In the first meeting since the Winter Classic, Washington and goaltender Michal Neuvirth were able to shut down and shutout a star-less Pittsburgh Penguins team 3-0, but not without some showings of hard feelings for the loss and David Steckel’s hit on Sidney Crosby.
The Caps set the tone of the game regarding puck movement early on after some end-to-end hockey to start. Washington was able to keep control of the puck in Pittsburgh’s zone. The hard work forechecking and maintaining control paid off for the Caps with the first goal of the game from a gritty effort down low from Brooks Laich for his 11th goal of the season.
Not too long after the Caps scored, Pittsburgh was able to get deep into Washington’s zone and got a scoring chance almost identical to the one the Caps scored on, but courtesy of Jeff Schultz’s heads-up check, the Pens were unable to get in position to take advantage.
With a 1-0 lead entering the second period, the Capitals did not stop the pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury. In fact, very early on in the second frame, Mike Knuble got the puck past Fleury, but the goal was washed out because of a questionable goaltender interference penalty on Matt Hendricks, as Hendricks was interfered with and fell on top of Fleury as a result.
Nonetheless, toward the end of the Penguins’ power play, Marcus Johansson, who had a spectacular game, was able to send a sharp backhand to the upper corner of the back of the net as David Steckel used his size to distract Fleury.
Shortly after the Caps’ second goal, Washington received their first power play after more pressure on the Penguins defense. It was here where every player on the Capitals was able to find their offensive talent.
The Penguins regained life once the third period began, and even though the shots were 17-9 at one point for Washington, Pittsburgh was able to take over the shots. However, the Caps continued to remain strong, especially in net.
“We had chances to do that just didn’t take advantage of it,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said about the team’s inability to score on Neuvirth. “He didn’t make some saves, as we did have a couple of flurries, there were some pucks in the crease, but he was strong on.”
But the third period was when the Penguins decided to take their frustrations out on the Capitals. About midway through the third, the Penguins finally sent out one of the players they called up, Tim Wallace, and had him take on Steckel in a fight — a move that Caps head coach called “crap”.
Not too long after the fight, Alex Ovechkin was in the middle of a clearing attempt when Penguins player Matt Cooke heads toward Ovechkin and collides with him, causing a knee-on-knee hit. Following the collision, the other Caps players on the ice, including Ovechkin, skated toward Cooke for a little retribution. However, nothing more was done in regards to the hit.
“It’s Matt Cooke, what more can you say” Boudreau said. “He knows how to pick this stuff.” Boudreau also challenged the NHL to take this hit seriously and not “buy into this as an accidental thing.” The players did not comment on the hit.
Byslma and Cooke felt differently about the hit.
“I didn’t think much contact was made,” Bylsma said according to Capitals Insider. “Maybe their skates get wound up together. But, you know, Ovechkin was out on the ensuing power play.”
Cooke said the same, that his and Ovechkin’s skates just “clipped.”
“They don’t like us, and we don’t like them. That’s the way it should be,” said Boudreau.
And so the saga continues between the two teams. The two meet again February 21st in Pittsburgh for the final match. The Capitals play again Tuesday at home against the San Jose Sharks.
Notes: During the waning seconds of the first period when the scrum in front of Neuvirth occurred, Brooks Orpik blasted a shot from the point that hit Caps defenseman Mike Green in the ear. Green was down for a bit and was able to get to the locker room, but with assistance from the Caps’ trainer. Green says he feels fine for now, and Boudreau said in his post game news conference that Green had a lot of stitches and could be day-to-day, but nothing official as of now has come out.