WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals have thrived this season on steady diet of thrilling power-play goals. So it was like an ice spray to the face to have their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, punctuate their 4-0 win on Wednesday night with one of the prettiest of the season.
On a power play late in the second period, Sidney Crosby took the kind of wicked slap shot that whispered “enough already” as it whizzed towards the Washington Capitals’ net.
Goalie Braden Holtby had stoned him twice in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ game in D.C. This time, Crosby’s shot rang off the goalpost. As the Penguins reorganized later in the power play, Crosby slid to the opposite side of the ice, preparing to fire again if given the puck.
Evgeni Malkin started the play with a pass to Chris Kunitz near the crease, who made a little pass to James Neal near the goal line, who sent to puck quickly to Crosby, who found catharsis with a gorgeous shot that beat Holtby.
“There was a little room there, blocker side,” said Crosby.
Coach Dan Bylsma said it reminded him of a goal Chris Kunitz scored against the Capitals on the power play last season in a 6-3 win in Washington:
“It’s high execution. It’s great movement,” said Bylsma of Crosby’s goal. “It’s a sharp, sharp angle but an awesome power-play goal.”
The goal was salt in the wound for the Capitals, considering that the power-play has been their offensive lifeblood. The Penguins scored a brilliant goal while keeping Washington off the board on three power-play attempts.
It was that kind of night for Pittsburgh, which turned this well-hyped Rivalry Night game into a clinic on puck possession, limiting the Capitals to 46 shot attempts while taking 60 of their own.
Three of them found the back of the net at even strength.
At 6:38 of the first period, Paul Martin fired the puck from the blueline that handcuffed Holtby’s glove and flew past him. It was an imminently makeable save; one of the lowlights for the Capitals’ netminder on the season.
Later in the first, Beau Bennett made a nice play to control the puck in the neutral zone, sending it back to Matt Niskanen who passed to Malkin at the blue line. Bennett made a beeline to the Capitals zone, where Malkin hit him on the rush. Bennett unleashed a wrist shot that beat Holtby cleanly for the 2-0 lead.
In the third period, with the Penguins up 3-0, James Neal picked the top far corner for his second of the season.
It was a frustrating night for the Capitals, as Marc-Andre Fleury pitched an 18-save shutout, Crosby outscored Alex Ovechkin in their personal battle and the Penguins made a statement in their first Metro Division game against Washington.
“It’ll be a little harder tomorrow because it was a game you were looking forward to, a team you wanted to beat,” said Coach Adam Oates. “There’s lots of ways to lose games, and that’s not really one way you want to do it.”
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