Making A Point – After the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s game between the Caps and Penguins in Pittsburgh, most wouldn’t have bet on the visitors to come away with a standings point.
Down 2-0 and without a single scoring chance in the period according the NBC observers, the Caps were also without centers Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, the first time the two have been sidelined in the same game since the start of Johansson’s career last season.
Not only did the Caps come back, they led for almost six minutes in the third period. But when it was all said and done, Washington suffered its first loss in Pittsburgh in more than four years, a 4-3 overtime setback.
“I think the first period was terrible,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “We didn’t even play in their zone. I don’t know why, when we had the opportunity to attack we just put the puck in their zone and gave it away. In the second period, we were moving.”
Even after failing to convert on a power play chance at the start of the second, the Caps kept it together. They chipped away and managed to even up the score by the end of the second period, getting goals from Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin.
Ovechkin’s 20th goal of the season enabled Washington to grab a 3-2 lead early in the third, but in the end – and in the beginning and in the middle – the Caps could not contain Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin netted the game-winner in overtime – notching his third point of the afternoon in the process – to send the Caps home from their three-game road trip with a 1-1-1 mark.
Caps coach Dale Hunter usually matched the unit of Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer against Malkin and linemates James Neal and Chris Kunitz. The Malkin line has proven to be a handful for the rest of the league for the last several weeks, but Washington managed to contain the Pittsburgh pivot and his wings in a 1-0 win in the District on Jan. 11.
Today, Malkin and his mates accounted for all three of Pittsburgh’s even-strength tallies, and the three Penguins forwards combined to fire a whopping total of 30 shots toward the Washington net, getting 13 of them on Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth and three of those past him.
“I think we put Brooks’ line against their line,” says Ovechkin. “We gave them too much attention. Obviously, they played great today. It’s good for us that we bounced back and almost won the game. They’re very good players and they know how to play.”
A point shot came off the backboard and right to Malkin at 1:31 of the extra session, and he tucked it up and behind a sprawling Neuvirth to put an end to the contest.
“Obviously it’s a frustrating loss,” says Neuvirth, “but I think it was a good game. We battled hard. They got a lucky bounce at the end … it hit the boards and went right on [Malkin’s] stick. It was an easy goal for him.”
The league’s leading scorer with 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists), Malkin extended his goal-scoring streak to six games, the same length as Pittsburgh’s winning streak. The half-dozen-game streak with a goal matches the longest of his NHL career.
Since Penguins captain Sidney Crosby hit the sidelines again with a recurrence of his nagging concussion symptoms, Malkin has been a beast. He has 17 goals and 34 points in his last 20 games after starting the season with nine goals and 24 points in his first 21 contests. Malkin has nine multiple-point games in his last 20.
“He played great,” says Ovechkin of Malkin. “I think he controls the game so well right now. He knows without Crosby now this team is good but it’s not that good. He is handling it pretty well.”
Laich skated a single-game career high 28:48 – the most ice he has logged in more than five years and a full 3:15 over his previous single-game high.
Hendricks also skated a single-game career high, skating 16:32 on the night. Brouwer skated 19:33 in the game, his third-highest ice time total of the season. He might have logged more ice time, but he picked up seven minutes worth of penalties, too.
Brouwer narrowly missed winning this one for Washington in regulation. His blast from the right wing glanced off the crossbar behind Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with just seconds remaining in the third period.
“The guys battled,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “We came back and we took the lead, actually. We had a breakdown; they tied it up. We battled, and we had our chances just like they did. Malkin slips away for a second on the backboards, not a pass, just a shot. He’s a good player and good players score on that.”
Netting Them vs. Neuvirth – When Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang blasted a power play goal past Neuvirth at 4:51 of the first period, it marked the first goal Pittsburgh scored against Neuvirth in 144 minutes and 34 seconds of play, dating back to Dec. 23, 2010.
Streak Stopped – Prior to Sunday’s setback, the Caps hadn’t lost in Pittsburgh since Dec. 27, 2007 when they also dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Pens at the old Mellon Arena.
Washington had gone 8-0 in its previous eight regular season visits to Pittsburgh, winning games in three different venues during that span.
The Capitals’ last regulation loss in Pittsburgh came on Feb. 18, 2007.
The 500 Club – Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman played in the 500th game of his NHL career on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Originally Buffalo’s eighth-round draft choice (241st overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Wideman never signed with the Sabres. He inked a free-agent deal with St. Louis in the summer of 2004 and made his NHL debut with the Blues against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 9, 2005.
Wideman picked up an assist in game No. 500. He has totaled 64 goals and 174 assists for 238 points in his NHL career.
Afterwards, Wideman was able to put today’s game in perspective.
“We’ve got some guys out of the lineup right now,” he says. “That team [Pittsburgh] does too; that team has been playing short in the lineup all year. For us to hang in there and play as hard as we did, I think that was good. We showed some emotion, we got in there and mixed it up a little bit. That’s good for our team to get in and stand up for each other.”
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears finished off a busy – but ultimately fruitless – weekend with a 4-2 loss on home ice to the Manchester Monarchs. The Bears lost all three games of a three-games-in-three-nights weekend for the first time since their current affiliation began with the Capitals in the 2005-06 season.
Aucoin pushed his scoring streak to 16 straight games (five goals, 24 assists).
The 24-11-4-3 Bears are now sharing first place in the AHL’s East Division with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays beat the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Coliseum, 3-1. The win pushed the Stingrays’ winning streak to nine straight.
Joe Pereira, Matt Scherer and Mike Hamilton scored in support of Philipp Grubauer’s 29-save performance in the South Carolina nets.
In his first pro season, Grubauer is now 16-7-1-1 with a 2.15 GAA and a .923 save pct.
The victory vaults the 24-16-1-1 Stingrays into a tie for first place in the ECHL’s South Division with Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – The Pens have scored first in 20 of their last 24 home games against the Caps … Ovechkin notched his first three-point game of the season … Laich took 38 shifts, six more than any other Capital and eight more than any Penguin … Laich took 39 of the game's 60 face-offs, winning 17. He and Jeff Halpern combined to take 48 of the 60 draws (80%) ... Laich and Jason Chimera led the Caps with four shots on goal each … John Carlson paced the Caps with five blocked shots … Neal was on the ice for all 5:17 of Pittsburgh’s power play ice time today … Letang led the Pens with four blocked shots ... Nine different players from each side took at least one face-off.
1 - 0 PIT
2 - 0 PIT
2 - 1 PIT
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 WSH
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 PIT