Pause, Press Play; Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins

 RecordGoaltenderGAA / SV%
Washington Capitals6-3-3Vitek Vanecek3.17 / .903
Pittsburgh Penguins6-5-1Tristan Jarry3.95 / .857
Predicted Goaltenders

The Washington Capitals are again looking to end a losing streak, and to hand Pittsburgh their first at-home loss of the season (4-0-0). This time it’s a three-game, season-high winless streak the Caps are hoping to halt. Washington has five losses in their last seven meetings with Pittsburgh, which includes the shootout and overtime loss the Caps suffered back in January.

Washington’s last game was a 7-4 regulation loss handed to them by the Philadelphia Flyers one week ago on Super Bowl Sunday. The Capitals had three games postponed since, including another against the Flyers and two versus the Sabres. TJ Oshie and Jakub Vrana did not dress for Washington, but Lars Eller returned to the lineup after missing four games. Philippe Maillet made his NHL debut and was the 4th player this season to do so. Sean Couturier took to the ice for Philadelphia for the first time since January 15th. Nick Jensen, who had been a healthy scratch before Justin Schultz was hurt, was oddly really good to start.

At the 10:48 mark of the first, the Flyers were called for too-many-men, and so the Capitals received their first power play of the afternoon. Not even 30 seconds into the man-advantage, Alex Ovechkin from his office, beat Carter Hart to make it 1-0 with his 4th of the season. Hart would be the 144th different goaltender Ovechkin has scored on in the NHL.

Then, just over five minutes later with less than four minutes left in the period, a slick curl-and-drag pass from Ovi to Nicklas Backtrom tipped to Tom Wilson ended up in the net to give Washington a 2-0 lead.

Unfortunately, just prior to the expiration of the first, Scott Laughton got his team on the board to cut the Caps’ lead in half. The 2nd period saw a combined five goals, including Laughton’s second of the afternoon (to tie 2-2), and another Alex Ovechkin goal to make it 3-2.

Robert Hagg, in a game of back and forth chances, scored on just the Flyers’ 12th shot of the game to make it 3-3. Then, Trevor van Riemsdyk’s brother James scored his 7th of the season to give the Flyer’s a one-goal 4-3 lead. Vitek Vanecek was then relieved of his duties, and Craig Anderson made his first appearance this season between the pipes.

With 57 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Nicklas Backstrom re-tied the game with a slip-through, spin-o-rama backhand to score his 6th goal in 12 games.

Unfortunately, just 31 seconds into the final frame, Sean Couturier scored to give the Flyers back their lead, this time, 5-4. Zdeno Chara was then called for high-sticking and assessed a double minor, so the Flyers played with the man-advantage for four minutes. Though the Caps trailed by one, they killed off the penalty. With just two minutes left in the game, Laughton would score his 3rd of the game to tally his first career hat-trick. Washington would elect to pull Anderson for the extra-attacker, but Couturier potted an empty-net goal to extend their lead to three goals (7-4).

Prior to being pulled, Vitek Vanecek allowed four goals on 14 shots (.714 SV%). Anderson allowed two goals on eight shots (.750 SV%), and the loss was his to mark.

The Pittsburgh Penguins last played on Thursday, where they defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 in the shootout. Just five minutes and 39 seconds into the first period, Casey Cizikas scored whilst falling as goaltender Casey DeSmith allowed perhaps one of the slowest goals of his career to slip past him in net.

After recently agreeing to terms with their newest GM Ron Hextall and Hockey Ops president Brian Burke, allowing a soft goal like Cizikas’ was not a great way to start off. But Bryan Rust made it 1-1 just short of the 12-minute mark. Unfortunately, with Cody Ceci in the penalty box for delay of game, Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored on the power play to reinstate New York’s one-goal lead before the end of the opening frame.

Zach Aston-Reese, who played in just his first game of the season on Thursday, scored the game-tying goal at the 7:02 mark of the middle period. The Penguins received just one power play opportunity and failed to convert with the man-advantage (Eberle, illegal equipment). It’s no secret that Pittsburgh’s power play isn’t great, ranking at 24th of 31 teams, or 7th worst in the league. It certainly doesn’t help that they have formers Caps’ head-coach-of-just-two-seasons-once-again-assistant-coach Todd Reirden in charge of the power play, either. In fact, the Pens 13.5% power play efficiency rate would have put them in last place compared to last season’s PP rankings. It wasn’t until the 13:35 mark of the third period that the tie-breaking goal would be scored, but much to the dismay of Pens’ fans it wasn’t their team that scored it. Mat Barzal tallied his 5th of the season to make it 3-2, Islanders. As the clock ran down, it seemed inevitable that Pittsburgh would lose to the Islanders once again (suffered a 4-3 loss 2/6). But with the net vacated for the extra-attacker, Evgeni Malkin tied the game 3-3 at the 19:42 mark, just 18 seconds before the final buzzer, to force overtime and guarantee at least a point for his Penguins.

Overtime was not enough to settle the score, so the Isles and Pens needed the shootout to determine a winner. Only Sidney Crosby would put up a successful shootout attempt and thus was deemed the ‘game-winning goal’ as DeSmith tallied his 4th win of the season.

Notable Numbers

  1. Heading into Sunday’s match against the Capitals, the Pens will have gone 23 days since they last scored a 5-on-4 goal. They have the worst expected goals for percentage with the man-advantage (76.52%).
  2. Pittsburgh has the worst even-strength shot attempt percentage in the league (76.84%).
  3. Despite putting up the 5th fewest shots on goal per game, the Capitals boast the 3rd best shot percentage in the league (12.6%).
  4. Washington’s power play, which is operating at 37%, leads the league. However, the Capitals have scored just 10 PPG’s, and have the 2nd fewest power play opportunities of all teams (27).
  5. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel lead PIT with four (4) goals each, Bryan Rust leads with seven (7) assists.

The extended time off gave the Capitals plenty of time for some injured skaters to return to the ice. TJ Oshie practiced on Wednesday and in his media availability, reported feeling “great”, and “back to normal”. On Tuesday evening, Jakub Vrana taken off COVID protocol list and has since also been practicing. Additionally, Justin Schultz donning a full face shield, has participated in full-contact practice. Also, on Wednesday, Michael Sgarbossa, Martin Fehervary and Pheonix Copley were reassigned from the taxi squad to Hershey Bears, and Daniel Carr from NHL roster to the taxi squad.

NBC will have exclusive coverage of Capitals vs Penguins, from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with puck drop coming shortly after 3:00pm EST.

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