The Pittsburgh Penguins outplayed the Washington Capitals for long stretches of their Sunday afternoon game at the Capital One Arena. The Penguins earned their 36 shots on goal and pressured Washington, but the third period again belonged to Washington. The defense couldn’t hold the fort, and Washington took first place in the Metro Division with a 5-3 win.
The Penguins have lost three straight in regulation for the first time since mid-October.
Washington had to play without the puck for long stretches, as the Pittsburgh Penguins owned the puck for more than 20 minutes in the middle of the game. From the last half of the first period through the first half of the second period, the Penguins didn’t allow a 5v5 shot on goal (though in fairness, one did ring off the post, which is literally a shot on goal).
The teams traded fluky goals carried into the net by defenders as Marcus Pettersson and T.J. Oshie took the puck into their own net. Evgeni Malkin scored a highlight-reel goal, and Patric Hornqvist scored from his office.
“Overall, I think we were the better team. It’s two good teams going after it,” Hornqvist said. “It’s a helluva matchup. It is fun out there, and I think both teams feel the same way.”
But Washington converted the Penguins mistakes into goals. And there have been too many of them of the past six weeks. The mounting toll has perhaps created a cyclic vortex, which leads to more. These Penguins can’t maintain the simple game they used to dominate the NHL in the first half of the season.
Mostly, the Penguins did what their head coach has been imploring them to do. The Penguins played a remarkably simple game. It didn’t hurt that Washington tried a few too many cute passes, but those things occur when teams defend with five players.
And the Penguins did that. Mostly…
On Saturday, Sullivan spoke through sometimes gritted teeth. Sunday was different.
“There was a lot to like about this game, and that’s what I told the guys afterward,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.