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Pens vs. Caps Recap: Washington wins game, division because they #3elieve too

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The Caps win the game and the division for the 3rd straight year but you know what else might happen for the 3rd straight year?

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

Lineups

The good news for the Penguins is their lineup is the same as last night. This means Phil Kessel (day to day, left game last night with undisclosed lower body injury) is able to answer the bell for his 690th consecutive game. Matt Murray is also in the crease for the second time in as many nights.

The Joker to the Pens Batman, Alex Ovechkin, celebrates his 1,000th career game. If you go to the party you’ll have to drink right from the bottles and cans though because harf harf harf the Capitals don’t have any Cups.

1st period

Ovechkin gets the party started early on the first shift of the game with a shot on goal from a dangerous spot but Murray makes a solid save.

The Caps keep up the heat and get the game’s first goal. The Pens pretty much give them no resistance on a rush with nothing to slow Andre Burakovsky skating up the ice and making a nice pass to an equally little defended T.J. Oshie who is in all alone on Murray and fires a shot 5-hole to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

Luckily the Capitals follow this up on the next shift with Chandler Stephenson taking a dumb holding penalty in his offensive zone to send Pittsburgh to the game’s first power play. Unfortunately the PP bogs down for the most part, though Evgeni Malkin did get one great look at the net that Philipp Grubauer made a good save on.

Conor Sheary gets too over-eager playing defense and has to hook a Washington player driving to the net, so the Caps get their first power play of the night but the Pens kill it off without too much trouble.

A bit later Sidney Crosby works Sidney Crosby magic and has puck on stick for a 2-on-1. The pass isn’t there so he shoots but Grubauer is again up to the challenge and blockers it away.

Shots end up 13-11 WSH in the 1st period. Natural Stat Trick has 5v5 scoring chances at 10-4 WSH and that’s pretty indicative of how the first 20 minutes went. Not much good for the Pens but they’re only down 1-0.

2nd period

Bryan Rust gets a pretty good chance on the first shift of the period, but then on the second shift the Caps tilt the ice and Murray makes a nice save and Carl Hagelin earns a penalty by dumping Nick Backstrom to send the Caps to their 2nd PP of the game. Pittsburgh kills that off with little trouble.

The Pens basically can’t even make a pass and Kessel screams in frustration. They catch a break though with Washington making a sloppy change and blatantly having 6 players on the ice. Matt Niskanen starts acting like a child swinging his stick around (shocking!!) and then clears the puck over the glass for an automatic penalty.

Grubauer stones Crosby from the side of the net. Then Malkin has a wide open net but hits the cross-bar with a shot harder than possibly anyone has ever hit the cross-bar ever and the Caps survive Nisky’s meltdown.

Tom Wilson makes a Tom Wilson move and trips Malkin sending the Pens back to the power play. The PP gets puck movement and looks at the net but still no goal. In fact, worse is right when the penalty ends Dmitry Orlov takes off with the puck and races through the zone. He uses Maatta as a screen and shoots short-side on Matt Murray who was leaning the other way (and hadn’t seen a real shot in a long, long time). Puck goes in and it’s 2-0.

The Pens are gifted yet another PP when Ovechkin slashes the stick of Zach Aston-Reese to the point where the rookie’s stick breaks. But again Pittsburgh’s man advantage can’t convert and doesn’t even look good on it this time.

With 4 straight penalties in a row on Washington in this period, Aston-Reese gets a bit of a stick on a Capital’s hands and guess what happens? The Caps get their 3rd PP of the game however in the portion of it in this period the Pens shut everything down.

Shots end up a total of 15-10 Pittsburgh in this period, but considering the Pens had 6:40 of PP time including a 5v3 for a while that’s not too impressive. Less impressive the 2-0 hole that Pittsburgh is in on the scoreboard.

3rd period

Seconds into the period the Caps power play expires (good!) but Niskanen flings a puck in that Tom Wilson makes a really nice deflection on to redirect an off-target shot to the top shelf and make the score 3-0.

Time ticks away not much happening. Patric Hornqvist is trying to play to the whistle and 3-4 Caps just swarm him after every whistle because he occupies mucho real estate in their heads.

Caps defenseman Jakub Jerabek makes a turnover in a bad spot and Jake Guentzel pokes the puck over for Crosby in prime-time scoring spot. But Grubauer flashes the glove and makes a robbery on the captain from point blank range.

The Pens ruin Grubauer’s shutout with a big juicy rebound goal for Hornqvist. 3-1 but the result is about elementary.

Hornqvist slashes Brooks Orpik in the leg, who reacts as if he has been shot by a gun. John Carlson and Wilson drop their gloves and try to fight Hornqvist as players and refs come together. Somehow Washington ends up with a power play from this sequence.

Then Oshie shows his ass and tries to get in Malkin’s face. Malkin ain’t takin’ that shit from anyone so more scrums ensue. Then for some reason string bean head ass Evgeny Kuznetsov takes a break from flapping his arms like a chicken to make a really bad life decision in raising Malkin’s ire. Malkin inviting Kuznetsov to check out his Conn Smythe, Art Ross and Hart Trophy’s over some borscht after the game (guessing). Mark Recchi tells the ref he’s a hall of famer and the zebra is a jabroni (guessing) so Recchi gets tossed too. A real “Slapshot” type of moment.

Caps have a 5v3 to end the game, the perfect time for Alex Ovechkin to score his most meaningless goal since in Tom Wilson time in G7 of 2009. (“Tom Wilson” interchangable with garbage, of course). But sadly Ovechkin can’t even do that and the game ends with a 3-1 final and the vistors celebrating another regular season achievement.

Some Thoughts

  • Slow start for the Pens, who allowed the first four scoring chances of the game and looked sloppy early with Crosby over-skating a puck and poor defense on the goal allowed.
  • The Pens top power play continues to struggle with zone entries without Kris Letang with the varsity unit. At one point there was no movement, Kessel had the puck and no one else looked like they knew what they were doing. Not ideal.
  • Olli Maatta with career game #300 on the night. He’s the 13th member of the 2012 draft class to hit the 300 mark. If not for injuries this could have been the 408th game for Maatta, which would be 2nd most in the draft class.
  • Caps forward Jay Beagle left the game in the first period with an injury and did not return to the game.
  • Interesting strategy for the Pens to use Tom Kuhnhackl to shade toward Ovechkin on the power play. Ovechkin stands in the same spot and basically does the same thing, it’s a wonder no one has tried more of that. Not really sure how well Kuhnhackl did since OV had his shots on goal still but hey at least they’re trying to think out of the box and try to stop him from scoring somehow.
  • Tonight was only the 2nd regulation loss in the last 18 home games for the Pens. They’ve usually been so tough at home but the major reason tonight slipped away was because...
  • All the Pittsburgh power plays in the 2nd period were a major turning point. The Pens couldn’t have it all add up, and Grubauer was plenty good on his own. Then to not only not tie the game but fall behind 2-0 right at the end of such a long stretch of power play time was a fairly devastating moment in the game.
  • Caps and Pens went 2 wins and 2 losses a piece on the season-series. Also so close between the two rivals. Always so intense. Another matchup appears inevitable at this point.
  • Crosby had a few chances but Grubauer bettered him. Ovechkin was about as quiet as Ovechkin ever is against Pittsburgh.
  • The Pens just looked a step slow and a step off all night. But, again, to their credit the Caps were very well-structured and got some great goaltending. You do have to wonder how the game unfolds if the Malkin shot on the 5v3 goes bar-and-in instead of bar-and-out to make it 1-1, but that’s not how it went and deservedly so.
  • If you’re trying to take any sort of positive away from this one, no one got obviously injured during the course of the game and Kessel was able to play. Truly of importance at this point of the season is health and it appears the Pens still have all of that and a few days off upcoming too. Small consolation but it’s the marathon not the sprint.
  • Tom Wilson in the early Pens matchups was quiet. Letting Liam O’Brien fight the fights. Getting pointed at by Ryan Reaves and sitting motionless on the bench. (For good reason, Reaves beat the loose trash outta Wilson when Reaves was with St. Louis). Now with Reaves gone from Pittsburgh, Wilson was noiser than the trash truck on, um, trash collection day. Jokes aside, whether you were pro or con Reaves as a Penguin, I don’t think there could ever be any better endorsement or personification of the value of Reaves than this anecdotal example.
  • Hopefully the emotional fireworks at the end will stir some emotion. Malkin and Hornqvist were ready to run through brick walls. I don’t think Recchi’s personality has had him talking all that much and he got kicked out of the game. Can’t hurt. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Well, that’s that. The regulation win by Washington secures their 3rd consecutive Metropolitan Division title. The Penguins will now have to angle for the #2 seed in the division for also the 3rd straight year. And maybe a 3rd straight second round matchup for the teams. And maybe a third straight win...And maybe a 3rd straight...Well, you know.