The Pittsburgh Penguins (7-6-1) two-game win streak crashed with a thud into a disjointed effort. The Penguins skated hard but found little reward and their mistakes became red lights flashing behind goalie Tristan Jarry. The Washington Capitals (7-4-3) controlled the game from the middle of the first period and squashed the Penguins for a 3-1 win at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night.
The win gave Washington sole possession of fourth place in the East Division, and the Penguins are again out of a playoff spot.
Jarry was very good. He had to be, or the final score would have been as lopsided as the game. Jarry stopped 39 of 42 shots.
Zach Aston-Reese (3) scored his third goal in three games when his wrister hit twine with five minutes remaining, but it was already over.
The Penguins game was speed. They pressured and dominated play for the better part of the first period, but things slipped later in the opening period and became an avalanche in the second period. The Penguins got but failed to convert a few glorious power-play chances in the first period.
“I thought we had the start we wanted. We hit two posts. If we score there, I think the complexion of the game changes drastically,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ve got to find a way to play the game and respond the right way. We self-inflicted in the second by taking the penalties that we took.”
Washington took the puck away from the Penguins in the second period. Through the first 13 minutes of the second period, Washington outshot the Penguins 15-3 and scored a pair of goals in Penguins defensive miscues. Overall, Washington outshot the Penguins 18-5 in the period.
First, Mark Jankowski left assignments and Colton Sceviour was a spectator as Conor Sheary was alone in the low slot. Five minutes into the second period, Sheary (3) ripped a top-shelf wrister past a helpless Tristan Jarry.
Midway through the period, a mismatched Penguins unit with three defensemen on the ice because P-O Joseph just escaped the penalty box didn’t cover Jakub Vrana in nearly the same spot. Vrana (5) popped another top-shelf wrist shot past Jarry from point-blank range for a 2-0 Washington lead.
Through two periods, Washington fired 34 shots at Jarry, including 18 in the second period.
“It felt like the whole second period we were shorthanded. It was just tough to generate momentum,” Teddy Blueger said. “They kept playing offense shift after shift after shift. I think that’s when they took the game over and we just didn’t recover.”
The Penguins shuffled lines and defense pairs in the second period. Rookie defenseman P-O Joseph slid to the third pair with Cody Ceci, while newly activated Marcus Petterson assumed his spot on the top pairing. RW Brandon Tanev jumped to the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker. Kasperi Kapanen dropped to the third line with Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese.
It was the first significant Penguins line shuffle in weeks. A small silver lining.
Just one minute into the third period, Washington caved the Penguins chances. Lars Eller slipped away from Kris Letang and no one else picked him up. Eller drifted to the circle and snapped a one-timer into a yawning cage and that was about the end.
The Penguins had little juice after that.
The Penguins PK with strong saves from Jarry killed all five Washington power plays. The Penguins didn’t earn another chance on the power play after two first-period chances including a 21-second 5v3.