Kunitz nets winner as 0-11-2 regular-season run vs. Washington ends
December 2, 2011 3:00 PM
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Capitals defenseman John Erskine fights with right winger Arron Asham Thursday at Verizon Center in Washington.
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Center Sidney Crosby tries to get by Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner in the first period Thursday at Verizon Center in Washington.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON -- Sidney Crosby had gotten at least one point in each of his previous 11 regular-season visits to Verizon Center.
Not this time.
He had been involved in almost every one of the games in an 11-0-2 streak Washington had built against the Penguins, too.
That streak's over, too.
It ended Thursday night when the Penguins defeated the Capitals, 2-1.
And the trade-off was one Crosby had no problem accepting.
"You play to win," he said.
The Penguins did that, breaking out of a slump against the Capitals that dated to March 9, 2008.
To put the Capitals streak in perspective, consider that Chris Kunitz, who scored the winning goal Thursday, didn't join the Penguins until nearly a year after their most recent regulation-time victory against Washington.
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres acquitted himself well in his NHL debut, logging 10 1/2 minutes of ice time.
Not a heavy workload, to be sure, but Despres still managed to be on the ice for both of the Penguins goals, and to pick up the second assist on Kunitz's goal.
"I thought he looked confident, looked good, made some good plays," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was playing against some good players in some tough situations, and I thought he looked strong and aggressive."
Despres seemed nearly as satisfied with his first NHL game as his coach was.
"I enjoyed it a lot," he said. "It was easy to play with these guys. I was comfortable. I still have a lot to learn and I hope I can improve, with the more games I play."
Despres, it should be noted, wasn't the only rookie defenseman in the lineup. Robert Bortuzzo appeared in his third NHL game, and played a solid 12:12.
The Capitals were aware that a third of the Penguins defense corps had virtually no experience at this level but weren't able to take advantage of it.
"I thought we forechecked hard," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "We dumped it and went after them pretty good with big hits to stir it up."
Didn't get much to show for it, though. Jason Chimera scored the their only goal 80 seconds into the second period, when he beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a backhander from close range.
Crosby, meanwhile, was held without a point for the second time in six games since returning from a 61-game absence because of a concussion. He has 11 in the other four games.
"I had a few chances," Crosby said, "but they kept a pretty tight seal on things."
True enough, but the Penguins still were able to launch 35 shots at Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Washington, conversely, managed just 17 on Fleury, and only two of those in the third period.
Fact is, Fleury's greatest challenge in those final 20 minutes might have been resisting the urge to curl up in the crease and take a nap.
"I tried to stay focused, in case they did come in, because they have a lot of skill up front," Fleury said. "But the guys in front of me did an amazing job."
After Kunitz broke a 1-1 tie by beating Vokoun from above the right hash at 2:36 of the third, the Penguins played a textbook road period. They kept the play in the Washington zone much of the time, and gave the Capitals nothing that resembled a quality scoring opportunity.
"Most of the chances they got in the first and second [came on] pucks we gave away or mistakes we made," said winger Craig Adams, who scored the first goal. "We limited those in the third."
Consequently, the margin of victory made it seem as if there was a lot more suspense about the outcome than actually existed.
"It's a much better last two or three minutes when the puck's mostly in the offensive zone," Bylsma said.
That's a pretty good feat against a team with the kind of offensive talent Washington has, especially when the Penguins' game hasn't really been in synch for a few games.
"It feels good to come in here and win," Kunitz said. "We'd been stumbling lately, hadn't played that great, so to have a great effort, other than about six, seven eight minutes in the second period ... we played a great team game."