An official separates Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin yesterday.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON -- The Penguins kept their locker-room doors closed a bit longer than usual after a 5-2 loss to Washington at the Verizon Center yesterday.
Seems they thought there were a few issues that had to be discussed.
Their special-teams work against the Capitals likely played a prominent role in the conversation, but the Penguins must not have gone into great detail about everything that went wrong with their power play and penalty-killing.
If they had, the meeting would still be going on.
The Penguins scored on just one of eight chances with the extra man -- and generated only 10 shots on Washington goalie Jose Theodore in the process, including one during a five-on-three that lasted 55 seconds -- and killed just one of three Washington power plays.
"Our power play could have easily won the game for us," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said.
True enough, but it didn't. It didn't come close, actually.
Defeating a quality team such as the Capitals is difficult enough. Doing it while losing the special-teams battle is pretty much out of the question.
"You don't give yourself a good opportunity when you do that," center Sidney Crosby said. "Especially against a skilled team like them. We hurt ourselves there."
The loss ended the Penguins' two-game winning streak -- they haven't won three in a row since mid-November -- dropped their record to 29-26-6 and put them four points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
While the Penguins did get one man-advantage goal -- Gonchar blurred a slap shot past Theodore from the top of the left circle at 4:46 of the second period -- for the most part, they had trouble simply getting into the Washington zone, let alone doing anything menacing once they arrived.
"They did a good job, and we need to be better in execution," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Bylsma would like his team to disrupt opposing power plays, much as the Capitals did to the Penguins. To that end, he wants his penalty-killers to be more aggressive in the early seconds of the man-advantage, before the opposing power play can breach the blue line and set up.
He believes his penalty-killers have been receptive to the adjustment -- "Our players are buying in to what we're trying to do," he said -- and added that "we're going to keep playing with that kind of aggressiveness."
The victory was the Capitals' third in a row this season against the Penguins, a club that has tormented them for decades. Washington clearly has the edge at the moment, but coach Bruce Boudreau is reluctant to proclaim that there has been a seismic shift in his team's favor.
"Everything has peaks and valleys," he said. "We've won three, but I don't think it's changing unless we win seven or eight in a row. As long as they have [Crosby and Evgeni Malkin] on their team, it's going to be tough to do."
The Capitals, though, limited Crosby and Malkin to one assist each and drove another of the Penguins' core players, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, out of the game with two dubious goals around the middle of the second period.
Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who has nine goals in 328 career games, beat Fleury from the outer edge of the left circle at 12:56 to put Washington up, 4-2, and Brooks Laich banked a shot off Fleury and into the net from behind the goal line at 13:21.
Fleury's replacement, Mathieu Garon, stopped all 14 shots he faced in his first appearance since a 5-4 loss in Toronto Jan. 31, but with a three-goal lead at that point, the Capitals didn't need any more.
Consequently, they could concentrate on the kind of trash-talking and name-calling that adds an incendiary element to this rivalry, even though the teams play only four times a year.
"There's a lot of tension between these teams, and it's good," Penguins defenseman Hal Gill said.
The Penguins probably have some internal stress, too, with the March 4 trade deadline looming and the gap between them and the Eastern playoff field still at four points. That's why going home with one victory to show for their weekend visits to Philadelphia and Washington wasn't especially satisfying.
"I'd be happier," Gill said, "with two out of two."
Which would have been far more enjoyable for them to talk about.
NOTE -- Defenseman Kris Letang and forward Bill Thomas were the Penguins' healthy scratches for the third consecutive game.