Capitals Succumb to Pens in 4-3 Shootout Loss in the Steel City

 RecordGoaltenderGAA / SV%
Washington Capitals2-0-1Ilya Samsonov2.77 / .889
Pittsburgh Penguins1-2-0Casey DeSmith2.77 / .870

TLDR: In a game of trading chances, Alex Ovechkin scores his first of the season and the Capitals keep Crosby off the score sheet, but ultimately fall in the shootout to drop their third game, 4-3.

It has been 316 days since the Capitals and Penguins last played one-another, in-part due to the fact that neither team qualified for the 2nd round of the 2019-20 NHL Playoffs. In case one had forgotten, Pittsburgh did not qualify for the playoffs after losing in four games to the Montreal Canadiens in the best-of-5 Qualifier Round last year. The last time these two teams saw each other, on March 7th, 2020, Todd Reirden was Washington’s head coach, and the Caps defeated the Pens by a score of 5-2. Now, Reirden is Pittsburgh head-coach Mike Sullivan’s assistant, and is in charge of their power play (it’s no secret the Pens’ PP hasn’t been very good) and defense.

Period 1: Caps young netminder Ilya Samsonov got the start for the Capitals. Casey DeSmith started his first game of the season after ‘starter’ Tristan Jarry allowed nine goals in the last two games vs the Flyers. Minor changes were made to Washington’s starting line-up, notably, Daniel Sprong replacing Conor Sheary on the third line. Carl Hagelin, Sprong, and Justin Schultz are all former Penguins’ skaters, with a combined 471 games played for Pittsburgh. Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson were the healthy scratches for Pittsburgh, and Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel drew in. Just 19 seconds into the first period, new acquisition Evan Rodrigues put his Penguins on the board with his first goal of the season. Despite the Pens scoring on their 2nd shot of the game, the Caps were successful at gaining puck possession in their defensive zone. However, they weren’t great at keeping possession in their own offensive zone. At the 4:57 mark of the first, Pittsburgh earned their first power play of the game as Nick Jensen went off for tripping. Not a great call, as Jensen was just playing his position, but the Capitals killed off the penalty. Washington killed off all five penalties versus the Sabres on Friday. With just under eight minutes remaining, Nic Dowd narrowly tallied his first of the season to tie the game 1-1.

At first, it was hard to tell if the puck entirely crossed the goal line, but upon a brief review, it was clear that Dowd’s goal would be upheld. Washington’s passing has improved dramatically, with crisper tape to tape passing, and less obscure cross-ice passes. Momentum seriously tilted in favor of the Capitals after Dowd’s close-call goal. Just beyond the 14-minute mark, Tom Wilson aggressively forced Pens captain Sidney Crosby off the puck to force play back into the Pittsburgh defensive zone. A pass from Wilson to Evgeny Kuznetsov created a high-danger scoring opportunity. After failing to score in his first two games, a feed from Kuznetsov to Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin allowed him to finally score to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

Before the expiration of the first period, the Capitals received their first power play opportunity (Dumoulin, holding), but did not convert. Washington did not have a single man-advantage opportunity against the Sabres on Friday.

Period 2: Heading into the middle frame, Washington led in shots on goal, 12 to 8, and 2-1 where it mattered most. Again, it didn’t take long for the Capitals to allow another Pittsburgh goal. This time, it took a faulty misplay by Samsonov and two minutes and 10 seconds for Colton Sceviour to tie the game. An extensive review took place to determine if the puck actually went in, or if it rebounded off the cross bar and out. Multiple camera views showed the puck bouncing out, but the call was upheld.

Ilya Samsonov made some questionable plays and seemed shaken up in the goal for the remainder of the period. The Caps goalie needed to stay deeper in his crease and increase his awareness of where the puck is. John Carlson also needs to be better. Brenden Dillon was called for cross-checking at the 5:20 mark, but the Penguins again failed to convert. Three minutes later, Jake Guentzel went off for interference, giving the Caps a power play, but just 15 seconds into the man-advantage, TJ Oshie was called for interference as well. Play resumed as 4-on-4 for 1:45, but then Sidney Crosby was called for hooking 30 seconds later, so the Capitals played 4-on-3 for 1:15. At the 10:09 mark, with the man-advantage, Nicklas Backstrom scored to reinstate Washington’s lead, 3-2.

Unfortunately, just under three minutes after Backstrom’s goal, Marcus Pettersson tied the game, 3-3. The Penguins received a late power play as Evgeny Kuznetsov went off for tripping with 20.7 seconds left, so the Caps would start the third with the score tied, and on the penalty kill.

Period 3:  Over the course of the last two seasons, the Capitals were great in the third period, and on multiple occasions, led the league in third period goals. Pittsburgh started the period with the man-advantage, but almost allowed a short-handed goal when Carl Hagelin picked off the puck in the Pens defensive zone. A goal-less 3rd period featured two power plays, one for each team. At the 4:21 mark, Tom Wilson went off for breathing (just kidding, slashing). Pens goaltender Casey DeSmith nearly ‘played’ the puck into his own net, and Pittsburgh failed to convert with the man-advantage. Halfway through the period, Pittsburgh was called for too-many-men, which was served by Jared McCann. Alas, the Caps would not score on the power play, though a shot from Ovechkin ringed off both posts, but stayed out.

Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin was nearly invisible throughout the match until halfway through the third. Washington was extremely aggressive in the final minutes of regulation, but would fail to score, so this match would require overtime.  

The overtime period was not enough to determine a winner in this one, so an extra point would be decided with a shootout. Ilya Samsonov does not have a lot of experience in the shootout, so it would be an extremely important win for he and the Capitals. Five of six possible points in three games is good, but six of six would be better.

Kris Letang- MISS

TJ Oshie- MISS

Sidney Crosby- MISS

Nicklas Backstrom- MISS

Evgeni Malkin- MISS

Evgeny Kuznetsov- MISS

Jake Guentzel- SCORE

Alex Ovechkin- MISS

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be Samsonov’s day, and the Capitals would drop their third game in four days by a score of 4-3 in the shootout. Washington will play the Penguins again on Tuesday at 7:00pm EST.

TXHT’s Three Takeaways

  1. Play Vanecek on Tuesday.
  2. The Capitals need more shots on goal. Quality is important, but so is quantity.
  3. Washington’s penalty kill is good, but the power play needs to be much better.

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