The Penguins wrapped up a weekend back-to-back in Washington DC yesterday in what once again became a great hockey game. There are rivalries in sports and then there is what these two teams have. The same core characters, slugging it out against each other for over a decade, including multiple playoff series. The beautiful part of the chaos is that either team can win and you have to watch until the end. It’s perfect hockey for a non-hockey fan.
The Pens didn’t make any adjustments on the injury front, Dominik Kahun remains a gametime decision and for this one, that decision was “no.”
The second game in a row Sullivan has opted for Zach Trotman on his off-side over Jusso Riikola on his strong-side. At this point, Riikola might as well be traded, because why would he want to resign with the team after this season anyway?
The game got off to a decent pace right from the start. The Penguins didn’t allow a goal in the first two minutes so that was an improvement. After a little back and forth Jakub Vrana dusted Marcus Pettersson for the first time in what would be a very long afternoon for the usually steady defender. Vrana busted in on goal and got a shot off that Murray saved, but Pettersson’s diving attempt at the puck carried him and the puck into the net to make it 1-0 Caps.
You can see Pettersson with a split-second of hesitation at the offensive blue line, he is debating on pinching or not, and that indecision is all Vrana needs.
Following the goal, as Pens fans braced for the worst after watching their team struggle defensively for the previous 6 periods the Pens buckled down. The remaining 14 minutes of the period was a defensive display by the Penguins, who interrupted chance after chance in the neutral zone. Fifteen minutes in the Penguins would get their first powerplay when Tom Wilson cross-checked Hornqvist. The powerplay looked sharp but just couldn’t get one in. Shortly after that failed attempt, John Carlson would hook Crosby sending the Pens to an abbreviated powerplay with 22 seconds remaining. They couldn’t get anything going but Evgeni Malkin and Brenden Dillon mucked it up a bit at the end of the period.
The second period started similarly to how the first ended. The Penguins wouldn’t convert on their opening powerplay, but then went right back to team defense. The Caps wouldn’t get a shot on goal until Pettersson went to the box 4 minutes in for slashing. The Caps powerplay looked like it always does and the Penguins killed it off.
Following the kill, the Pens picked right back up with their gameplan and they executed it perfectly. It wasn’t until Anthony Angello and Garnet Hathaway went off with separate penalties at 9:16 and the game went to 4v4 that the Capitals finally got some good looks. The 4v4 ended without a goal and we went back to 5v5 for about 3 minutes before Patric Hornqvist created havoc. The Capitals received the puck along the defensive boards and appeared to have an easy clear, that was until Hornqvist came flying in. Hornqvist laid the hit that created the turnover, Malkin scooped up the loose puck and handed it to Letang who looked up and saw none other than Hornqvist himself standing on the doorstep.
PATRIC HORNQVIST (15) Assisted by Letang (27) & Malkin (41) @ 14:47
As usual, the gif only shows the end result. Hornqvist’s determination on this play created the entire sequence and cannot be overlooked as the warrior closes in on yet another 20 goal season. The Pens fans in attendance weren’t even back in their seats yet when Jason Zucker entered the zone nad made a pass with the touch of an angel on it to a streak Crosby. Crosby went first touch forehand, then got tripped and went airborne, and then went backhand in the air to get the puck on goal. Much like the Caps first goal the momentum of the defender knocked the puck in and the Pens went from down 1 to up 1 in 26 seconds.
SIDNEY CROSBY (13) Assisted by Zucker (17) & Pettersson (18) @ 15:13
This gif does not do the Zucker pass justice. He saucers it over the immediate defender’s stick and lands it perfectly for Crosby to reach. Look at the beginning of the frozen gif above, that is not an ideal passing situation, especially on the backhand. Unreal play by Zucker and if this combination doesn’t get you excited for the rest of the season then you’re just an unhappy sap waiting for “flurry” to come back.
Shortly after the goal, Ovechkin took a slashing penalty and the Pens had a chance to go up by 2 but just couldn’t get it done. The Powerplay looked sharp but no dice. The remaining two minutes after the kill would play out scoreless and it was 2-1 Pens at the break.
Remember how I’ve spent the last two periods talking about the great defensive effort the Pens had in this game? That effort did not make it out of the dressing room to start the third. Less than 90 seconds in Marcus Pettersson makes a horrendous zone entry choice and instead turns the puck over to Tom Wilson, who went on a 89 foot breakaway and tied the game at 2 just 1:16 in.
Wilson with the subtle forehand fake, while the puck is in the dot, made Murray tighten up thinking he was going glove side and gave Wilson just enough time to sneak this in. Obviously, this is one you want your goalie to save, more obvious is this is a puck you don’t want your 3rd best defender turning over.
Pettersson carrying this puck basically uncontested through center ice and jams it right into the man in front of him. This is the type of fundamental breakdown that Sullivan has been harping on since the Toronto game. While we are here, Eddie Olcyzk blamed this turnover on analytics saying Pettersson (and players in this situation) are more worried about their zone entry stats than just dumping it in. This is the same moron who stated that Gretzky and Lemieux would have 1000 goals in today’s NHL compared to Ovechkin’s 700. This is the same guy who couldn’t coach a team with Mario Lemieux and rookie Sidney Crosby to 10 wins in 30 games.
Three minutes after the Wilson goal the Caps got busy in the offensive zone. After Carlson put a shot on goal that Murray saved, the rebound bounced in the crease. Zach Trotman took a flying swipe at Hagelin, while completely ignoring the loose puck, but missed. Lars Eller picked up the rebound and shoveled it into Murray which he also stopped. Shortly after that Blueger tackled Eller into Murray and Carl Hagelin, still standing because Trotman missed, tucked in the rebound while Murray was laying under Blueger. Like a bunch of monkeys humping a football.
The Penguins didn’t back down despite the quick two goals to start the period. Right after NBC finished talking about the tremendous season John Carlson is having Evgeni Malkin took a nifty pass from Bryan Rust and put on the ritz to tie it back up.
EVGENI MALKIN (21) Assisted by Rust (26) @ 8:50
The little “how do you do” on the man who is most likely going to win the Norris this year. A great goal by Geno and for the third straight goal in this game a play by the ancillary support made it happen. Rust made a nice backhand pass along the wall int he neutral zone to spring Malkin in the first place. I certainly don’t see the harm in seeing this goal from a different angle:
Unfortunately for Malkin, the good vibes that came with that goal would quickly get washed away thanks to the incompetent defenders on his team. Not even two minutes after Geno tied it the Caps entered the zone with yet another innocent play. The puck went behind the net and Letang went in one on one with a Cap to play the puck, all was status quo. Then comes Jack Johnson, who decided this would be the absolute perfect time to also go behind the net and lay the body on the man Letang was covering. As usual, I’ll break this down in nauseating detail because this shit on the top defensive pairing is nauseating. The puck is circled in the image below, Letang is clearly in pursuit.
After seeing Letang reach the puck, Johnson doesn’t even hesitate to abandon Oshie in the corner and instead goes straight for the man on Letang:
Every defender knows that you never go 2 on 1 behind your own net. The correct play is for Johnson to be closer to where Oshie is by the GEICO ad, giving Letang an outlet pass while Crosby fills in on the short side in case Letang gets beat. The entire team is in perfect position except for Johnson. Johnson follows through with the hit, because if there is one thing he is good for it’s seeing his stupid plans through, and while doing so takes Letang out of the play as well.
Crosby has continued skating to defend the short side attack, Simon is marking Vrana, TJ Oshie has a wide-open track to the goal because JJ isn’t where he should be. The Caps score their fourth goal of the game thanks to a fourth defensive breakdown.
The Penguins wouldn’t be able to get the equalizer and Hagelin would score on the empty net to make it 5-3 Caps.
- The Penguins have lost three straight to the Penguins and once they get out of the Penguins way the Penguins should be really good again
- After the Oshie goal Sullivan started using Trotman in place of Johnson. I don’t know why it took that long to make a change to the defensive pairings that are obviously not working
- Marino and Dumoulin are both going on the west coast road trip with the team. It could mean one of them might get into a game. It could also mean California is nicer than Pittsburgh in February
- Rough weekend to be a Penguins goalie. Murrays .818 save percentage was an improvement over Jarry’s the day before. It’s tough to make your goalie cover for piss poor defense.
- Trade deadline today, the Penguins thankfully dodged a bullet when Tampa signed Bogosian last night. A lot of you forget that this team has only played 2 periods fully healthy. Getting Nick Bjugstad back is a bigger move than anything Rutherford is likely to do today, though I suspect he will add a depth forward.