Man, it’s nice to feel dominant. The Penguins know the feeling. Seems like the second the final horn blew in the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh in 2011, the Penguins have bought the deed and the liquor license inside the Capitals’ mindbrain. That makes 8 straight wins against Washington, 7 straight against head coach Adam Oates, and in impressive fashion for the fourth time this season. MAF finishes the year against the rival Caps with 2 shutouts and a 1.00 GAA. Get your brooms out, the Capitals just got dusted… err… swept.
Full recap if you can find the button right down there and click it. You can do it.
Lineup: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” meant that the Pens changed everything from what kind of worked in Monday night’s victory. Brian Gibbons flanked Brandon Sutter with Taylor Pyatt in place of Joe Vitale. Jokinen was reunited with Geno and Neal, while Crosby centered Kunitz and Stempniak because chemistry.
Glass-Goc-Adams filled out the 4th line. Offensive Defenseman Deryk Engelland was relegated to the pressbox in place of the now healthy again Robert Brotuzzo, who was paired up with Despres in a straight swap.
Kinda surprising that Adam Oates went back with Halak in the second half of a back-to-back, but we aren’t NHL coaches yet so whatever. Maybe Holtby just had a case of Goaltender Emerytus or something.
The opening 5 minutes or so started off with both teams going punch for punch on chances, which the Pens getting 3 of the best after a decent Ovechkin chance about a minute in. Malkin got himself wide open in the high slot for a one-T that Halak reacted well to to kick out. The followed shift, Crosby got free and wheeled into the Caps zone, looking to find Kunitz on the 2 on 1, but Carrick made a great diving play on the backcheck to stop the pass from getting across. The Pens recovered the puck, with Stempniak finding Kunitz alone on the faceoff dot in that spot he likes to post up in, but Jack Hillen laid out to make the huge block to deny Kun his 32nd of the season.
The rest of the period was much of the same. It wasn’t until 5:36 left in the period that we got our 3rd faceoff of the game. Long time between whistles, but a lot of the play was one and done on the rush for both teams, going back and forth up and down the ice without much sustained zone time, save for the 4th line getting a nice forecheck going, thumping Ovi and Backstrom on the same shift. But the Pens weren’t letting the Caps get shots on their rushes. They just took the puck and went the other way with it. They were also forcing turnovers in the offensive zone. First, Gibbons’ speed negated an icing with about 3 and a half to play. Then Malkin intercepted an outlet pass inside the zone, drove wide and dished to Pyatt, who got tied up by a backchecking Backstrom. Didn’t matter because Geno Mode. He got the puck back in the corner for his second takeaway of the shift, dished to Niskanen for a one timer at the point, and there was Jokinen in front to tip it home for his first in 11 games. 1-0
Unbelievable deflection on a shot that was probably going wide. Everything Matt Niskanen touches finds its way to the back of the net lately. Unreal. And some nasty ish by the Juice.
Crosby almost made it 2-0 on the next shift as he batted a blocked shot out of midair that Halak made an unconscious save on. At the end of the shift, Niskanen pinched, deflected the puck to Kunitz, who dumped and changed, but didn’t get it in deep. Orlov immediately found Chimera streaking, but Fleury made one of those stand-up kick saves that you haven’t seen since the 80s or 90s. Kenny Dryden Sauce.
The Caps woke up a little bit after the goal and it felt like they registered half of their 6 shots in the last 2ish minutes of the period (that’s because they did). Pens still took a 13-6 shot advantage into the dressing room, dominating the first 20 minutes of play for the second time in as many games against the Caps. Washington also had 5 blocked shots, meaning the Pens were trying to get a bunch of rubber at Halak, for good reason too.
Sid continued his tormenting of the Caps on the opening shift of the period, smoking the entire team along the boards and getting a solid backhander towards the cage, but probably didn’t get enough on it as Brouwer held him up a bit as he came across the blue line. A couple minutes later, Simon Despres announced that he was in the building, throwing a mean hip check on Carrick as he entered the zone a la Rob Blake.
Then 3:25 into the period, after Crosby stepped up with a big time open ice hit on Eric Fehr. How strong is Sidney Crosby? Hint: Very. Fehr’s not a little guy. And Crosby smoked him.
Washington got caught for too many men on the ice. The Pens were buzzing with a big chance to put the Caps on their heels. Kunitz almost buried one on a tip and rebound chance in front, a Niskanen blast was stopped, and a Crosby pass through the box to Kunitz just barely got broken up, but the Caps were able to dodge the bullets and kill it off.
About 6 minutes later, Lee Stempniak almost scored two highlight reel goals. First, he used his speed and kept his feet moving to beat Orlov, then made an unreal outside-inside move to dance Green before going to the backhand on Halak and tried to slide it fivehole, but Halak closed the wickets. Crosby dug out the rebound from below the goal line and the centering pass jumped up in the air, allowing Stempniak to knock it out of the air on a full out baseball swing, but he rang the puck off the post. If he would’ve scored on either of those, arson.
A few minutes after those chances, the Caps rose. A blocked shot from the point came out to Kuznetsov at the side of the cage. He corralled the puck while Fleury looked down and out, but MAF made one of those “are you fucking kidding me?!?!?!” saves with the scorpion kick. Kind of went off the post too, but either way, wow.
They didn’t let that save suck the wind out of their sails. With a little over 3 minutes left, Ovi galloped through the neutral zone on Orpik, who blocked the shot. It deflected in on MAF, who had to be really sharp in kicking the puck out as Brouwer crashed the net.
Much like in the first period, the Pens dominated most of the 20 minutes, but the Caps turned it up at the end, getting the majority of their chances in the latter stages. Washington had their chances to even it up just as the Pens had their chances to really bury the Capitals. Pens led 26-12 in shots through 40 minutes and dominated the faceoff dot 17-7. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they had the majority of the puck.
No clue why, but Neal was somehow allowed to sneak in behind Green and Carrick after jumping off the bench and broke free all alone on Halak. He tried to finish between the legs, but for probably the first time in his life, he was denied from doing so (phrasing first boom!).
About 2 and a half minutes later, Crosby fed Kunitz on the exact same play that he found Kunitz with for the first goal in Washington, but this time Green hacked and whacked him, causing their legs to get tangled up a bit and Kunitz to go crashing into the post, slamming his knee off the iron in the process. Maybe a hint of a penalty, but they were letting the boys play last night.
Despite those two quality chances, the Capitals were really controlling the play for the first 7 or 8 minutes of the period. They were pinning the Pens in their own zone and getting some greasy chances in the blue paint, but the Penguins didn’t break down. Most notably, it was Jay Beagle getting those chances while playing on a line with Johansson and Ovi. We had no idea Beagle was even still in the league. Or awake. Or alive.
Then, with 11:58 remaining, Niskanen and Kuznetsov got tied up a bit in the slot, leading to Nisky clipping him in the face to give the Caps their first PP of the game. Their PP was only operating at 2.6% in the second game of back-to-backs, so if they would’ve scored on it, it would have surprised no one. But after 1:08, Backstrom went to retrieve a puck and caught Maatta in the chops with his twig, effectively negating the penalty to Niskanen for 52 seconds of 4 on 4 hockey before giving the Pens an abbreviated powerplay. Halak was zoned though, having to make 3 or 4 big time saves, none bigger than robbing Crosby at the side of the net with a game saving toe save, reminiscent of his time with Montreal that year.
But with 5:48 remaining, he wasn’t able to do it again. After some great work by Orpik on Kuznetsov to chip the puck up the wall, Stempniak took Orlov out of the play at the blue line to let Crosby streak in on a 2 on 1 with Kunitz. Instead of passing this time, he just wired a shot right over the pad, stick side on Halak. 2-0
Sick, sick shot. Doesn’t happen without the plays from Orpik and Stempniak though.
Just 1:40 later, Joel Ward chipped the puck up the wall and skated straight into Despres, drawing a bit of a ticky tacky interference penalty. The penalty killing was at the level we’ve all come to expect, but they also got bailed out by Fleury a couple times as well. A Brouwer blocked shot trickled in on Fleury and Johansson made a little handsy move to get it around the leg of MAF, but he just dove to his left and got his arm down to deny the Swede. Fleury just would not be beat in this one.
With 1:18 remaining, Halak was pulled for the extra attacker. After a save off the knob of Fleury’s stick, Adam Oates used his time out to rest his gunners with 46.9 seconds left. A Brouwer skate defelection off the post was the only shot Fleury didn’t save with the extra attacker before the game was killed off after a high stick on the puck by Ovi with 3 seconds left. Game. Chili’s.
1) MAF. He’s been the man all year, and he might have more control of DC than any Democrats or Republicans right now. Last night gives Flower 6 straight wins against the Caps. Fleury also extends his franchise record with his 28th career shutout. He also ties his career high in shutouts with his 5th on the season, matching his mark from the 2006-2007 season. Think Mark Recchi.
2) Orpik just seems to get up for games against Ovechkin. He has struggled a lot this year, perhaps at his worst lately. But maybe a game like this will turn his season around. He registered 7 hits, and has always been pretty solid, relatively speaking, against Ovechkin. Maybe Orpik is just the type of guy at this point in his career where he gets by more on having a tactical gameplan and approach to defending a player rather than relying on athletic ability and finesse. In fact, take away that maybe. Orpik likely struggled out West especially because he doesn’t face those guys enough. Ovechkin is skilled, but also pretty predictable, and the Penguins are very familiar with the Capitals and their gameplan. That plays more into Orpik’s fold than chasing Patrick Kane or Joe Pavelski or Corey Perry around.
3) Really have to think the Penguins have found something with Lee Stempniak on the Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz line. It’s very early, sure. But Stempniak works his tits off and that work led to the insurance goal for Crosby. He made a dirty little dangle and almost scored one of his own, then rang a baseball swat deflection off the post later in the shift. Seems to mesh well with the styles of the other two. If there’s one piece of criticism, it’s that he probably is carrying the puck a little too much, but that will come in time. Sometimes tries to run the gauntlet when he could flip it in and run it down. But you develop bad habits with a bad team like Calgary. Playing with 87 and 14, Stemp may pull that -22 he came over from Calgary with to a + before the season’s end.
4) Truly the face of desperation from the Caps in the 3rd, as they registered 20 shots in the last 20 minutes alone. But an organized defensive effort plus some timely work by MAF kept the Penguins ahead long enough to get that insurance goal, and then it became a waiting game to see if he could do what he do to get himself a shutout. He did what he do.
The Pens get a well deserved 3-day break before hitting the road for a Saturday afternoon matchup in Philadelphia in the first a back-to-back, home and home situation yet again. Take the next 3 days to mentally prepare for the St. Patrick’s Day War. Go Pens.