Twice As Nice – The Caps trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes of Wednesday’s game with Pittsburgh, but came back to take a 3-2 third-period lead. A late Pens goal sent the game to overtime and then to a shootout, and Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead in the skills competition, scoring on each of its first two shots. But the comeback Caps came back again, scoring on three straight shots to send Pittsburgh to a 4-3 shootout setback.
Washington drew first blood on Mike Knuble’s 26th goal of the season early in the second, but fell into a 2-1 hole after Sidney Crosby’s neat backhand pass set up veteran Billy Guerin for an easy power play tap-in late in the middle frame.
With the Penguins enjoying their fifth man-advantage of the night and looking to move up by a pair, Crosby tried to float a cross-ice feed only to have it intercepted by Caps winger Alexander Semin.
At the time, Semin was at the end of his shift. Nevertheless, he skated the puck out of the Washington zone and weaved his way wide through neutral ice before carving back toward the middle once he gained the Pittsburgh line. From the high slot, he unleashed a wrister that zipped between the glove hand and the left ear of startled Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
Semin’s shift lasted 54 seconds, a lot for a shorthanded twirl. The result was glorious for the Caps; it made for a possible two-goal swing.
Seizing the momentum of another successful penalty kill, the Caps grabbed a 3-2 lead less than two minutes after Semin’s strike. Center Eric Belanger put on a burst of speed behind the Pittsburgh net to create some separation between himself and Pens defender Brooks Orpik. Curling out to the far side, Belanger teed up a soft-serve one-timer to Caps defenseman Mike Green who blasted a bomb netward. Eric Fehr, who earned more ice as the game wore on, deftly deflected the puck past Fleury.
Fehr’s goal was his fourth in his last five games.
Jordan Staal’s late regulation goal gave the Pens a point and pushed the game to extra time. Caps goalie Jose Theodore was nicked for two goals in as many shots to start the shootout, but he shut the door after that as the Caps came back with shooutout tallies from Alex Ovechkin, Semin and Mike Knuble. For Knuble, it was the first shoutout goal of his NHL career.
“Alexander’s [Semin] goal there was as nice as you’re going to see all year,” says Knuble. “Some of our guys can just break games like that. That’s a huge lift for the bench. All of a sudden you’re on your heels killing a penalty and he gets one. So that’s a big lift. Then Eric [Fehr] scores right after and we should’ve done a better job wrapping up the game but it was fun. It was a good game.”
Knuble was an unlikely hero only because he figured to be unlikely to find himself among coach Bruce Boudreau’s top four shootout options. But the bench boss played a hunch, and played it well.
“A lot of times when you don’t have time to think,” says Boudreau of his decision to send Knuble out for the shootout, “I think it’s an advantage and you see that a lot when a goalie gets pulled -- the other goalie goes in and they shut the door because there’s no time to over think the game. And [Knuble] just went in and did what he does which is shoot the puck and he scored a goal. I just felt that he was going to score.”
That’s A Match – Tonight’s triumph pushed Washington’s point total to 108 on the season, matching the single-season franchise record established in 2008-09. This year’s model has nine games left with which to make improvements to that number.
Never Say Die – Washington is now 8-9-3 in games in which it has trailed after 40 minutes this season. With 10 wins, only Vancouver has more victories in games in which it has trailed after two.
However, the Canucks have trailed 30 times after two periods to Washington’s 20. The Caps’ .400 winning pct. in games in which it trails after two frames is better than that of the Canucks (.333).
Missing Man – Caps forward Brooks Laich sat out the Wednesday win because of a facial injury he sustained in Tuesday’s Caps practice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. It was the first game Laich has ever missed because of injury in the course of his six-year NHL career.
Prior to Wednesday, it had been more than three years since Laich was not in the Washington lineup. In a Feb. 21, 2007 game against San Jose at Verizon Center, then-head coach Glen Hanlon held Laich out of the lineup as a healthy scratch.
“I know they were missing [Sergei] Gonchar and [Evgeni] Malkin," says Boudreau, "and we’re missing Brooks [Laich] and you realize (I mean it’s the first time I’ve coached when he’s not in the lineup) how often we use him. [He is] an important member of our team.”
Go Ahead, Shoot – Washington is now 7-0-1 in games in which it surrenders 40 or more shots on goal.
Heavy Duty – Caps defenseman Tom Poti entered the night 10th in the league with an average of 3:39 in shorthanded ice time per game. But Poti took the Caps’ first penalty of the night, a delay of game call at 2:19 of the first. And he was on the ice for the shift that led to Washington’s second shorthanded situation of the night, a tripping minor to Tomas Fleischmann at 14:03. As a result, Poti skated just 45 seconds of the four minutes the Caps spent shorthanded in the first period.
In Poti’s stead, fellow blueliners Jeff Schultz and Mike Green stepped up. Schultz averages 2:41 a game in shorthanded ice time and Green averages 2:12. Both players exceeded those figures in the first period alone, skating 2:43 of Washington’s four minutes worth of shorthanded time in the first period.
For the night, both Green (4:39) and Schultz (4:03) exceeded Poti’s average shorthanded ice time, as did Poti himself. Poti finished the night skating 3:44 while Washington was a man down.
Disparity? Nah. – Pittsburgh had five power play chances to Washington’s one on the night. Thus far this season, the Pens have had 15 power play chances to the Capitals’ seven in the three meetings between the two teams.
Pittsburgh might have more chances, but the Caps have more goals. They’ve tallied on three of their seven tries while the Pens have scored just two power play tallies against the Capitals. The Caps have also kicked in with a shorthanded goal against the Pens.
Hammer Time -- Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn recorded nine hits in Wednesday's game, the second-highest total registered in a single game by a Caps player this season. Morrisonn accounted for more than a quarter of Washington's 34 hits on the night.
Coffee Is For Closers – The Pens might be sipping on Postum. Because in the last seven regular season meetings between Pittsburgh and Washington, the Caps have outscored the Pens in the third period and overtime by a combined 17-2.
Making Up For Lost Man – Ex-Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar sat out Wednesday’s game because of illness. With their ice time leader (average of 24:34 per night) on the sidelines, the Pens spread Gonchar’s minutes around among five of their six blueliners.
Kris Letang (24:55), Alex Goligoski (24:41), Jordan Leopold (24:01), Brooks Orpik (23:19) and Mark Eaton (22:27) all skated at least two minutes more than their norms on Wednesday.
Even – Wednesday’s win evens the Caps’ record with the Pens at 8-8-3 since the lockout that killed the 2004-05 season. Washington is 7-1-2 during the regular season against Pittsburgh since Boudreau took over behind the bench.
Happy Birthday – To ex-Caps center and all-time NHL iron man Doug Jarvis, born on this day in 1955. Jarvis played in 964 consecutive games during his NHL career, the all-time NHL iron-man standard.
Jarvis’s streak ran from his NHL debut with the Canadiens on Oct. 8, 1975 to Oct. 10, 1987. He played for Montreal, Washington and Hartford during that stretch, which spanned his entire career. A healthy scratch for the Whalers early in the 1987-88 season, he finished out his playing career with Binghamton of the AHL later that season.
By The Numbers – Pittsburgh’s Crosby is tied for the NHL lead in stick penalties with 15 this season. Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie also has 15 … Orpik entered the game second in the league with 228 hits, trailing only the Stars’ Stephane Robidas (238). Orpik had three hits on the night … Caps forward Quintin Laing laid four hits – third-most among all Washington skaters – in just 6:40 of ice time … Green finished the night at plus-3, the best mark among all skaters on both sides … Pittsburgh is a combined 0-7-2 this season against Washington and New Jersey … The Capitals are 25-3-4 since Ovechkin was named team captain … Washington is 27-4-4 in its 35 home games this season.
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