The Capitals have had a penchant of late for giving up the first goal, and this contest was no different. Our big boy in center, Evgeni Malkin, was back on the board, taking a nice pass from Carl Hagelin and beating netminder Braden Holtby with some fancy stickhandling. With a 2-on-1, Malkin made the right choice to take it himself and put the Pens up 1-0. We knew that having Malkin healthy would be key to the stretch run, and this goal just provides more evidence of that fact.
Early on in the second period, Sidney Crosby took the puck into the offensive zone where he found Olli Maatta in the middle of the ice who dished to Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist then beat Holtby for his fourth goal in two games, putting Pittsburgh up 2-0 on the league’s best team. If we continue to see this type of production from Hornqvist on a regular basis, the other Metropolitan Division teams better toughen up their goaltending.
The fairly new Capital, Mike Richards, would help trim the Pens lead to one bysending the puck through a crowd towards Matt Murray and into the back of the net. It looked as if the puck might have been tipped on its way to the net, but regardless, Murray had a hard time seeing the puck clearly and the Caps now trailed 2-1.
Towards the end of the second period, with much activity around Murray, Evgeny Kuznetsov was positioned right outside the crease. He was in the right spot to field a rebound off of Murray’s pad and shovel it past his stick-side. Just like that the game was tied 2-2.
Murray was playing a fairly decent game, not giving up what you’d call easy goals. And the Pens were certainly putting the pressure on Holtby. The one area where the Caps were outplaying the Pens was in the hit department. Call it a different gameplan or style of play, but at one point the Capitals had doubled-up the Penguins in hits 26 to 13. The main culprits of pounding the Pens were Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson with four hits each.
As the Penguins tried to do some hitting of their own, Evgeni Malkin was sent to the box for high-sticking on T.J. Oshie. It was a painful penalty for the Pens as the Capitals flexed their muscle, showing why they have the best powerplay in the Conference. With Murray once again screened, Matt Niskanen scored his fourth goal of the season, as the Capitals came from a 2-0 hole to lead the game 3-2.
With just about a minute left in the game, the Pens pulled Matt Murray for the man advantage. They put the pressure on and Carl Hagelin had a shot on Holtby, who made a phenomenal glove save, with just over half a minute remaining in the game. The Capitals would hold on and close out the game by score of 3-2.
Matt Murray just had too many screens in this game. The Penguins defense needs to clear out the slot to get their netminders a clear view of some of the shots coming through, particularly when down a man. A lot easier said than done, but it seems to be a theme that the coaching staff will need to address for the Penguins to have sustained success down the stretch, when playing the league’s top teams.