The Pittsburgh Penguins never relented. The Washington Capitals had answers, for a while, but the Penguins onslaught and dynamic power play posed more problems than the Capitals could answer. From Ryan Reaves bullying Alexander Ovechkin in the first period to TJ Oshie crosschecking Kris Letang in the neck late in the second period, to 11 goals, this was quintessential Metropolitan Division hockey. And, Phil Kessel.
The Penguins sent a message to the division-leading Capitals.
Perhaps someday, Sidney Crosby will score his 400th goal. For now, a pair of assists and an 11 game points streak will have to do.
Evgeni Malkin had a double deuce (2g, 2a) while Phil Kessel closed the gap on Nikita Kucherov for the NHL scoring lead with three points (1g, 2a). Kessel trails by only two points. Phil Kessel, Art Ross Winner?!
In the first two periods, the Capitals had some success attacking the seams in the Penguins zone. As the Penguins continued to put pressure on the Capitals, the Penguins adjusted but their relentless pressure did more buckle the Capitals than any X’s or O’s strategy.
#1 Phil Kessel 1-0
Credit where its due: Riley Sheahan overpowered the Capitals on this shift. He was strong in the offensive zone. Phil Kessel played the puck on a string to maintain possession the moved his feet to the open spot. Matt Niskanen never saw Kessel until the red light flashed.
This is the work of a grinding center and an elite goal scorer.
#2 Carl Hagelin–at his Haggy-Best
The Penguins forecheck swarmed the Capitals for much of the period. Hagelin anticipated Capitals rookie defenseman Christian’s Djoos basic tape-to-tape play. Hagelin closed on Djoos like a great white shark to a sea lion. Djoos had committed to the cross pass and would have been in the same trouble had he tried to keep it and step forward. Even though it looks sloppy by the Capitals, this is the best of Carl Hagelin:
#3 Ovechkin & Caps Answer
Just before the blue line, Alexander Ovechkin decided he was going to the net. His stride accelerated. His speed intensified. Kris Letang should have recognized the bull was charging, and certainly not going to pass. Letang didn’t react to the charge. The simple analysis here–Ovechkin beat Letang.
#4 Hornqvist dishevels Holtby
First, watch the timing of the Penguins power play. If Hornqvist drops back a moment too soon, Tom Wilson has him. If he drops back a moment too late, Orpik would have been there. The Penguins man-advantage is chugging along at an astounding 27.7%. Mike Sullivan was asked about coaching the unit–In Sullivan speak, he essentially said, no way. His exact words were “If you’re not careful, you can overcoach.” This is simply telekinesis or perfection. Three moving parts moved simultaneously:
The goal also rattled Braden Holtby. Not quite sure what Holtby was angry about, but it gave the Penguins social media director ample grounds for the tweet of the night
Was Holtby celebrating too? Hmm… 🤔 pic.twitter.com/qCT71kcwNm
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 3, 2018
#5 Orlov Blast Kessel and Simon Oops.
As a RW, Kessel’s place would have been in the center-left in the defensive zone. Instead, he committed to the right wing wall. Simon was not fast to get back, likely a little gassed but not able to get off the ice. Simon didn’t adjust to Kessel’s commitment, which opened the left point. Kessel and Simon are the trailing Penguins, below:
Sheahan had the impossible choice–step forward to cover the point or take his man, Chandler Stephenson. Stephenson would have been in a prime scoring position in the dirty zone if Sheahan abandoned coverage. Broken coverage, Capitals kept it interesting:
#6 Hand pass? No, Maybe
Lots nuance to the handpass rule on this play. First, Wilson attempted to play the puck, after he played it with his hand but Hornqvist picked his stick. Second, Evgeni Makin touched the puck for the purpose of playing it. Or, was it just a deflection? The puck did deflect off Malkin, and he attempted to possess it. Third, check the photo–Is there proof Wilson didn’t touch the puck a moment before Kuznetsov swept it past Murray? Three players reached it simultaneously. Was it a hand pass? What is a catch?
On the actual play, Ian Cole backed too far into the zone–he ceded the slot to Ovechkin before he blocked the shot and madness ensued. 3-3.
#8 Ovechkin and Letang’s 2nd
It’s a game of inches. Literally. Watch Letang mirror Kuznetsov ad drift towards the high zone–Letang’s hips are forward as if the Penguins are about to transition to offense. Letang took a half step too many. In the tiny window which opened, Kuznetsov was a marksman and put it on Ovechkin’s stick.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Matt Murray if–after a few seasons–he could begin to feel when Ovechkin drifts into the left wing circle. Murray answered somewhat in the affirmative, but also credited the Capitals for moving the puck quickly and have multiple options–so even when Ovechkin is in his office, the goaltender can’t cheat. 4-4.
#10 Phil Kessel: One-footed wrister
The Penguins transition game is still elite. A quick breakout became a 3-on-2. Both Matt Niskanen and Dmitri Orlov reached forward to poke check Malkin. Neither Capitals defenseman succeed. If the left wing circle is Ovechkin’s office, the right wing dot is Kessel’s.
Great touch passing forward sprung the rush. Kessel…it isn’t fair. A wicked wrister off the post and in. 6-4.