|Brooks Laich celebrates with Jay Beagle after scoring Sunday.|
The Penguins got off to a good start, with an early chance inside the first minute that bounced around Michal Neuvirth's cage, but the Caps defense was able to clear. After some continued pressure from both teams, including an Alex Ovechkin rush, however, the game began to slow down noticeably as both teams tried to avoid a mistake. But the Penguins pushed back after the 7 minute mark, and continued good zone pressure for about the next 6 minutes, but were unable to get off many shots on Neuvirth as the Caps defense kept most of the pressure to the outside. The Penguins were thoroughly outworking the Capitals in the middle part of the frame as well, finishing their checks and getting to alot of pucks first. But inside of 5 minutes, the Caps came to life and got several good shots on Marc-Andre Fleury. The home side was rewarded inside the two minute mark when tremendous work down low by Mathieu Perreault ended in a pass up high to John Erskine. The big defenseman's one-timer was initially stopped by Fleury, but Brooks Laich was there to bury the rebound on a nifty backhand for a 1-0 lead. The Caps continued to pressure after their goal, but the Penguins almost equalized with fewer than 10 seconds left off a faceoff; the play saw Mike Green block a shot with his face. Though the Capitals rearguard was bleeding profusely from the side of this head, he was able to skate off on his own power and turn his head.
With no Mike Green to start the second period, the Penguins immediately pressured as they took advantage of the Capitals' new D pairings, and Michal Neuvirth had to make a great save on Matt Cooke to keep the advantage at 1. About 2 minutes in, the Capitals appeared to have extended their lead to 2-0, but the goal was washed out by a goalie interference call on Matt Hendricks, and the Penguins were awarded another power play. But the penalty killers were up to the task and were very efficient to keep the Penguins off the board. Late in the penalty kill, Marcus Johansson used his great speed to break free on a rush, and dangled through the Pittsburgh defense and put a backhander past Fleury for a shorthanded tally to extend the lead to two. The Capitals contiuned to put the heat on the Penguins, and drew a power play, but could not get anything past Fleury, who made some great saves in close. The Capitals simply would not take their foot off the gas pedal, and continued to pin the Penguins in their own zone, and were awarded another power play halfway through the frame. Again, however, they were not able to bust through for their third goal despite great chances. After the power play ended, though, the Penguins began to crank up the pressure and Michal Neuvirth had to make several good saves to keep the two-goal advantage inside of the six-minute mark. Both teams got some good chances inside the two minute mark, but the Capitals were given another power play with about a minute and a half left. This power play however, saw the Penguins counter with some shorthanded control early before the Capitals got some good zone time, but the period came to a close without any further damage to either team.
In the third, nothing came from the Capitals' carryover power play, and it was the Penguins who got the first chance with a good shot in close that Neuvirth had to be sharp on. Soon after, Dave Steckel and Boyd Gordon got a great rush up ice, but failed to shoot in close for a wasted opportunity. The Penguins then cranked up their offensive pressure, making several concentrated rushes up ice, but were turned aside again by Michal Neuvirth and the Caps defense. The Capitals got a little bit of jump back at about the 7 minute mark with some good forecheck pressure, but the Penguins continued to keep the Caps on their heels a bit. Michal Neuvirth was again great in close to keep the Penguins off the board, but Mathieu Perreault took a bad offensive zone penalty just inside 10 minutes to give the Penguins a chance. Pittsburgh came close on their power play a couple times, but good shot blocking by the Capitals defense kept them at bay, and again the Penguins could not convert. But the away side would not go away, and became desperate as they threw men forward with an aggressive forecheck. This aggression would cost them with about 4 minutes left, however, as Matt Cooke overcommitted and had to stick his leg out to stop Alex Ovechkin on his rush up ice, giving the Capitals another power play. Though the Caps did not score on their man advantage, they did keep the puck away from the Penguins with excellent zone control, and simply killed the clock before the Penguins pulled Fleury. With the Pittsburgh cage empty, Mike Knuble closed out the scoring with an 80 foot shot into the top corner, sending the Verizon Center crowd home happy and the Capitals back to the showers with 2 huge points.
Michal Neuvirth was at his best this afternoon. He was cool and calm, moving throughout his crease with excellent lateral push and was square to the puck the entire game. He seemed to be suffering from no lingering effects of his groin injury and he proved me wrong again. This just goes to show again that the Capitals have three great, young goalies. Goodie for us.
Marcus Johansson had his mojo working all day. His speed created multiple chances for his team, and his goal was a thing of beauty that gave his team a huge momentum boost and turned the tide in the Capitals' favor for good. He keeps showing flashes like this, and if he makes good on all this promise, he is going to be a really special player.
The shot that Mike Green took was pretty vicious, and he was bleeding pretty good when he went down. He received stitches, and never left the building, which is a good sign because that means that the Caps are not very concerned about potential brain damage or a serious concussion. We may have to be without him this week, though, those pucks hurt.
The Capitals will likely practice tomorrow as they prepare to welcome the Sharks to town on Tuesday night. That game is scheduled for a 7 P.M. start.