Last night, the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division met. The gap in points between the Penguins and the Capitals is massive, but the Capitals played a pretty outstanding game of ice hockey. They got a great performance out of rarely used goaltender Michael Neuvirth. But it wasn’t enough. Despite getting only a point a piece from Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins were able to tie the game up after trailing 3 times, and then sink the dagger into the Caps with less than two minutes left before the horn. Contributions from waiver wire pickups, career AHLers, and Bylsma-beloved role players powered the Penguins to another victory, their 13th straight at home. And it’s somehow vindicating and right that the star of the game was Olli Maatta. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.
Full recap after the jump.
(Cover image courtesy sportsmedia101.com)
Lineup: James Neal took part in the morning skate, but ended up being scratched at game time, paving the way for Pierre-Luc Lasdjkfh-Leblond to make his Penguin debut along with Nick Drazenovic with Vitale and Gibbons being injured. Sutter started with Crosby and Malkin, while Jokinen-Malkin-Pyatt formed the makeshift 2nd line. Draz centered Adams and Glass while Sill centered Engelland and PL3. Despres remained the healthy scratch on the blue line, with Kobasew still being injured as well. Fleury and Neuvirth got the start between the pipes.
Kunitz-Crosby-Sutter, Letang-Scuderi vs. Fehr-Backstrom-Brouwer, Alzner-Carlson for the opening shift of the game. An early shot by Alzner jumped high off Fleury and almost batted in by Fehr, but Scuderi cleared it out of the air and Crosby and Kunitz led the rush on a 2 on 1 on Carlson. Crosby diced a little, spun, and threw a backhander at Neuvirth that Kunitz couldn’t cash in on with the rebound.
Really physical and fast-paced start to the game, as you’d expect from these two teams. About 5 minutes in, we were all made well aware that Crosby and Ovi got their first shift head-to-head of the game. Orpik ended up giving the puck away to Grabovski behind the net and he threw one out in front to Ovechkin, but Fleury was up to the task and made the save on the sneaky shot.
Took about 8 minutes from the Crosby chance for the Pens to finally register their second shot of the game, coming off some sustained pressure from the Crosby unit. Kunitz got a nice look at the net, but it wouldn’t go. Crosby stayed out while Malkin and Jokinen jumped on for Kunitz and Sutter and 87, 71, and 36 got really creative with their passing, eventually leading to Crosby finding Brotuzzo jumping in from the blue line, but fanning on the shot. Malkin ended up working it up to Orpik, whose blast was stopped by Neuvirth. The whistle ended up blowing as it was trickling through towards the goal line, so yeah. Pens registered 4 shots on that sequence.
Crosby’s line just a few minutes later was back out there against the Ovechkin unit. Crosby sprung Kunitz on a mini-breakaway, but his angle wasn’t right to really make a move to beat Neuvirth, who fought off the backhander. Caps cleared it, but Kunitz was sprung yet again, this time by Sutter, but Neuvirth again made a blocker save on 14. It took the Pens about 10 or so minutes to really settle in to the game and start getting legitimate chances, but when they did, the play was all in the Caps zone.
With 7:12 remaining, Crosby drew a tripping penalty on Joel Ward to give the #1 PP in the NHL their first chance of the game. A goal was scored within about 20 seconds, but it wasn’t the Penguins. Letang had the puck behind the net and tried to breakout to Malkin. Or Crosby. Not sure. Don’t think Letang was really sure either because he split the difference between the 2. It ended up with Brooks Laich, who almost got poke checked by a sprawling Letang, but Laich somehow kept control and beat MAF. 1-0
Terrible pass by 58. Really looked like he was just caught in between 2 minds. No excuse though. No one really got on their horse to get back to help out either, aside from Jokinen. So that was ugly too.
Pens still had some PP time to work with. The 2nd unit with Malkin looked pretty threatening, but Neuvirth stood tall to deny a couple Drazenovic and Niskanen chances. Draz ended up taking a tripping penalty on Ovi shortly after to give the #2 powerplay in the NHL their first chance. Ovi was the trigger man, as of course is tradition, but it was Backstrom with the best shot as he rang one off the pipe behind Fleury in the first half of the PP. When their 2nd unit came out, Sill and Glass got released for a 2 on 1 with the former carrying the puck. Ovi actually backchecked, but couldn’t catch Sill, who was denied by Neuvirth. Sill then busted his balls to get back to his own zone and laid a nice big thump on Ovechkin right before the penalty expired because Zach Sill fucking rules.
The period somewhat quietly came to an end shortly after, but not before Ovi took a puck off the skate and was laboring a bit on the bench. After being held to just 1 shot for the first 8 or so minutes, the Pens ended up with 17 shots, compared to the Caps 10. Two guys that really stood out for the Pens in the first 20, besides the obvious, were Sutter and Pyatt. Pyatt actually looked like he didn’t have cement in his skates for the first time since the Pens claimed him and looked maybe like he wanted to impress in a top 6 role. Sutter looked possessed. He caught Brotuzzo’s stick in his throat and face early in the period and that may have set him off. Or he’s just good at ice hockey or something. Or drugs.
Opening shift was all Washington, with Sutter having to make a big time stick check on Backstrom to deny him a sure goal. First real Pens chance came on a nice little breakout by Drazenovic, Adams, and Glass. Draz made a subtle little play to deflect the puck between his legs to Adams, soaring through the Pens zone. The threesome entered the zone and worked down low, eventually leading to Draz finding a little pocket of space to get a shot on Neuvirth that he saved, but wasn’t quite aware of. It was a trend all game, but Neuvirth losing the puck a bit or giving up big rebounds and Draz finding little bits of space to get some dangerous chances.
To further that narrative, Orpik made a good defensive play to take the puck away from Mike Green, which is nothing new to Mike Green. Draz was freed up on the left wing, but he waited just a little bit to fire it and allowed Neuvirth to really square up to the shot. The Caps were carrying the play though until a great individual effort by Kunitz. He took the puck off Backstrom and made a great play to spin away and blow through everyone exiting the zone. He entered the Caps zone and dished to Glass along the wall. Glass made some unrealistic play that 2013, First Year With Penguins Tanner Glass doesn’t make to get the puck to Crosby. Sid did what he do to find Letang trailing. 1-1
Redemption or something for Letang. It went off a couple of sticks, but giving 58 a free shot from there and he probably picks the top corner anyway because he’s Harvey Dent.
Just a couple minutes later, the Caps were back at it in the Pens zone. Orlov threw a bullet pass from the point down to Johanns0n on the side of the cage. He didn’t bother settling it because was a perfect pass. He threw it across the crease first time to Chimera, who still had some work to do to guide it into the net. 2-1
Sometimes you just get undone by great passing. Even against the tightest checking defense, that kind of play is probably going to end up in the back of your net. As you can see, Niskanen follows Ward as he comes out from behind the net. Ward drifts pretty high in the slot and Niskanen stays with him. The right play is probably handing Ward off to Drazenovic in the high slot. Draz was kinda hanging out there anyway, and Ward is in a far less threatening position than Chimera. By the time Draz realized that Niskanen wasn’t coming back to the house, he had no time to take away Chimera’s stick. The quickness and precision of the passing play pretty much removes all blame from all parties involved. However, Letang is still at fault.
The Pens wasted little time getting it back though. With just under 4 minutes to play, Malkin carried the puck into the zone, cut inside, and found Jokinen. He dished to Maatta joining in late. Maatta made a sick play to fake the shot and get Wilson to go down, where he skated around Wilson and dropped it off the Pyatt in the slot. 2-2
Sick play by Maatta, who is apparently Harvey Dent too. Sometimes you just get undone by great passing. Pretty sure we read that somewhere before.
The game certainly didn’t settle down as time ticked away. Crosby ended up launching a clapbomb that Orlov got in the way of. Sutter dug the puck out from down low and worked it around, eventually leading to a Kunitz fanned shot at the blue line that released Ovi on a 2 on 1 against Brotuzzo, who laid down on the ice to disrupt Ovechkin’s pass just enough to deny Grabovski giving the Caps the lead heading into the 3rd. Washington lead the 2nd period 13-8 in shots, which shouldn’t be surprising given that they controlled the play for most of the period.
Just 32 seconds into the period, Malkin and Jokinen combined for a quick give and go in the neutral zone that led to Malkin completely undressing Mike Green, which isn’t new to Mike Green because he’s terrible at playing defense in the NHL. Green tripped up 71 to give the Pens their 2nd PP of the game. It was the Crosby and Malkin Show on the powerplay, but they weren’t able to get the go-ahead goal. Maatta was looking good on the 2nd unit too and was the trigger man on the right half-wall along with being given the freedom to rove a little bit, but the Caps killed it off.
On the next Crosby Unit shift, Brotuzzo made a huge defensive play on Carlson where the loose puck jumped to Engelland. He found Crosby streaking out of the zone and he and Kunitz had a 2 on 1 on Alzner. Kunitz had a step on Alzner and the backchecking Carlson and Crosby tried to find him, but it took a little deflection off Alzner’s stick and went awry. Those guys were flying though and were possibly being double shifted. Sutter was back out there with them about a minute later and drove in with Crosby. Sid laid a little area pass into Sutter’s path, who got off a dangerous backhander that Neuvirth was forced to kick out.
With 12:58 left, Malkin and Erskine got in each others kitchens after a whistle and both picked up penalties to lead to some 4 on 4 hockey. One of the best chances came from Brouwer overlapping Backstrom, then toe-dragging around Maatta and swinging around the net, finding Orlov all alone in the slot as the Pens were chasing, but MAF made the save. Ovi got out for the next shift. For whatever reason, Letang was shipped out to play forward with Jokinen. Orpik and Brotuzzo were on the back end, manning up with Ovechkin. Orpik slashed the stick out of Ovi’s hands, but picked it up just in time to get a pass from Johannson and bury it. 3-2
In theory, throwing the best skater on the ice out there with all that open ice makes sense. Putting him out there as a forward, where he’s never played before, is idiotic. Sorry, not apologizing for that. Letang was lost playing forward and you can’t blame him.
Right after that, Malkin led a rush and undressed Mike Green yet again and drew another tripping penalty with just over 10 minutes remaining. But just 21 seconds later, Malkin killed the penalty for the Caps. Laich came over to finish a check on Malkin and Geno was about to take the puck off the boards, but Malkin kind of made no attempt to play the puck yet and instead threw a shoulder into Laich, getting rung up for interference in the process.
Crosby, Kunitz, and Letang were
unbelievably dangerous on the 4 on 4 and really helped change the momentum, despite getting robbed a couple of times. Sutter and Jokinen were next to get out there up front. Sutter made a great Sutter Move to get around some Capital and throw some backhand sauce to the tape of Jokinen, who was battling in front with Orlov. 3-3
All Sutter. All Day. Orlov still almost made the play, but the bounce just went Juicy’s way.
Some more back and forth action played out after that, but with just under 2 minutes to play, Malkin turned on All Star Mode and went to work. He kept the puck on a string for what felt like 20 minutes, got the puck back from Niskanen and circled the wagons, eventually finding Maatta at the point. Malkin got himself open at the side of the net, but Maatta fired a shot instead. 4-3
All Malkin, but what a shot through traffic by Maatta.
With about a minute left, Neuvirth was pulled for the extra attacker. Washington was on a warpath to try to tie it up. Bodies were flying everywhere, sticks were exploding, it was like a scene out of Full Metal Jacket. Somehow the puck stayed out though and the Pens held on.
1) HELL of a game for a couple Penguins who have been taking some flak. Brandon Sutter was an absolute monster, playing in a variety of roles – with one of the new ones being the oh-so-difficult “winger for Sid not named Kunitz” persona. He looked fast, his penalty killing work was high-end, and he made an outstanding play to set up Jussi Jokinen’s game-tying goal.
2) Taylor Pyatt had a pretty nice game for himself as well, and part of that may well be because he was skating alongside Evgeni Malkin. But for the first time in a Penguins uniform, Pyatt looked like he didn’t have concrete filling two left skates. Beyond scoring a pretty nice goal, he threw his weight around and created space for Malkin and Jokinen to do their thing in the offensive zone as the Penguins generated more zone time later in the game.
3) Olli Maatta. Of late, Maatta has had his struggles, especially with making first passes and exiting the zone. And even early on in the game we were talking about how those struggles were continuing. Well, if it came at the expense of doing some of the major plays he made in the offensive zone tonight, we’re a bit more okay with it. It’s WAY too early to make this comparison or draw too much out of it, but that stutter step move to set up Pyatt was right out of Nick Lidstrom’s book. And then scoring the game-winning goal in a tight game? Credit where it’s due for the youngster.
4) For a guy who is a third goaltender, Michael Neuvirth played a pretty strong game. For as many rebound opportunities as he was giving up, the Penguins’ goals all came on pretty honest plays. With Braden HLOLtby in there, it might have been 15-3 with the way the Penguins were buzzing at some points.
5) Penguins have dressed the second most players in the league, per some stat that was on the Regis McGuire Sports Network. The other three teams on that list were Buffalo, Edmonton, and Calgary. Infer, children, infer.
Everyone can relax for another couple of days until the Pens host the Panthers Monday night. Go Pens.