As road games go, the Caps turned in a very good performance Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Take one look at the list of setbacks that have befallen the Capitals away from Verizon Center and you’ll recognize that this one wasn’t nearly as severe. But as good as it was, it wasn’t enough to beat a red-hot group of Penguins who earned their 10th straight win by a 2-1 count.
Braden Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury were spotless in goal for the opening 20 minutes.
Pittsburgh Head Coach Dan Bylsma sets a goal to limit the opposing team to 12 quality scoring chances or less over 60 minutes. The Caps had a couple of pretty good ones in the first period as a result of generous rebounds from Fleury, but did not cash in.
As they did in their first visit to Steeltown, the Caps did a nice job of frustrating the highest-scoring team in the NHL over the first half of the contest. There was little offensive flow from the Pens, lots of misconnections on passes, and plenty of icing calls—all signs of Washington playing its cards correctly.
We waited almost 29 minutes for the first goal in the game. With Chris Kunitz in the penalty box for tripping, the Capitals power-play unit would strike. Alex Ovechkin would crank up his 12th goal of the season, a slapshot blast off the near post and past Fleury for a 1-0 lead at 8:14 of the second period.
It turned out to be the only Caps goal of the game, and the only time the power-play group would supply any power.
The Penguins would tie the score a little less than three minutes later while enjoying their own man-advantage. Sidney Crosby spun a pass out of a crowd back to point-man Paul Martin who zipped a 40-footer past the glove of Holtby, who had traffic around his crease.
The biggest turning point of the game would come in the final frame after Matt Cooke was hit with a minor for boarding and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 7:49. The Caps would squander the four-minute power play. Eric Fehr and Ovechkin had the Caps best chances to score in that sequence. Fleury stopped Fehr with a windmill glove save, then booted away the rebound chance of the Caps captain.
Once the penalty box door swung open and set Cooke free he jumped out into a 3-on-2 rush up ice with Crosby and defender Matt Niskanen. Crosby drove the center lane, Cooke hit the trailing Niskanen with a cross-ice pass and the blueliner did the rest with a perfect snapshot over a sliding Karl Alzner and over the glove of Holtby.
The fans inside Consol Eergy Center were going bonkers, but with 8:02 left in regulation, there was still ample time left for a Caps rally.
Fleury took care of protecting the lead and extinguished any hopes for Washington. His night ended with 28 saves and second-star honors. Holtby made 34 stops and was recognized as the No. 3 star.
Pittsburgh swept the three-game series from Washington this season, and is a perfect 10-0-0 in the month of March.
The Caps lost ground in the Southeast race to Winnipeg, which rallied to beat Boston on home ice. The Capitals trail the Jets by nine points and the Hurricanes by seven, as Carolina fell at home to Florida.
Washington makes its way to frosty Winnipeg for the next two games. Game one of the “double-dip” is Thursday at 8 p.m. eastern time. Check us out on Comcast SportsNet.