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Recap: Rust’s two goal game sets the tone, Pens best Caps to take 1st place

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The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Capitals twice this week, and leave DC in possession of first place. It was all about the skill and speed of Bryan Rust as the difference in this game

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

Sam Lafferty gets into the game for the injured Evan Rodrigues but otherwise the Penguins look the same as last game, with Evgeni Malkin getting closer but still let on the shelf for this game.

The news isn’t any better for the Capitals, who don’t have the services of Alex Ovechkin or John Carlson again as well. Ilya Samsonov gets an opportunity in net.

First period

Just 2:56 in, the visitors strike. A Washington defenseman pinches and Garnet Hathaway has to cover for him. But Hathaway loses his balance and crashes into the boards at an inopportune moment, springing Bryan Rust on a clean breakaway. Rust wires a shot past the glove of Samsonov to give the Pens an early lead.

Shots are 8-7 in the first as the period moves quickly and sees no other goals and no penalties.

Second period

First shift of the period makes for the second unassisted Rust goal of the game. Rust blocks a shot of Dmitry Orlov and races the other way. Orlov, who has never been confused for a strong defender, is just, well, not sure what he’s doing here — but hey, Rust is moving with speed and still puts a great deke on Samsonov and this time beats the goalie to the forehand as Orlov is treated to the best view in the house. 2-0 Pens.

A bit later, the Pens strike again. Jeff Carter wins an offensive zone faceoff and works his way to the front of the net. Kris Letang controls said faceoff win and fires the puck to the net and it hits Carter’s skate and deflects into the net. 3-0 Pittsburgh.

Mike Matheson leaves the ice bloody when a Jarry clearing attempt strikes his defender in the face and halts the game to get him some attention and help him slowly off the ice.

The Penguins then have to weather some storms. Tristan Jarry stops Anthony Mantha on the Caps’ best shot but then Evgeny Kuznetsov and Orlov get good looks at the net that Jarry makes strong saves on.

Shots in the second are 10-8 Washington.

Third period

The refs finally call the first penalty of the game tonight, 6:07 into the period when Trevor van Riemsdyk sends the puck out of play. The Pens’ power play doesn’t get much going.

Washington gets their first power play a few minutes later when Jason Zucker gets the gate for hooking. Then Teddy Blueger gets in a fight with Brendon Dillon, for some unknown reason.

Tom Wilson goes to the box with 2:53 left after cleaning out Blueger in front of the net, Pittsburgh has pretty much called off the dogs and puts a second defenseman on their power plays, no longer going so aggressive and just ready to run the clock out. And that’s basically what happens!

Some thoughts

  • Matheson did not return for the third period after the puck did damage to his face. That’s potentially tough — the Pens have had the same defensive group together for something like 23 straight games and that’s been a big key to success to have settled into their pairings. Hopefully his absence won’t be too much longer.
  • Pens are now up to 15-2-1 in the last 18 regular season games against the Caps when Pittsburgh scores first. That stat-line looks like not a lot of drama, even though a lot of those games ended up being hard-fought and very intense, close contests. Tonight? Ehh, not so much.
  • Aside from about the last 5-10 minutes of the second period, the Caps were pretty quiet. The Pens held them pretty much at bay and Jarry was very sharp when he had to be. But for long stretches he wasn’t challenged all that much.
  • Rust turned on the jets for both of his goals, both impressive individual units. With both first line wingers over 20 goals this (short) season, these aren’t just guys who play with Sidney Crosby and vulture stats because of it, they’re capable of doing the heavy lifting and can create and finish individual scoring chances and make skilled plays all on their own.
  • The is the first time in history that Pittsburgh has beaten Washington six times in the regular season. It’s a 6-2-0 record for the Pens, but an odd 2-2-4 record for the Caps, who find a way to at least capture 8 out of a possible 16 points in the season series, despite only winning two games...Gotta love NHL math.
  • It was a quiet game for Crosby, who has been held without a point now for three games. It does look like the weight of playing 20+ minutes and really carrying the load with Evgeni Malkin out is taking it’s toll on the energy level right now. Perhaps Sid is holding a bit in reserve right now too, knowing when to pick his spots when the game’s get bigger. I assume few will be happier for what looks like will be a one week from from Pittsburgh’s regular season to the playoffs than the captain.
  • But where Crosby might be fading a bit offensively, the newest center in Carter is stepping up. Carter’s goal tonight makes a point in three straight games, and four points (3G+1A) in his last five games. Carter’s skating ability has been commendable, he’s perhaps better than expected coming over mid-season as a 36-year old. Carter can get around the ice really well and he’s still got some hands left on him too.
  • Teddy Blueger fought last week against Jeremy Lauzon of Boston and got out of that one OK. Brendon Dillon was a step up in the fight game, and not really a contest Blueger has the chops to be engaging in. He’s too valuable on the ice, not sitting for 5 minutes, hopefully his fisticuffs days are going to be a thing of the past now.
  • Great game all-around for the Pens, got a lead less than three minutes in and never looked back. Washington only managed 23 shots on goal, and they’re down a guy really good at getting pucks to net, but no one from Pittsburgh will be crying any tears over the relatively light injury woes of the Capitals.

Pittsburgh skates out of DC beating the Capitals twice this week and in the process the Pens move into first place in the Eastern Division. There are only four more games remaining in the regular season for the Pens, and none of them are against playoff teams, as the Pens sit in the driver’s seat right now to look to lock down home ice for the start of the playoffs.