Thursday, December 23, 2010

Penguins Take Round One

Capitals 2, Penguins 3 OT/SO (1-2) 7th round
Game Summary

It seemed only fitting that two rivals, soon to be Winter Classic participants and new stars of HBO's 24/7 sports documentary would fight tooth and nail to the very end.  It would take seven rounds of the shoot out as these two teams take the rivalry to a whole new level as the NHL Winter Classic draws near. Pascal Dupuis would score the winning goal in a shootout as the Pittsburgh Penguins win the first of four games against the Washington Capitals 3-2.

Mike Green would finally get power play goal, his first tally since November 14 and the first goal by the any of the young guns since Alex Ovechkin's goal against Toronto. Mike Knuble would score the game tying goal to force over time. Michal Neuvirth played one of his best games stopping 25 shots, including surviving 7 rounds of the shootout until Dupuis' goal.

The Caps would come out like a bullet as Alex Ovechkin set the tone by laying out fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin with a hard hit. It led to a Penguin penalty and a power play chance for the Caps. But the Pens would get the first goal as Malkin exited the penalty box and drew three Capitals' defenders leaving an open Sidney Crosby who tipped the puck past Neuvirth.

Even though the Caps out shot the Penguins in the first period 12 to 6, the Penguins would take the 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The Caps looked to step it up a notch in the second period. But a break away pass to Malkin meant Green had to take a penalty that would lead to a penalty shot. Neuvirth turned aside Malkin's bid to put his team up 2-0.

Then the Pens would get into penalty trouble in the second period. Mike Rupp was called for a hooking call and Matt Cooke would be called for a delay of game call after clearing the puck all the way down the ice and over the glass. The resulting power play would struggle until some good passing opened a shoot lane for Green to shoot it high glove side to tie the game at one.

But a lazy start to the third period would haunt the Caps as the Penguins outworked their rival to regain the lead just :17 seconds in to the period. The Capitals struggled again to find some offense due to the spectacular play of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury made stop after stop on the frustrated Caps. When Matt Perreault took a penalty with six and half to play in the third, it looked as if the Caps rally would be stifled.

When Brooks Laich streaked down the wing to get the puck to the front of the net, Knuble was there to make a stick move to get the puck past Fleury. It would once again tie the game and the Caps seem to gain some of their mojo back. They pressured the play keeping the Penguins from chances late in the third. But they weathered the storm and both teams would find themselves in overtime.

It looked like Green had won the game when he juked out of the corner and nearly had it past Fleury only to have Fleury reach back and snatched the puck from going past the goal line. It would go to video review, but it was inconclusive as Fleury's glove blocked any view of the puck crossing the goal line. It would go to a shootout.

Ovechkin would score on his attempt, but every Capital afterwards would struggle to beat Fleury. Neuvirth would allow the first shot by Kris Letang then get beat by Dupuis in round seven after turning away Crosby, Malkin, Letestu, Knuitz and Kennedy. Semin, Backstrom, Knuble, Laich, Perreault and Green would miss for the Caps.

The Capitals' power play is still not where it needs to be. The Caps were able to score on a 5 on 3 but where 0 for 5 with the extra man. At times the power play seemed too predictable as the Caps shot right into Penguin defenders as they clogged up shooting lanes. But as the top players struggle to score, so goes the power play for the Caps. It is an area they need to work on.

Jay Beagle did not show up on the scoresheet, but he played a great energy game. Often out working Penguins along the boards and creating chances for his teammates. Michal Neuvirth was also great tonight, keeping his team in it. He would come up with big save after save even when he did not face shots for long stretches of the game.

It was not a great game for Nick Backstrom. While at times he looked good, he has failed to produce much this season. At times he looked invisible, even though this is the type of game he often accelerates at, the big games. His lack of production seems to be hindering the Caps.

The bottom line was this was one heck of a game by both teams. Both teams earned their point by taking the game to overtime and the Penguins win the coin toss shootout to take home the extra point. It sets up more drama for the up coming Winter Classic. That is where Caps can exact some revenge. If it is anything like this game, we are in for a treat.

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