This was the game the Pittsburgh Penguins needed. It was time for a test of their heart and soul, and time for the crew to fight through adversity.
The Penguins responded to adversity and beat the defending Stanley Cup champions. It was a blood and guts effort by the Penguins. Bryan Rust put himself in a vulnerable position to block a one-timer by Alex Ovechkin. Garrett Wilson went to the ice to take away a prime scoring chance by Brett Connolly.
And Jamie Oleksiak finally got the chance to fight Tom Wilson. Even if it didn’t go well–Oleksiak was knocked out of the game–the mood and tempo were set. The Penguins energy and intensity were immediately present and did not wane.
The Penguins defenseman played heavy minutes because of Oleksiak’s apparent head injury. Wilson finally accepted the fight which stemmed from Game 3 of the Round 2 series last season, when Oleksiak challenged the Capitals tough guy after Wilson plowed through Zach Aston-Reese, head first.
That will be the takeaway from the game. The Penguins showed up for 60 minutes against a great opponent. Nor did they back down or allow mistakes to unravel them. It looked like vintage Penguins-Capitals, and it was fun to watch.
Letang played over 32 minutes in Oleksiak’s absence.
The good: The Penguins were a well coordinated team. Their puck support was ever present. Their simple game slowed the game in necessary spots, which prevented Washington from dominating long stretches.
That’s the vital pushback about which head coach Mike Sullivan has talked.
The Penguins were able to play at 100mph with Washington. Three-stick breakouts were the norm, chip and chase when necessary, and swarming forecheck pressure.
The bad: Turnovers at the blue lines. Good grief, Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel with a couple of ugly ones.
If the Penguins could afford it, a few guys such as Letang, earned time off, Thursday. But they can’t. Fortunately for the Penguins, they have only two more games before the holiday break.
Penguins Report Card
Evgeni Malkin: C