The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin celebrates his goal in the second period Thursday against the Capitals at Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's easy to forget that the Penguins trailed for nearly 23 minutes in this game.
That for a significant chunk of the evening, Washington looked like a viable threat to win for the 10th time in its past 11 visits here.
All of which is evidence that seeing a team score five times in less than 13 minutes -- and make it look almost effortless -- can inspire a bit of amnesia.
Certainly, there's no question the Washington Capitals would rather not remember what the Penguins did to them in the second period of a 5-2 victory Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.
And even if the Capitals tried, most probably couldn't have recalled their previous loss in regulation here, given that it happened way on Feb. 18, 2007.
Still, these are not the Capitals who have ranked among the Eastern Conference's best teams in recent years. Rather, these are the Capitals who own the worst record in the NHL (2-8-1) and who looked the part while the Penguins were performing that second-period vivisection.
The Penguins, meanwhile, looked very much like a team that has won five games in a row and that hurdled Boston for first place in the East by raising its record to 8-3. Especially in the middle period, when they scored almost at will.
"Especially to be at home, to be putting goals in like that and capitalizing, it's a lot of fun," said center Sidney Crosby, who finished with a goal and two assists. "You could feel the energy in the building, and guys were really working off of that.
"Every line was hopping over there expecting to create a chance and make something happen. It was nice to see everyone get rewarded like that."
Second-period goals by Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis chased Capitals starter Michal Neuvirth from the game, and goals by James Neal, Matt Cooke and Crosby likely made his replacement, Braden Holtby, wish that coach Adam Oates could have yanked him, too.
The Penguins were surprised by Washington's goalie switch -- "I don't think they were bad goals [against Neuvirth], by any means," Neal said -- but Oates felt it was necessary.
"I just thought they were goals that deflated us," he said. "Looking at them on the tape, definitely one of the goals, I'm sure Michal would have wanted back."
Three of the Penguins' goals came on the power play, even though Kris Letang, a point man on the No. 1 unit, missed the game because of an unspecified injury. Coach Dan Bylsma described him as "day to day, at this point in time."
Paul Martin took Letang's spot on the top power play, while Upper St. Clair native Dylan Reese filled his spot in the lineup. Both acquitted themselves well.
The Penguins converted three of four power plays, and Reese logged 14 minutes, seven seconds of ice time in his Penguins debut and was credited with two blocked shots.
"I thought he played really well," Bylsma said.
Martin, who has gotten some work with the top power play, made a seamless transition to Letang's role.
"He was great at getting in the middle -- he had [Malkin] and Sid on each side of him -- and distributing the puck really well," Bylsma said.
"That was a big factor. Paul was outstanding at it. It was the difference in the game, especially as we took over the second period."
Washington took its only lead when Mike Ribeiro scored at 4:12 if the opening period. By the time the Capitals scored again, when Alex Ovechkin whipped a shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during a power play at 8:34 of the third, the only thing in doubt was the Penguins' margin of victory.
Malkin triggered the surge with a man-advantage goal at 6:59 of the second, beating Neuvirth high on the glove side with a nasty wrist shot from below the left dot -- "As good a shot as you're going to see," Bylsma said -- on a power play.
Dupuis put the Penguins up for good, rapping a bouncing puck by Neuvirth at 12:49, and Neal greeted Holtby with a backhander on a power play at 16:33.
Cooke made it 4-1 after Brandon Sutter set him up with a faceoff win against Ribeiro, and Crosby put an exclamation point on the Penguins' most productive period this season by batting a puck out of the air and into the net at 19:38 for their third power-play goal.