The Result: Early on in the 1st period, you could feel the level of play was easily in the Capitals favor. The Caps took a 1-0 lead on Forward Mike Riberio’s rebound of a Dman Tomas Kundratek shot on net, which sent PIT goalie Marc-Andre Fleury sprawling to the ice without his helmet. After feeling confident entering the 2nd period holding a lead, the wheels fell off the wagon. WAS Dman Karl Alzner went to the penalty box, putting Pittsburgh on their 2nd Power Play of the evening and in 10 seconds PIT star Forward Evgeni Malkin was left alone on the left circle and he walked in and threw a bullet past Capitals Goalie Michal Neuvirth to tie the game at 1. Six minutes later PIT ForwardPascal Dupuis led a 2 on 1 with PIT Captain Sidney Crosby and beat the caps goalie to put the score at 2-1. Head Coach Adam Oates switched goalies, going with backup Braden Holtby, but the avalanche continued with Pittsburgh scoring 2 goals in 11 seconds by Forwards James Neal (PP) and former Cap Matt Cooke. The Pens completed the scoring in the period on yet a 3rd PP goal, a tip in of a Malkin shot by Crosby. The Capitals pushed the tempo in the 3rd and made good use of a PP opportunity with WAS Captain Alex Ovechkin scoring his 3rd goal of the year on a nice feed from Riberio, wristing a shot past the Penguins goalie. The Capitals fell to their bitter rivals in a 5-2 final, cementing themselves at the bottom of the conference with their 2-8-1 record.
1. As has been a reoccurring theme so far this year, Mike Riberio has been the team’s most consistent offensive player. Tallying a goal and an assist on the night, he leads the team with 13 points.
2. Arguably last night was the best all-around game for Alexander Ovechkin. He had 6 shots, 1 PP goal, and one assist. He also had 3 hits, and came to the defense of his teammate Nick Backstrom when the Centerman was roughed up by PIT DMan Robert Bortuzzo.
3. For 40 minutes, the Capitals looked like the better team, especially in the 1st period. Even more encouraging was despite being behind 4 goals in the 3rd period, the team continued to press and cut into the Pens lead with tough forechecking and fast rushes into the PIT zone.
1. Goaltending for the Caps has continued to be abysmal. Even after pulling Neuvirth in the 2nd to stop the potential onslaught, Holtby has become a shell of his playoff self from last season. Braden was quoted afterwards saying “It got even worse after I got in”.
2. The core of the issue in the 2nd period were costly penalties that helped PIT go 3 for 3 on the PP. Until last night, the PK had been playing well but fell apart on enemy ice.
3. We have yet to see a 60 minute complete game from this team. There have been glimpses that the Caps are ‘close’ to breaking out as Oates suggests, but the middle period last night suggests that once the tide turns against the men in Red, snowball rolls out of control and crushes everything in its path.
Hit(s) of the Night: The game was a physical one, especially from Ovechkin. In the 2nd period, Ovi had a runaway train encounter near the Capitals bench with PIT LW, Tanner Glass, who was none-too pleased about the result and attempted to ‘discuss’ it further with the Great 8. In the 3rd period, after being released from the sin-bin, Ovechkin steamrolled into the far right corner of the Pens zone with PIT Dman Deryk Engelland and the 2 players had a thundering collision that took both to the ice. In the 2nd period, Engelland tried to size up WAS Forward Matt Hendricks for an open ice hit at the blue line, but Hendy anticipated the bump and sent the PIT Dman flying into the boards.
Did You Notice?: The Capitals haven’t won a game yet on the road, going 0-4-1 so far. The closest chance for a road win was an OT loss to New Jersey on Jan 25. Also, it seems the 2nd period is historically bad for the Caps for the whole year, not just last night. The scoring has favored the opponents 19-6 this season.
What Was That? Controversial moment of the night was Oates choice to pull Neuvirth from net early in the 2nd period, following letting a PIT Forward Pascal Dupuis goal through the 5-hole to give the Penguins their first lead of the night. It seemed a little early to pull Neuvy for, as Oates put it “to spark the team”, when in fact the score was still close. Although it was thought to be an easier stop than most, Neuvirth had to choose whether to cover the net face up or prepare for a pass to Crosby, who was open on the goalie’s left side. Given Braden Holtby’s rough day against PIT just 4 days prior, it would have seemed to been a better opportunity to call a time-out to settle the team down rather than make such a questionable move in net.
Fans Reactions: Over-reaction was rampant via Twitter, mostly in the vein of “Fire Oates” or “Trade Ovi”. Neither knee-jerk reaction will solve anything immediately, sparking any type of turnaround. If Oates were to be fired, it’d bring the 4th coach to DC in 15 months – and to bring in whom? Despite the obvious declining numbers to Ovechkin’s game, the team is financially invested in him, as well as he continues to bring in sell-out crowds to Verizon Center, a factor not lost on owner Ted Leonsis.
Missing Warriors: Scratched from line up – #85, Forward, Mathieu Perreault and #3, Dman, Tom Poti; Injured – #21, Forward, Brooks Laich (Lower-body injury) and #38, Dman, Jack Hillen (Upper-body injury); Suspended – #4, Dman, John Erskine (serving the last of a 3 game suspension)
Next Battle: Saturday, Feb 9 @ Verizon Center vs Florida (4-5-1). Puck drop at 7PM, televised on CSN Washington, Radio Call on 106.7 The FAN. The Panthers are currently in a 4 way logjam in 10th place in the conference with 9 points, winning in a shootout last night over Philadelphia and 4 points ahead of the Capitals in the standings. This is the first meeting of the season between these teams, the second coming 3 days later in Florida.
cover photo: KEITH SRAKOCIC / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS