When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals meet, you know things are going to be fast, you know the crowd is going to be into it, and you know the players are going to be going balls to the wall. They're often on national television, and for good reason- the skill and speed both play with, plus the fact that both sides legit dislike each other, just stokes the drama that much more.
Today was a track meet, and the fit the Pens just fine. It was a wide open skating exhibition. Scoring opened when Sidney Crosby won a faceoff clean in the offensive zone and Paul Martin shot the puck from the point that Chris Kunitz may or may not have deflected. At first (and as it clearly looked) he did, and was awarded the goal. Then, for some reason, scorers gave it to Martin. Either way, Braden Holtby didn't have an answer, a common refrain for the afternoon.
The Caps would equal the score, seconds after being crushed into the boards, Mike Green regrouped and gathered a centering pass from Wojtek Wolski for a wide open shot in front that beat Tomas Vokoun.
The Pens held tight though and established good offensive zone time and Robert Bortuzzo sent a pass over to Deryk Engelland who fired on net. Matt Cooke was in front of Holtby, but clearly outside of the crease to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Washington would tie the game on one of the flukiest goals you'll ever see- Pittsburgh had dominated another shift and John Carlson gained the red line and just wanted to dump the puck in to get a shift change for his team. So he did and turned to skate off the ice. The puck hit the seam in the glass and Vokoun anticipated going back behind the net to get the puck, but it never came, taking a funny bounce and sliding right into the net. So the score was tied.
From there the Pens had gut-check time, but held strong. Kris Letang got a pass and beat Holtby 2 minutes later to give the Pens the lead they'd never surrender. Chris Kunitz scored his first (second?) goal off a great pass from Crosby less than a minute later to give a 4-2 Pens edge. Kunitz would score his second (third?) goal before the end of the period on a sensational saucer feed from Malkin on the powerplay.
From there, at 5-2, the Caps pushed to get a powerplay goal by Mike Riberio to get a goal but they couldn't build anything from there and the game ended after Kunitz tallied his third (fourth?) goal on a 5 on 3 powerplay at the dying moments of the game.
Some more thoughts on the game:
- The powerplay, which has been the story of frustration, cashed in twice, including on it's first chance which led to Kunitz's second goal of the game to make it 5-2. Kunitz cashed in late in the game just to make it pretty.
- We've often talked about secondary scoring and while Crosby and Malkin had some sick passes, no goals from them or James Neal and the team still tallied six goals in the game. Not bad at all.
- Shades of the '09 Pens/Caps playoff series in terms of just victimizing Mike Green and the other Caps defensemen on the forecheck, and starring Braden Holtby in the Semyon Varlamov role of "talented young goalie who's glove betrays him". And ending with a ton of goals in DC and a sad DC crowd shuffling out. We'll take it.
- Five shots on goal for Alex Ovechkin, who, for as much flack as he took, look involved and tried his best. The Pens did well to get in his way as much as possible, and whether or not you like him or not, any time he's held to 0 goals, 1 assist, we'll take it.
- Another good game for Robert Bortuzzo- just 11:28 played, but an assist, +2, 2 shots on net, 2 hits, 4 blocked shots. Bort plays a quiet game most nights, but it was a good one today.
- Don't look now but it Deryk Engelland becoming a legit NHL defensemen? 19:28 played today, including some great one-on-one defense on Ovechkin on the rush on one instance. throw in the shot Engo threw to the net that Cooke tipped (or went straight in) plus 2 hits and 2 blocked shots and we've got a solid performance.
- Zach Boychuk used his speed and skill to generate a breakaway but couldn't score. It's easy to tell he has a lot of ability, and he's making some chances (which is more than the other guys who played in his spot could say) but it'd be really nice to see some of his efforts find the back of the net if he wants to create a niche for himself in the NHL.
- The Pens were credited with 29 hits, every skater except Boychuk, Brandon Sutter and Brooks Orpik officially got a hit. Two of these things make sense.
At the end of the day, a very satisfying and rewarding win and weekend for the Penguins, who sweep the Devils and Caps by a combined scored of 11-4. Not bad, not bad at all. But now, there's no time for reveling in a lockout season, the team has to go to Long Island on Tuesday for a game against an Isles team that earned some respect last week.