Penguins vs Capitals – some positives, some negatives

Jordan Staal Penguins hockey player
(Icon SMI)

PITTSBURGH-The Pittsburgh Penguins outplayed the Washington Capitals Thursday night at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens outshot the Caps 41-19 in the game, and 18-3 in the 3rd period. But like so many times lately, the Pens came up short on the scoreboard.

Since the Pens beat the Capitals in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semi-finals, the Caps were 7-0-1 against the Penguins coming into Thursday night’s contest. Dennis Wideman put one more “W” in the win column for the Caps when he buried a power play goal after a fantastic feed from Nicklas Backstrom at 2:48 of overtime.

Jordan Staal took an ill-advised penalty by tripping Alex Ovechkin in the neutral zone mid-way through overtime. There was no need for Staal to reach out in front of Ovechkin and take down the Caps captain.

Jordan Staal needs to find other ways to get his name on the score sheet besides taking a stupid penalty after the Pens fought back to tie the game with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. Staal needs to start producing points.

Staal is one of the best 3rd line centers in the NHL. He is a great penalty killer and fantastic at shutting down the other team’s top-scoring line. Staal takes a lot of praise in and around Pittsburgh for these duties.

A player like Staal, who was drafted 2nd overall in the 2006 draft, needs to produce more offensive numbers. He has yet to equal his goal total from his rookie season when he compiled 30 goals. His highest goal total since his rookie season was 22 in 2008-09.

Teams do not draft players 2nd overall to play 3rd line center. Despite this, 3rd line is where Staal fits into the picture right now with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby centering the first two lines. Although, Malkin and Crosby have been injured a very large part of the past 2 seasons, and Staal has not been able to pick up his offensive game and produce more points. At the very least, he needs to dominate every shift when he is on the ice, and he has been too inconsistent at performing such a task.

To take a ridiculous penalty which ended up spoiling a comeback effort by the Penguins is inexcusable. Staal wears an “A” on his chest, and he needs to start acting and playing like a leader.

Despite the loss to the Caps, there were a lot of positive things that took place Thursday night. James Neal is on a tear right now. He has quadrupled the amount of goals he scored in 20+ games last year in five games this season. Neal has looked like the player everyone thought he would be when he was traded to the Penguins from the Dallas Stars last season before the trade deadline. Neal’s confidence is sky high, and confidence plays a huge role in being able to score goals in the NHL.

Neal had both goals for the Penguins against the Capitals. Not only has his scoring gone up, but he has been a completely different player than he was last season. He’s taking pucks to the net and creating scoring chances in bunches. The goal that Neal scored at the 16:35 mark of the 3rd period was a thing of beauty. He had enough patience to get Tomas Vokoun to open up his 5-hole and sniped a shot through Vokoun’s legs.

Since the Penguins have had issues keeping Malkin and Crosby healthy, someone else has needed to pick up the scoring slack. Neal looks to be the man for the job this season as he has 4 goals in the first five games of this season.

Most would prefer to depend on Geno and Sid to be the main means of scoring production for the Pens. Most would like to see these two superstars on the ice together again. This day is finally getting closer.

Prior to the Capitals game, the Pens had to play their two previous games without either one of their stars again, due to a lower body injury that Malkin sustained against the Calgary Flames.

Curtis Glencross of the Flames was in Malkin’s face all night long when the Pens faced Calgary. Glencross was being a pest and flipped Malkin over onto the ice a couple of times. The mucking and bullying which Glencross enforced on Malkin was suspected to be the cause of Geno’s lower body injury. Keep in mind that this went on all game long without a Penguins player getting in the face of Glencross.

Arron Asham
(Icon SMI)

This is why the play of the game against the Capitals goes to Arron Asham.

At about the half-way point of the 3rd period, there was a scrum just inside the Caps blue line between Kris Letang and Jay Beagle. After the puck was cleared away, Beagle decided to take liberties on Letang and give Letang a generous face-wash, knocking Letang’s helmet off of his head. Letang did not retaliate and stayed put as Beagle retreated.

Asham decided this was not going to be tolerated and decided to square off in a fight with Beagle. As Beagle attempted to land two punches, Asham worked to get his right arm free. Once Asham got his right arm free, he launched back-to-back right hand blows to Beagle’s face. The second right hand knocked Beagle out cold.

Asham should be commended for sticking up for one of the Pens most valuable assets in Kris Letang. The Pens cannot tolerate their superstars being harassed by any player on any team. Hopefully, the rest of the league does not want to be falling to the ice unconscious like Jay Beagle. The Pens need to send more messages of this type to the rest of the league.

Upon his return, someone is eventually going to cross the line with Sidney Crosby. This is inevitably going to take place. The action that Asham took toward Beagle needs to be the standard set when Crosby returns to the Penguins lineup. The Pens do not have to go around knocking players unconscious. They do need to fight, and they need to send a valid message that cheap shots on their captain will not be tolerated.

Something of the kind should have taken place when Malkin was getting thrashed around by Glencross in Calgary. Instead, nothing happened and the Pens lost Geno for two games. The Penguins should have sent a message last year when Crosby took the two head shots that have kept him out of hockey up to this point.

If the Pens keep enforcing like Asham did Thursday night, fewer players will think about taking a high hit on Crosby’s head. In general, fewer players will think about delivering cheap shots to Malkin, Crosby and Letang.

The Penguins are much more fun to watch when they have these three names in their lineup. Not to mention, the Pens are a much better team with these three stars on the ice at the same time. The Pens need to take the appropriate action to make sure their superstars can stay healthy going forward.