Marc-Andre Fleury stops the puck against Nicklas Backstrom in the first period
By Sam Werner and Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON — Since their opening-night, banner-raising win, the Penguins have been outscored 11-3 this season by their division-rival Capitals. The most recent loss was a 5-2 defeat at the Verizon Center tonight.
Two multi-goal losses here this season — not great for a building the Penguins could very well have to win in this postseason) — but if you ask the Penguins, they’re not sweating tonight’s loss as much as the 7-1 thrashing they took here Nov. 16.
A few extra thoughts for the night…
*** For a game in which he gave up four goals — including a momentum-swinging opener 35 seconds in — Marc-Andre Fleury does a bit of credit for keeping the Penguins in the game over the first two periods. One common theme in the dressing room was that the Penguins need to be better defensively, but Fleury was able to bail them out a couple of times and keep the game within striking distance during stretches where it seemed like Washington had all the momentum. In the first period, specifically, it looked like the Capitals had a chance to bury the Penguins early after Alex Ovechkin’s goal 35 seconds in, but Fleury made some key stops and gave them a chance.
MattMurray returned as the backup tonight, and we’ll see if he gets the start in the second half of the back-to-back tomorrow in Ottawa. In the three games since Murray has been hurt, Fleury has been OK (nine goals allowed, .909 save percentage) but it’s hard to say he’s done enough to shift the balance of power in the goaltending rotation.
***SidneyCrosby was held without a shot for just the second time this season. The first was the Penguins’ 4-3 win against Boston Dec. 14.
In both games, Crosby did manage to pick up an assist. It’s probably fair to say he could have established himself more offensively Wednesday night — especially given Alex Ovechkin’s heroics — but he looked just as confident and dangerous as ever when he did have the puck on his stick, and just had a tough time getting into positions where he could get a good shot at the net.
*** Some good news for the Penguins: JustinSchultz and Phil Kessel assisted on EvgeniMalkin's power play tally, extending their scoring streaks to six games.
For Schultz, who has one goal and five assists during the run, it's also a career-long mark. It's the longest for Kessel (two goals, eight points) as a Penguin.
ConorSheary saw his career-long four-game scoring streak snapped.
*** The Penguins' penalty kill woes come as somewhat of a surprise. They had snuffed out 31 of their past 34 over the last 10 games.
Then again, none of those came against Ovechkin and the Capitals, who struck twice with the man-advantage on Wednesday.
What went wrong?
"We had opportunities to get clears, and we didn’t," coach MikeSullivan said of his penalty killing unit. "We had opportunities to get in diagonals and passing lanes, knock pucks down, and we didn’t. Inevitably it ends up over by (Ovechkin), and he’s dangerous there. He obviously scores a lot of goals from there. There were events that led up to it that we felt we had opportunities to get the puck out of the end zone. We didn’t get it done."
*** The Capitals might be the best first period team in the league. They have a plus-21 goal differential during the opening 20 minutes that's tied with Columbus for No. 1.
"We can’t start like that," Crosby said of Ovechkin's record-setting score 35 seconds into this one. "Can’t give up a goal on the first shift."
Fleury has done that a lot this season. It was the fourth goal he's allowed within the first 1:18 of a game in 23 starts this season.
*** This night was certainly about Ovechkin, who scored twice, notched his 1,000th point and surpassed Maurice "Rocket" Richard (544) for 29th place on the all-time NHL goals list with 546. But, man, NicklasBackstrom has been killing the Penguins this season.
Four points tonight. Has three goals and 11 points in three games against them.
*** Tough night for KrisLetang and pucks going off his body. Lars Eller's empty-net goal went off his head, and another puck caught him in the wrist. Letang remained in the game, so I'm not thinking it's anything too serious, but it might be worth checking with Sullivan pregame tomorrow just to be sure.
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG; Jason Mackey: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JMackeyPG
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