More than halfway through the season the two teams that put on probably the best playoff series from 2009 hadn't met. The teams are rivals, they have arguably, about 7 of the top 15 players in the game between themselves, and they plain don't like one another. The game was hyped, real hyped. How much so? Hockey made the 6 PM SportsCenter 6 minutes into the program, which has to be a record for hockey exposure on that program.
And it didn't disappoint (even if the ending did for Penguins fans). For 40 minutes the game was incredibly even; back and forth goals by Sidney Crosby and Mike Knuble in the first had things knotted a 1 a piece. In the second, Eric Fehr gave Washington the lead but Nick Johnson (in his first career NHL game) quickly brought it back to even. Kris Letang scored to give Pittsburgh a lead but Alex Ovechkin struck before the final intermission. Things are looking up for a great finish.
But there wasn't one from the black and gold perspective. Letang pinched in and forced Johnson (again in his first NHL game) to drop back and cover for him. Alex Semin hit Tomas Fleischman on a great stretch pass and Flash beat Brent Johnson on a breakaway. The next shift early on a power play, Fleischman played the puck and paid the price when Brooks Orpik took him out. But Orpik also took himself out of the play, and Nicklas Backstrom had plenty of room to pick his spot short-side for a 5-3 lead. Empty Net Alex time and we've got a game.
- Ironic that Pittsburgh had the two defensive breakdowns and not Washington, the team more publically maligned to have them. But that was the story.
- Opportunities were capitialized (gah) too: the Pens were 0 for 4 on the PP (though they did score shortly after one expired) and Washington was 2 for 2. A defensive stop here, a Sergei Gonchar slapper hits net instead of post there and we've got a different game. But we don't.
- Jose Theodore's shaky play almost cost his team; he made two huge gaffes on the debacle of the Crosby goal and "Three-or-more" was leaving rebounds right out in front for two periods. He tends to run hot and cold and JT60 really buckled down in the 3rd.
- Brent Johnson can't be victimized too much; goal against right in front where Mark Eaton couldn't control Knuble, goal against when the puck bounces off Orpik at point blank, goal against when Knuble screened Ovechkin's shot, goal against on a breakaway, goal against on a big-time breakdown down-low.
- Circumstances aside, perhaps that's why Johnny's mainly been a backup. Goalies have to make the big save and bail his team out. Especially on breakaways. You know, like this one.
- Ruslan Fedotenko was feeling it; three assists tonight, four shots on goal, two hits. He played very well.
- Evgeni Malkin also brought it with three assists of his own, several great end-to-end rushes that beat numerous defenders (but not the goalie). He was definitely skating with a purpose.
- Only a 33% winning night in the faceoff circle for Sidney Crosby, maybe one of his worst nights of the season in that category. With six shots on net, three hits, and a blocked shot Crosby was all over the place too.
- Nick Johnson was in the right place at the right time and has 1 more goal than Chris Bourque ever scored in a Penguin jersey in 19 less games. Kidding aside, Johnson is showing why he's slowly developing into a legit NHL prospect. He's almost like a poor man's (right handed) Ryan Malone. Don't think he's as polished as Malone is these days, maybe more like the 2002-2003 version of Malone.
- Eric Godard had 1 shift all night long and 1:12 in ice-time. Given he likely was only in the lineup due to the injuries to Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis, but hey, at least he had the best seat in the house to what was a pretty good show.
At the end of the day, for all the hype, it's a game worth as much in the standings as a Wednesday night sleeper against a face-less team like Florida or something. Give the Caps credit, they came out strong and forced the play -- especially in the 3rd period. They earned the win and deserved it. Of course, the Penguins only beat the Capitals one time last season (the win coming in shootout, no less) and we all saw how that one ended up.
For all the hoopla, it's just another game. 1 game of 82 in a long season. And though the Caps and their fans will, deservedly so, feel happy with taking away the win, it's in the rearview mirror now. For Pittsburgh, two days of rest followed by two games in two days, both on the road, and both against division rivals. The first one against Philly on NBC Sunday afternoon. No rest for the weary, but at least there's two days to catch our breath.