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Penguins vs. Capitals Recap: Letang pushes Pittsburgh past Washington 7-6 (OT) in track meet

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The fireworks are always on display when it’s Penguins and Capitals, and tonight was no different.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Lineups

Opening day, here we go.

1st Period

The second shift of the game is a dominant one for Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin who spend almost a full minute in the o-zone and find paydirt with a pass back to Jamie Oleksiak. Big Rig hammers one by the glove of Braden Holtby. 1-0 Pens just 1:49 in.

There’s no panic in a rivalry game though, the Capitals second line gets matched up on the Pens 4th and Jack Johnson fails to block a shot and drops down to a knee and the overload leaves Jakub Vrana free to find the puck after it bounces off the back board and bury it. 1-1.

Just 48 seconds later, the Caps strike again, with Brooks Orpik of all people scoring on a long range slap shot for Washington’s 2nd goal on their 2nd shot.

Dmitry Orlov didn’t read the game notes and takes a penalty. The Pens second unit strikes with Daniel Sprong getting a puck to net and Jake Guentzel doing what he does hanging at the far post just waiting for the trash to float on in. 2-2.

Kris Letang lets Alex Ovechkin get behind him for reasons unknown and doesn’t block the incoming Christan Djoos shot-pass and, yeah you now how that is going to end. 3-2 Caps just 8 minutes into the game.

Game settles down a bit, Caps generally playing a bit better early on. The Pens passes to get out of the zone aren’t connecting and the in-zone coverage is leaving a lot to be desired. Carl Hagelin swings around collides with a Washington player, taking an interference penalty with 1:49 left in the period.

Period ends 10-5 shots in favor of Washington.

2nd Period

Letang atones for his mistake in the 1st period by scoring a goal 30 seconds into the 2nd period, following up on two great shots by Sidney Crosby that Holtby stops. He can’t stop this point shot that appears to deflect off someone in front. 3-3.

The Pens get caught again though, long shift for the first line, Oleksiak pinches and the puck slides past him for a 2-on-1. Justin Schultz tries to slide to block a shot but John Carlon rips it past him and Murray to make it 4-3 early in the second in the offensive score-fest.

The Pens get a power play but do nothing with it.

At 5v5 Crosby sets up Guentzel for a great chance with about 85% of the net open from a sprawled out Holtby and Guentzel....can only shoot it right back into the goalie. Whoops.

But he gets it back, Pens again go low-to-high with Patric Hornqvist passing back to the point and Schultz gets it to the net. Point shot comes in, Guentzel takes a tip and goes past Holtby. 4-4.

Soon again the Pens use another shot from the point (from Dominik Simon no less), and Holtby leaves a juicy rebound that Derick Brassard corrals on his backhand and punches home. 5-4 Pens have the lead again.

The period draws to a close. Shots in the 2nd were 23-16 Pens. For the PERIOD! Overall it’s now 28-26 Pens. Boy, if you’re a coach or a goalie you’re looking for the Mylanta at this intermission.

3rd Period

0:39 into the 3rd, Bryan Rust gets tripped and the Pens are off to their 3rd PP of the game. The big boys stay out there the whole time and get some good zone time at the end of it and the PP expires but a failed Washington clear leads tic-tac-toe Crosby-Letang-Malkin goal. 6-4 early in the 3rd.

The Pens keep pushing, Dom Simon with a great rush and blows past Madison Bowey, forcing the Caps dman to hook him. Power play for the Pens but they do little with it.

Vrana slashes Jack Johnson in the offensive zone, weak call but he still did it and got called. Pittsburgh to their 4th straight power play but again does almost nothing with it.

The Pens let their guard down a bit early, Malkin with a bad pass right up the middle which TJ Oshie intercepts and fires a beauty of shot and it’s 6-5 Pens.

And then, quickly, the Caps strike again. Oshie tips a Carlson shot, with his stick a bit high (but high enough?) and it goes in the net. The refs immediately wash the goal out, but after a couple reviews, it stands. 6-6.

Game settles a bit and we have...

Overtime

Pens win the all important opening faceoff to gain possession in 3v3, Evgeny Kuznetsov hooks Crosby as Sid is driving to the net to give the Pens a 4v3 power play.

And that’s all she wrote. The 4 Pens superstars on the ice, Kessel, Malkin, Letang set it up, and Letang blasts a shot by Holtby with Sid down low in front. 7-6 and the 2 points are secured.

Some Thoughts

  • Murray looked weak on the Orpik goal, there looked to be a bit of traffic hampering his vision, and the puck went low to high quickly back on target on a hard low shot. Maybe that’s making excuses but the replays made it look trickier than the “easy” first glance. Murray’s night overall, ehh, tough to judge really. Can’t give up 6 goals but the in front of him wasn’t exactly the ‘95 Devils.
  • That was also Orpik’s first regular season goal in 168 games, dating back to February 2016.
  • Bad Kris Letang letting Ovechkin get behind him (at 5v5 play, no less) in the 1st period. Good Kris Letang scoring from the point early in the 2nd. Excellent vision and touch to feed Malkin in the 3rd. Wins the game in OT. Makes one sour play, then more than a few good ones to make it back.
  • And it’s easy to say in the summer “we need to reign in Letang’s minutes”. Harder in the game. Team-high 24:21 through regulation and 25:41 at the end of the game. No big deal, need to ride the top horse as much as you can in a tight game against a quality team.
  • Offense from the defense was working in SPADES tonight for the Pens. they were able to get forwards the puck down low, suck the Caps defense in, pass back to the point, blast to net and net clean goals, deflections, rebounds, all kinds of scoring plays. Their defense combined for 3 goals and 5 assists, which is awesome.
  • One thing not awesome and badly in need of cleaning up was, as mentioned above, in-zone defensive coverage and some outlet passing and breakouts. Both teams were more than a bit loosey-goosey (as the final score will indicate, it was a full-fledged track meet) as two powerful, offensive-minded and skilled teams basically gave each other a lot of time and space to showcase some skill.
  • That said, it’s early October, not May. Not the end of the world, even if a bit frustrating to watch a game more resembling an exhibition of shinny out there.
  • Aside from taking himself out of the play by dropping down and failing to block a shot that led to the first goal against, Jack Johnson was very steady tonight. We give him grief, so it’s fair to give him credit to after a good performance the first time out. Johnson logged 21:58 with 2 hits and 2 shots blocked on the night.
  • The other lightning rod player to watch in Daniel Sprong had a quiet and limited night. Only a team-low 6:47 played, just 1 shot attempt and it was blocked (though it led to the Guentzel PPG).
  • When the Pens play the Caps you know Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Letang, Carlson, Backstrom - they’re all gonna get theirs. And they all found the score sheet (with the Pens stars all getting 2 points a piece, and the Caps getting 1 each, but we digress). The real battle in Pens/Caps is the next tier of the Guentzel, Brassard, Kessel types against the Oshie, Burakovsky, Eller’s of the world. Guentzel and Oshie did their parts with 2 goals a piece and that’s a big reason it went to OT.

Time to exhale. The Penguins blow a two goal lead in the 3rd period but regroup to get the W. They deserved it - Pittsburgh had the Caps on their heels and forced many a penalty and were able to carry the day with what else but star power. Defense and goaltending be dammed, this was a fun back and forth throwback game from the good old days.

And just like the old days it ends with the Penguins beating the Captials. Now that’s more like it!