For the second game in a row, the Penguins make a change to the lineup on defense. Out goes Mike Matheson (who suffered an injury against the Flyers, coach Mike Sullivan said after the game) and in comes Juuso Riikola. Chad Ruhwedel remains in the game as well. Casey DeSmith gets his first NHL start since March 14, 2019.
Lined up and ready for our home opener. pic.twitter.com/nqMXhtWzWv— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 17, 2021
The Capitals make a change too, with former Penguin Daniel Sprong making his NHL season debut, at the expense of replacing former Penguin Conor Sheary.
The Pens can’t start much better than a goal 19 seconds in. The first line does good work down low, Evan Rodrigues goes low-to-high with a pass back to Brian Dumoulin at the point. Dumoulin’s shot/pass is angled off Rodrigues’ foot and in by Ilya Samsonov. 1-0 Pittsburgh before any fans could even get to their seats (good joke, huh?).
Now THAT is what we love to see. pic.twitter.com/upJxzYedYY— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 17, 2021
The Caps struck back though with two goals in the period to take the lead. First, Sam Lafferty skates out from behind his net and loses the puck in a place you just can’t lose the puck and Nic Dowd is able to juuuust get it across the line to tie the game.
Then after no penalty is called when Sidney Crosby’s stick is slashed in two, the play goes the other way and John Marino gives up the puck and the Caps get it to the net. DeSmith stops it once but leaves a rebound and wide open net for Alex Ovechkin to easily slam it home. 2-1 Washington.
Both teams trade a power play opportunity to each other, with nothing happening. Shots after one period are 12-8 Washington. The Caps also dominated 5v5 Corsi% in the first to the tune of 69.2%.
2:10 into the period, Pittsburgh ties the game. Samsonov misplays the puck behind the net and Teddy Blueger does well to pounce on the turnover. Blueger centers the puck for Colton Sceviour who has a yawning cage. He elevates the puck and it scores (?) maybe. Long review, it’s tough to tell, but the goal counts so that’s what matters. I guess the puck hits the white camera box at the top of the net, and not the post. Lucky this wasn’t wasted. 2-2.
Never a doubt in our minds. pic.twitter.com/UNicXxm3iw— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 17, 2021
The Pens got a second power play and did nothing with it. The Pens and Caps then start trading sending players to the box, which shakes out for a 4v3 power play for Washington. All that space for their skill players is a bad proposition, as Evgeny Kuznetsov finds Nicklas Backstrom wide open at the front of the net for a tap-in. 3-2 Washington has the lead back.
knock knock it's NICKY! pic.twitter.com/3FfAyxn5wX— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 17, 2021
The Pens dig deep and again pull even. Nice play by Jason Zucker to circle the net, stay patient, find an open player and that player was Marcus Pettersson. Pettersson snipes and it’s 3-3.
Shots in the second period were 11-3 Pens, a very good job to tip the scales and jump back into the game.
Pittsburgh gets two power plays but squanders them both. Some decent zone time and many pretty passes but the group just isn’t in a rhythm or looks like they have an idea of how they’re going to score.
Then, the Pens take a THIRD too many men on the ice penalty in as many games this season, which (waves arms) just isn’t good. Luckily they’re able to kill this power play off, though with a little bit of good fortune off this double post shot that Ovechkin tied off on.
No one scores so we get..
This was fun and end-to-end, but the star players were certainly showing signs of exhaustion after so much exertion so early into the season and without the normal amount of warmups. Kris Letang made quite a few nice defensive plays, which was nice to see. Evgeni Malkin had a chance to end the game, but didn’t. That means..
Letang fails on the first attempt, but then DeSmith stops the usually automatic TJ Oshie. Good sign.
Crosby is stopped and Backstrom misses the net in the second round.
Malkin and Kuznetsov are next to try and fail to score in the third round.
Then, Jake Guentzel strikes with a deke to open up Samsonov and then slide the puck backhand, five hole.
must rewatch from every A N G L E pic.twitter.com/5AGFffiqoH— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 17, 2021
It’s up to Ovechkin to score to extend the game and....DeSmith stands tall with a pad save.
Pens get their first win of the season.
- As usual for any good Pens/Caps game, a lot of twists and turns, peaks and valleys. It was nice to see the Pens rally back to tie the game twice after falling behind. They just found a way to hang into the game.
- Also nice to see Pittsburgh not give up any goals in the third period, for the first time this season.
- DeSmith again acquitted himself exactly as you would want a backup goalie to do. He came in, did his job. He played well, but still to the point where the Pens can (and should) go back to Tristan Jarry on Tuesday to get him back on track.
- It was great to see Pettersson bury that puck, doubly so on the weak defensive effort of Daniel Sprong, the player he was once traded for. Seems like a LONG time ago since those two were equal in value.
- The Pens’ top two lines finally got going with even strength goals, but not from where you might expect. Rodrigues had his best game of the young season and set the tone early, teaming up with Dumoulin on the goal. Then Zucker found Pettersson. Not exactly the first power play group Guentzel/Crosby/Malkin/Rust/Letang generating the goal, but it’s a good sign to see life.
- No coincidence that getting the defense involved was a key.
- The Lafferty turnover for the first goal against + Sceviour scoring....A change of balance or reinforcement about which forward gets scratched when it’s Kasperi Kapanen time?
- When Blueger got kicked out a faceoff circle on a 3v4 draw deep in the Pens zone, Brandon Tanev out-foxed Backstrom by simply punching the puck forward and clearing the zone right from the drop. Then Tanev outraced the Caps’ defender, threw a check, got the puck back and centered for Blueger to get a shot. More great stuff from Tanev.
Unlocking the keys to the game
Which Evgeni gets going? Unfortunately for the Pens, the frustration continues for Malkin who was held off the board. Kuznetsov recorded two assists for his first two points of the season and played better in this one.
Young goalie battle. A perfectly passable game from DeSmith, including keeping all four Caps’ star players off the board on the shootout. Samsonov had a few really nice saves to showcase his athleticism, but also had the dumb play to gift the Pens a goal that hurt his team.
Avoiding the sin bin. It was a penalty heavy game, with five Capital minor penalties, and four Penguin minors. It was also a poor day on special teams for Pittsburgh, being as they allowed a goal while shorthanded, and failed spectacularly on the power play. Luckily it didn’t decide the entire game, but it certainly made the game a lot more difficult and required a shootout to win. Also, in what is becoming a perverse comedy of errors, the Pens had a third bench minor for too many men in their third game of the season. It’ll be a minor victory at this point if they can simply make it through a game without shooting themselves in the foot by now.
It wasn’t the most convincing performance, but after dropping two games to start the season, the Pens badly needed to find a way to get in the win column in their first home game. Mission accomplished. Now, they get the chance to build on that as they see this same Washington team again on Tuesday.