsburgh was credited with 41 hits to Washington’s 25.