Penguins' talent no match for Ovechkin, Capitals

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This was not about working hard or throwing pucks at the net or manufacturing chances.

It was not an issue of effort, or a willingness to sweat and sacrifice.

No, the Penguins' only real failing in their 1-0 loss to Washington Monday night at Consol Energy Center was a pretty basic one: The lack of finishing ability.

They threw plenty of pucks at Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth; 39, all told. They sent bodies at his net all evening, too. Waves of them.

Didn't matter.

Because, as has been the case so often in recent weeks, the Penguins simply couldn't take advantage of the scoring opportunities they worked so hard to create.

Give credit to Neuvirth and his teammates for some of that, and give some blame to the parents of the 18 skaters the Penguins dressed, because genetics played a part in it, too. A lot of these guys, no matter how much of themselves they give, simply don't possess the skills needed to score at this level.

It's part of the reason left winger James Neal, acquired from Dallas with defenseman Matt Niskanen a few hours before the Washington game, has the potential to have a major impact almost immediately.

Neal, you see, has scored 21 goals this season; no one in the Penguins' lineup for the Capitals game has more than 12.

"He has an outstanding shot," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "An overpowering shot."

Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin owns one of those, too, and it was the difference-maker Monday night.

At 16:38 of the second period, he got the only goal of the evening by driving a slap shot past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Had Ovechkin launched that puck just a bit harder, the sound barrier might have been in serious jeopardy.

"I didn't even see it in the replay," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The loss dropped the Penguins' record to 36-20-5, and allowed the fifth-place Capitals to climb to within three points of them in the Eastern Conference standings. The Penguins remain six points behind first-place Philadelphia, which has two games in hand on them.

Penguins defenseman Paul Martin did not play because of an unspecified injury received when he was hit from behind by Chicago's Patrick Sharp in the Penguins' 3-2 shootout loss Sunday at the United Center.

With Alex Goligoski having been traded to Dallas for Neal and Niskanen a few hours before the game, Martin's spot in the lineup was taken by Brian Strait, who made his NHL debut and logged 13 minutes, two seconds of ice time.

Neal and Niskanen were traveling here from Dallas Monday evening. Although they did not arrive in time for the game, they are scheduled to participate in practice today.

The Penguins, as has been the case for a while now, were missing nine injured players, headlined by world-class centers Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery).

"It's obviously been easier to lean on those two guys and a couple of other guys, like [Kunitz] and a few other guys who are out," center Jordan Staal said. "Guys who know how to score goals, and get those big ones.

"It's not like it was coming easy before, but it would be nice to have those guys back. But it's about creating those chances, and we were doing that tonight, which is a good thing. It's a matter of finding a way to bury them."

Staal finished with five shots on goal, and several of those were among his team's best scoring opportunities. Neuvirth gloved his hard shot from inside the right hash mark 11 1/2 minutes into the game, then denied him on a short-handed breakaway less than a minute before Ovechkin scored.

Staal, of course, is not a big-time goal-producer; he has six in 22 games, and is valued more for his strong two-way play than any particular scoring touch.

That's why the Penguins will be so happy to add Neal to their lineup, and to get the likes of Crosby and Kunitz back in uniform.

"We certainly miss all those guys, and when they come back it's going to be a boost for our team," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "At the same time, nobody feels sorry for us."



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