Penguins still searching for the 'on' switch
Standing behind forwards Matt Cooke, left, Alexi Ponikarovsky, center and Tyler Kennedy, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma calls a timeout during the third period of Tuesday's game against the Capitalsat Mellon Arena.
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There's an implicit guarantee that comes with having Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and a 200-foot sheet of ice in the same building on the same night, so it's all but superfluous to point out that both Tuesday night's assembly at Mellon Arena and a highly engaged Versus audience had every right to expect something special.
This, then, was a clear violation of their hockey rights.
I guess that with Ovechkin's Washington Capitals motivated only to avoid a sharp stick in the eye and Crosby's Penguins charged only with the vague urgency of not finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference the result was that the special Tuesday night was served lukewarm and significantly under-spiced.
Hockey history might have been made had the Capitals been able to sustain an early burst of offense in which they sprayed three shots at Marc-Andre Fleury in the game's first 69 seconds, but Penguins fans might not have appreciated the opportunity to say they were there the night Washington outshot Pittsburgh, 156-0.
Similarly, no special feeling washed over the audience during the handful of shifts Craig Adams skated with Crosby, as Adams hasn't scored since the Jonas Brothers were in preschool.
Furthermore, even as they led by a goal after one period and by two after two, the Capitals exuded a unique indifference. With home-ice advantage for as long as they don't melt in the postseason already assured, for example, they rested standout defenseman Mike Green and, earlier in the day, called up Jay Beagle from the Hershey Bears.
Or was it Jay Bear from the Hershey Beagles?
No matter; the Capitals again twitch-slapped the Penguins, 6-3, this time, meaning Ovechkin's team swept the four-game season series, a possibility-turned-reality the Penguins had agreed in advance and by consensus was not terribly important.
And they'll stick to that story until it is terribly important.
"It's disappointing, but we've got to look forward, look at our mistakes and learn from them," said Penguins center Jordan Staal, a minus-2 in 211/2 frustrating minutes.
Staal was, for the record, one of the minority in the room who felt that going 0 for 10 against New Jersey and Washington this season could have lasting deleterious effects. The Penguins' abstract ability to flip the switch, as it were, once the playoffs start, did not become any less of a topic as a result of this encounter.
"It's not something that just happens," Staal cautioned in a quiet dressing room. "We need to find a solid way to play hockey and we haven't done that yet. A lot of the problems are in the defensive zone. There have been a lot of breakdowns there. That's where we've got to start playing a more solid game."
For his part, the Great 8, the Penguins' favorite hockey nemesis, skated in long loops and looked generally content to let his teammates torture Fleury, who let in 3 of Washington's first 12 shots. Alexander Semin skated around Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski as though he were a highway cone, lifted the puck over a sprawling Jordan Leopold and fooled Fleury badly to erect the lead Washington would never relinquish. After former Philadelphia Flyer Mike Knuble made it 2-0 at 0:42 of the second, with much of the crowd still wrangling nachos back from the concourse, Crosby finally delivered a small slice of special.
The Captain ripped a power-play blast behind Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov for his 48th goal of the season early in the second but suffered the aural indignity of having Washington's Tomas Fleischmann score 21 seconds later, seriously curdling the Crosby goal announcement. Crosby's two assists lifted him to a 100-point season, and it was just too bad that when the crowd let it's "MVP! MVP!" chant die out, it looked to the scoreboard to find that the Capitals had scored again and again.
Crosby didn't think the Penguins played badly, even as it surely looked that way on the other side of the nachos.
"We were missing Kuney [Chris Kunitz] and Geno [Evgeni Malkin]," Sid pointed out helpfully. "I thought we worked hard, but it wasn't enough. We found out in the warm-up that Geno couldn't go [due to undisclosed sickness], but I thought we did a good job of digging in mentally."
Still, there was the aggravating circumstance of, you know, Capitals 6, Mental Diggers 3.
Ovechkin ultimately deigned to slide the fifth and sixth Washington goals into the worn Penguins net, which kept him even with Crosby in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Ovechkin has only two games remaining, while Sid is looking at two scoops of Islanders and one of Thrashers.
Maybe that will soothe some tummies.
First Published April 7, 2010 12:00 am