The Washington Capitals played their best all-around game since shutting out the Tampa Bay Lighting 6-0 back on November 26, but lost in a shootout 3-2 before a very rowdy and loud crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.
As expected, both teams came out flying and hitting. Alexander Ovechkin would lay big hits on several Penguins, the biggest on his Russian rival, Evegni Malkin. The Pens would weather the early storm and score first.
Sidney Crosby, riding a 22-game point-scoring streak, needed just 3:17 to extend that streak to 23 games. Crosby was left all alone standing next to Capitals rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth and deflected a pass from Chris Letang past Neuvirth, giving the visiting Pens the lead one to nothing.
The Capitals power play would continue to struggle in the first period. Washington would go 0-2 with extra man and squander a 1:12 two-man advantage.
Washington, playing as if this were a playoff game, never stopped skating and after out-shooting the Pens 12-6 in the first period would finally tie the game in the second period.
The goal would come on the struggling power play after a penalty to the Penguins' Michael Rupp was called for hooking. Nine seconds later, Matt Cooke would pick-up a delay of game penalty. Cooke, attempting to clear the zone during the penalty kill shot the puck completely over the glass in the other end of the rink.
The caps would get another two man advantage as a result.
Pittsburgh killed off Rupp’s penalty but with just 34 seconds remaining on Cooke’s penalty, the Caps would tie the game. Mike Green took a pass from Alexander Semin and wristed a laser over Fleury’s right shoulder.
It was the sixth goal of the year for Green and first since November 14. Semin’s assist would be his first point in nine games.
The Penguins would take a quick 2-1 lead just 17 seconds into the third period. Chris Kunitz would backhand a shot through the Pads of Neuvirth; the goal, coming off of a Crosby shot, bounced off of Neuvirth’s chest and right to Kunitz.
The situation looked to get worse for Washington as two breakaways by both Penguins superstars threatened to break open the game. Caps rookie Michael Neuvirth would stand tall and keep his team within one goal.
Michael Neuvirth, making his career-best fourth consecutive start and first ever against Pittsburgh, stopped Evegeni Malkin on a penalty shot attempt. Neuvirth followed the puck and Malkin the whole way, sliding to his right and forcing Malkin’s miss.
Moments later, Neuvirth stopped the NHL’s leading scorer, Sidney Crosby, on a breakaway. Crosby didn’t get off a great shot, as he was being trailed closely from behind.
The Penguins would not have a good night on special teams, as they would surrender the tying goal during a power play. Alex Gologowski and Chris Letang would get careless at the blue line and Mike Knuble made them pay.
Knuble deflected the pass to Letang creating the short handed opportunity. Brooks Laich would work the initial pass from Knuble back to Knuble, who was skating towards the front of Fleury. Knuble, taking the pass, stuffed the puck between Fleury’s pads for the shorthanded goal, tying the game.
The Capitals would take three consecutive penalties in the third, killing all of them.
Pittsburgh would be 0-5 on the power play tonight and the Capitals wouldn’t be much better, converting just once in six tries.
The Capitals would almost win the game off a Mike Green shot late in the third. Fleury covered a sliding puck on the red line that appeared to slide across goal line. A video replay was inconclusive as Fleury’s glove was covering the puck.
The game stayed tied, and after a scoreless five minutes of overtime play and four shots apiece, the teams headed to a shootout.
Electing to shoot first, the Capitals would send Alex Ovechkin to try and get the early jump in the shootout. Ovechkin would carry the puck in on his forehand, deeked to his backhand and stuffed the puck short side giving the Caps the 1-0 lead in the shootout.
The lead didn’t last long, as shootout specialist and Pens defenseman Chris Letang would beat Michael Neuvirth on the forehand to tie the shootout at one.
The two teams would send 11 more shooters at Marc-Andre Fleury and Michael Neuvirth before the outcome would be determined. Sidney Crosby would drill his attempt into Neuvirth’s glove and Alexander Semin and Evegni Malkin would both backhand their shots wide of the net.
Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Mark Letestu missed, as did the Capitals Nicholas Backstrom and Mike Green.
Following Green’s miss and in the bottom of the seventh round, Pascal Dupuis wristed one over the right shoulder of Michael Neuvirth to give the Penguins the 3-2 victory.
Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said following the loss, “If they can play that way every night I’d be happy...we lost a skills competition tonight.”
Boudreau and his Capitals can take more from tonight’s loss than they can from their previous two straight victories. The Capitals looked solid defensively tonight and their star skaters appeared to skate and play better.
Washington can build on this loss, unlike any during their eight-game losing streak.
For now, the better team won the game. The Penguins snapped their four-game losing streak to Washington and have won three in a row.
The Capitals seem to be playing a more all-around game and making better decisions with the puck in the last three games.
If tonight’s game is any indication of what the Winter Classic will be like, the NHL should get a big ratings boost on New Year’s Day.