Some games are wonderfully structured, intense battles. Round 2, Game 1 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals was not one of those games. The Penguins labored through an ugly game for a 3-2 win at the Capital One Center.
Game 1 was like a Jackson Pollock painting done by Picasso. Both teams skated hard and competed. But neither team played well with the puck or maintained consistent defensive positioning. The teams traded offensive chances, Penguins goaltender Matt Murray and Capitals goalie Braden Holtby were forced to make 10-bell saves but there were few second chances or sustained offensive pressure.
The Penguins won without Evgeni Malkin or Carl Hagelin. That does not bode well for the Capitals. They squandered a golden chance and a 2-0 lead early in the third.
The Capitals scored 17 seconds into the game and had a few other odd-man breaks, empty nets and Grade A chances in the first period, but failed to score again until Ovechkin ripped a wrister from the circle just seconds into the third. The hockey gods punished the Capitals for refusing their gifts.
The Penguins scored three ugly, dirty, unanswered goals in five minutes in the third period for the win.
The Penguins’ first goal was a deflection by Patric Hornqvist in the slot, through several players. Sidney Crosby scored the Penguins’ second goal after Alex Ovechkin failed to intercept an easy pass which bounced off his stick and trickled to Crosby.
Crosby’s shot was very stoppable, but Holtby failed to shore-up the five hole.
The Penguins third goal was another gaffe by the Capitals. They failed to give Holtby an outlet to play the puck behind the net and Crosby intercepted his pass to the wall. Crosby quickly fired it towards the net, and Jake Guentzel deflected it.
The Capitals did execute their stacked blue line strategy against the Penguins — as seen on PHN Extra Chalkboard (please consider subscribing) — but turnovers and sloppiness plagued both teams.
Each team had 14 giveaways. The teams totaled only 33 shots through the first two periods before each finally found traction in the third period. The Capitals had 17 shots in the third period to outshoot the Penguins 34-25. (If you remember how to do seventh-grade word problems, you can also figure out how many they had through two periods, too!)
#PensCaps Report Card
Matt Murray: A+
Murray was brilliant. Yes, the Capitals scored two goals. Yes, both were to his glove side. But, any insinuation that either was soft or the result of a bad glove hand would be void of truth.
Murray made outstanding saves on Evgeny Kuznetsov, Devante Smith-Pelly, and a real sparkler on Brett Connelly in the third period.
Braden Holtby: B-
Holtby was great. Except for two softies. One bad goal is tough enough. But, two?
Holtby was large in net. The Penguins hit two posts — Dominik Simon and Guentzel — but Holtby gave the Penguins less space at which to shoot. Holtby made good saves on Crosby and Guentzel before yielding.
Holtby’s response in Game 2 will be crucial. If he reverts to shaky Holtby, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz will be forced to go with Philipp Grubauer. The Holtby watch has begun.
Jake Guentzel: B
Guentzel had a pair of pretty chances and a nifty deflection goal.
Unfortunately, he also failed to cover Brian Dumoulin‘s pinch on the first shift, which led to Kuznetsov’s goal. Guentzel was as much a part of the sloppy overall play as he was a solution. He will have to defend much better. His lapses are maddening because his offensive upside is top shelf.
In Game 1, though, he was a net positive.
Tom Wilson: A
Wilson was physical and ever-present in all three zones. His hits were late but were in full view of the officials, so consider it good for his team. Wilson notched two assists and four hits.
His hit on Hornqvist rattled him, which is difficult to do.
Penguins Defense: C
The unit, as a whole, were out of sync with pinches. For example, with a one-goal lead, Chad Ruhwedel pinched with three minutes remaining and was almost burned.
On Ovechkin’s goal at the start of the third period, Kris Letang inexplicably pinched after the Capitals had the puck.
The Penguins’ overall team game was often as inexplicable as it was good.
Game 2 is Sunday at 3 p.m.