March 11 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Pittsburgh Penguins (43-17-4)
Washington Capitals (30-26-10)
A night after absorbing a difficult 3-2 home ice loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center, the Caps will travel to the Steel City to face the Penguins again in the second half of a home-and-home set on back-to-back nights. Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh will conclude the season’s series between the two teams.
Washington is seeking its first win over the Penguins since Jan. 11, 2012 when then-Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun made 30 saves to lead the Caps to a 1-0 win at Verizon Center. (Vokoun is now a member of the Penguins.) The Capitals haven’t downed the Penguins in Pittsburgh since earning a 3-2 shootout win on Oct. 13, 2012.
Caps coach Adam Oates is now 0-6 against the Penguins since taking over as the Capitals’ bench boss at the start of last season.
“There are actually a couple of teams we haven’t beaten yet,” observes Oates. “It’s funny because Pittsburgh, we’ve actually had some decent games against them that we clearly could have won. [Monday’s game is] another one that we’ve got to figure out the details to get it done because it’s clearly a winnable game.”
The Caps played well on Monday, but they gave up the game’s first goal in the first minute of the contest and were never able to wrest the lead from the visitors. Pittsburgh was opportunistic, scoring twice on the rush and once on the power play.
“We can’t give them too much space in the neutral zone,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “You can see when we make a push on the blueline and the defense steps up and we control the puck in their zone, we play well. On two goals we gave them an opportunity to make a play and skate with the puck and they used it.”
Washington outshot the Penguins 33-20 and had 69 shot attempts to only 45 for Pittsburgh.
“It’s a little frustrating to really have dominant time of possession and be playing well then find yourself down 3-2 and not being able to recover,” laments Caps forward Eric Fehr. “We had a lot of good chances at the end, and it’s really unfortunate. I thought we threw everything at them, and we were good in the offensive zone. We created chances; we just couldn’t put that last one in.”
Three is the magic number for Washington. When they score fewer than three goals in a game, the Capitals are 0-21-5 this season. When the Caps are able to light the lamp three or more times, they are 30-5-5.
At this stage of the season, the Caps can’t afford a losing streak. They’ve got 16 games remaining, they’re a point south of the final playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings, and they’ve managed only one win in their last five games (1-3-1).
Regardless of who the next opponent is and where the next game is, they simply have to find a way to garner a much steadier and more consistent diet of standings points if they hope to extend their streak of Stanley Cup playoff appearances to seven this spring.
“For us,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson, “it doesn’t matter who we play, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We need the win. Maybe we’re fresh in their mind and we can use that a little bit against them [Tuesday]. That would be great.”
“I think we have to look at the positives,” says Fehr. “We had some time where we outplayed [the Penguins] and we have to try to do that again [Tuesday]. They’re going home, and they feel comfortable in their rink and they’re a different team in their building, so we have to try to remember what we did well tonight and do that again tomorrow.”
Pittsburgh finished off a successful road trip with its win in Washington on Monday night. The Pens went 3-2 on a five-game trip that spanned 10 days. In doing so, they also regained the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
With 90 points, the Penguins hold a comfortable 16-point lead over the second-place New York Rangers in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division. The Pens have nudged their way past the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins for the top spot in the conference; the Bruins have 89 points.
Pittsburgh forwards Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby did all the damage in Monday’s game. Kunitz scored in the game’s first minute to stake the Pens to a 1-0 lead and Crosby added a power-play goal just over three minutes later. For each player, the first period goal in Monday’s game was his 30th of the season.
Minutes after Washington evened the game at 2-2 near the midpoint of the middle period, Kunitz struck again. He potted the rebound of a Lee Stempniak shot to score what would prove to be the game-winning tally.
“It was a very good game in all aspects,” noted Penguins coach Dan Bylsma afterwards. “I thought in 5-on-5 play we saw the speed they generated and got the scoring chances. I used them in [defensive] zone situations and did a great job there. Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crobsy, and [Lee ] Stempniak tonight not only found some plays, some time together, some chances. They were exceptional.”
“They’ve got some of the best playmakers and goal scorers in the league and you can tell,” says Fehr of the Penguins. “When they get an opportunity, they don’t miss very often. It’s discouraging at times, but we just can’t give them those opportunities.”
After they finish up the home-and-home set with the Capitals early in the week, the Pens have another home-and-home set with a Metropolitan Division foe this weekend. The Penguins travel across Pennsylvania to take on the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon and then the two teams head back to Pittsburgh for a rematch on Sunday in the Penguins’ building.