It happened all of a sudden. A Thursday night on ice that looked quite promising for the Capitals went up in smoke in the second period in a blaze ignited by the Penguin power-play. When that decisive middle period was complete, the home team roared with five unanswered goals and left Washington with more questions to answer.
The Caps had not lost in regulation in Pittsburgh in almost six years to the day; a span that covered 10 games (9-0-1). They seemed intent on keeping that streak alive by playing a solid first period. It wasn’t a Picasso by any stretch, but it was effective. The Capitals had their host off-balance and looking uncomfortable with a stifling brand of hockey.
They would take the first-period lead thanks to Mike Ribeiro, who has posted goals in three straight outings. Alex Ovechkin wheeled and spun a backhanded pass from the end boards out to point-man Tomas Kundratek. As the young Czech fired from 40 feet, Marc Andre Fleury was being rattled while guarding the Pens net. So much in fact that his mask would fly off his head just as Ribeiro was burying the rebound.
The second period spun out of control when the Capitals began taking penalties. Evgeni Malkin zipped a wrist shot over the glove of Michal Neuvirth to tie the count at one.
Pascal Dupuis was off to the races with Sidney Crosby on a two-on-one break a few minutes later, and with the puck rolling away from him like crazy, Dupuis still managed to beat Neuvirth from a sharp-angle through the “five hole.” Adam Oates tried to spark his team by lifting Neuvirth in favor of Braden Holtby.
Holtby made a couple of sharp saves right off the bat, but Pittsburgh had another man-advantage with less than four minutes to go, and they put on a passing clinic to beat him. James Neal took a feed from Chris Kunitz and Malkin then deked to his backhand before sliding the puck under Holtby.
A mere 11 seconds later, Brandon Sutter won an offensive zone draw cleanly back for Matt Cooke who put a bullet by the glove-side of Holtby.
The Penguins finished the assault with their third power-play goal of the frame, this time it was Sidney Crosby who deflected a puck that was waist-high down into the cage with 22 seconds to go in the middle period.
The Caps were dismantled in that second 20 minutes and appeared to be dazed as the frame went by with the red, white, and blue seemingly powerless to stop the Pittsburgh onslaught.
An Alex Ovechkin power-play wrist shot concluded matters on the scoresheet in the third period, but it was far too little too late.
The Caps have dropped nine of their first 11 games overall this season and have yet to win on the road in five tries.
They need to put those numbers out of their heads when they host Florida on Saturday night, a Southeast Division battle you can see on Comcast SportsNet.