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Penguins / Capitals Recap: Pittsburgh's power play lets them down again in loss to Washington

The Pittsburgh Penguins can't get going on their power play, give up a pair of goals while on the penalty kill and drop a 3-1 decision to the Washington Capitals.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In a rough and tumble game instigated largely by Alex Ovechkin slashing Kris Letang in the back of the leg (sending Letang crashing into the boards) early in the third period, the Capitals kept their emotions in check better than the Penguins , were better on the power play and skated out of town with a 3-1 win.

It was shame for the Pens too, they dominated the second period of the game- out-shooting Washington 15-10, and scored the game's only even-strength goal when Steve Downie found a loose puck for the Pens first (and only) goal against Braden Holtby in three games this season. Pittsburgh had built back to a 1-1 tie to match a first period goal from Ovechkin only to watch it skitter away in the 3rd period.

After Ovechkin's slash on Letang- which went unpenalized- the Pens responded with Chris Kunitz and David Perron taking a small run at the next beginning of play. The whistle after that, Maxim Lapierre and Steve Downie went fairly crazy against other Capitals, for no apparent reason, and that didn't help anything.

With 5 minutes left in the game, Kunitz was called for a pretty questionable boarding penalty on Joel Ward (if anything, it might have been late and interference, but wasn't boarding) and then Letang really put the Pens in a bind when he slashed the stick of a Cap, breaking it, and giving the refs no choice but to call him and give Washington 1:49 of a 2-man advantage. They would take advantage with Ward converting a just ridiculously good cross-ice pass from Nicklas Backstrom to put them up.

Since the refs gift-wrapped that goal for Washington so late in the game, they would of course find an excuse to give the Pens one more shot at the power play, but it again failed the Pens with too many long perimeter passes, too much standing around, and not enough scoring chances. John Carlson would fire a long shot into an empty net goal late, but the game was already over.

A few more thoughts on the game:

  • As we tweeted during the melee's, the Penguins have such a horrible record when they lose control of their emotions and play into the hands of Ovechkin and/or the 75'ers in games like this. It's great to be tough to play against and stand up for your best players - and it was a fairly bullshit hack Ovechkin took on Letang- but to treat the game as a sideshow? Doesn't work.
  • While venting, if you get a chance to watch big, bad Tom Wilson drop like a sack of bricks after a fairly innocent push from Craig Adams watch it.  Probably just following his captain's lead.
  • That said, it's tough to be too mad at the refereeing. Yeah, it was bad, but it was wildly inconsistent in general. In hindsight, they probably shouldn't have called the late Kunitz penalty, and then wouldn't have had to make an obvious make up call. So it goes with ref'ing in the NHL.
  • But, back to the game, the Penguins did do really great in that second period. They were bombarding Holtby with shots AND bodies to the net- right on the very verge of legality. That type of aggressiveness, is good. Downie and Lapierre aggressiveness after the whistle, is bad. Is that so difficult to differentiate?
  • Blake Comeau with the puck on his stick is something really great. Late in the game he had a couple chances in the offensive zone, but was met with good saves by Holtby, who had a fine night stopped 33 of 34 shots.
  • Speaking of great goaltending performances, Marc-Andre Fleury deserved more than a loss, but it sort of seemed like he was fighting an uphill battle from the beginning, getting tested early and often. Neither goals (an Ovechkin breakaway, and a good one-timed shot off a really, really good pass) he really had a shot on. And Fleury made several great stops along the way. Good stuff.
  • Not good stuff: an 0 for 3 power play that really didn't even seem to come close. Not sure if Rick Tocchet knows what he's doing, the unit looks like it has no identity and no clue of what they're doing out there. With some practice time lately, it's concerning that this hasn't been effectively addressed, and it certainly needs to be. It's way past the point of acceptability, 0 for 18 now.
  • Interesting little wrinkle early for the Pens taking Letang off from Paul Martin and putting Robert Bortuzzo on, to match Ovechkin and the Caps top line. Bortuzzo brings more size and toughness and has done decent jobs on bigger forwards like Jagr earlier in the year. Nice to see that little adjustment made, and it also cleared up Letang to play with Derrick Pouliot for an offensive minded pairing for the Pens top line.
  • For more and the DC perspective, be sure to check out our friends at Japers Rink.
    But if you're going to chime in, remember where you are and represent yourself and Penguin fans with some class.

Tough loss to take, but there's no choice but to look forward to the next one. I'm not really sure what lesson there even is to learn, because the Pens seem to go from one game like this on to the next. They need to get their power play on track, and they really need to get 87 and 71 going. Neither were terribly visible, and both have been fairly quiet of late, despite having healthy lineups. The Pens need to find a way to get the big guns firing, and the rest will probably look a lot better.