Does Capitals' inability to beat Penguins 3-on-3 in OT matter?

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J.J. Regan
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Does Caps' inability to beat Pittsburgh 3-on-3 in OT matter? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals' record against the Pittsburgh Penguins this year can be seen in one of two ways.

On the one hand, Washington has lost five out of seven meetings against its archrival. On the other, they technically have a "winning" record against them at 2-1-4. The difference is that in four of the seven meetings between these two teams the game was tied at the end of regulation and the Caps ended up losing all four -- once in a shootout and three times in overtime.

After Thursday's 5-4 defeat, again in overtime, the team was at a loss to explain why they seem to have so much trouble against Pittsburgh past regulation.

"I don't know," Dmitry Orlov said. "Sometimes it just happens. I didn't say every game bad in OT against them. Sometimes it's just bad breaks or you tired and some things happen, you lose your man and they go on 3-on-1, 3-on-2, whatever happens. We have to be better for sure."

Like most overtime games, the Caps walked away Thursday feeling like it was a game they could have won.

"Could have gone both ways," Lars Eller said. "We still had possession I think most of the time in the OT so it's not like it was all bad."

As the Penguins entered the offensive zone, the puck bounced over the stick of Jared McCann. That actually worked out to Pittsburgh's favor as Anthony Mantha reached for the loose puck and turned away from McCann looking to break up ice on the counter. McCann beat him to the puck, however, and hit it off the wall back to himself.

Washington defenseman Justin Schultz came to challenge him, but he passed it out to a wide-open John Marino, who in turn passed it to Jake Guentzel for the deflection and the goal.

The loose puck from McCann threw Washington's defense off and led to the open play to Guentzel.

"I think most of these goals happen as soon as you turn the puck over or shortly thereafter the puck switches from one team to another," Eller said. "Either a counter-attack or a failed pass or whatever. Both teams are so skilled and good, you just need a little bit of room. You're one stick length away and we paid the price for that in overtime, not being close enough to our guy."

That's an unlucky break, but can you call four failed opportunities to win in overtime in a season unlucky? What about when you consider you have to go back to 2011 to find the last regular-season overtime win against Pittsburgh?

The last time the Caps beat the Penguins in overtime in the regular season came back on Oct. 13, 2011. Dennis Wideman had the game-winning goal. The NHL instituted 3-on-3 overtime in 2015 so Washington has never defeated the Penguins in 3-on-3 ever.

Yes, this stinks if you're a Caps fan because you obviously want to see them beat their rivals in overtime. Having said that, is this something to worry about? Not really because when the games really matter Pittsburgh's 3-on-3 dominance is essentially immaterial.

Sure, the Caps and Penguins could meet again in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, but you know what doesn't happen in the playoffs? Three-on-three overtime and shootouts. In the playoffs, you go back to 5-on-5 sudden death. While Pittsburgh has inarguably gotten the better of Washington at 3-on-3 overtime, that doesn't matter in the playoffs.

In the last three playoff series between the Caps and Penguins, five games went to overtime and Washington won three of those five including each of the last two.

It's easy to see the Caps have been unable to put Pittsburgh away in four overtime opportunities this season and want to draw some sweeping conclusion about what it means. Before you despair that the Penguins may have some sort of mental edge over Washington, however, don't forget that it was the Caps who won the last playoff series between these two teams and they just happened to clinch the series in overtime.