(Photo credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
With the end of a five-game road trip and the friendly confines of D.C. in sight, the Washington Capitals had one more stop to make. And it was the least friendly place on Earth (at least for the Caps). The Caps entered Pittsburgh for the first time since winning the Winter Classic against the injury-plagued Penguins and left the hometown crowd in the same state as they did on January 1: speechless. Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal and Michal Neuvirth’s 39 saves led the Capitals to a 1-0 win over the Penguins, salvaging a road trip that got off to a rough start and moving them up the Eastern Conference standings in the process.
- Ovechkin must be wearing Old Spice because he has his swagger back. “The Great 8” has three goals and three assists in his last four games, which is one-third of his goal production since the Winter Classic. And those three goals have come in what is becoming known as “Vintage Ovechkin” fashion: two snipes on the power play and a breakaway. The Caps may not be scoring as much, but a hot Ovechkin is the last thing that any opposing team wants or needs.
- Neuvirth may have played the best game of his career in earning his third career shutout, all of which have come this season. He has also shutout the Penguins in consecutive games. His 39 saves came in all shapes and sizes, whether they be snappy glove saves or routine pad saves. Neuvirth also limited his rebounds and didn’t give the Penguins any second-chance opportunities. With every game, Neuvirth continues to wrestle the No. 1 job away from Semyon Varlamov. Considering Bruce Boudreau’s “win and in” mentality, Neuvirth should be in for a little while. Could it be permanent? The time is upon us.
- The power play, despite its struggles, has something to cheer about. Not only was Ovechkin’s PP tally the game-winning goal, but the Caps have scored PP goals in three straight games for the first time since November 7-11. They also have three power play tallies in four games against the Pens who happen to have the top-ranked PK unit in the NHL.
- It’s fitting that such a win took place in Pittsburgh since what was seen Monday was the first real sign of defensive killer instinct since the Winter Classic. After Ovechkin’s goal, the Caps shut down the Penguins. Forget about the 39-24 shot advantage for Pittsburgh; none of them were too threatening. That’s a testament to the type of hockey that the Caps can play if they fully implement their defensive system. Call it what you want, but we call it “KOL-ler Instinct.” Patent pending.
- Can we just mention that the Capitals have owned the Penguins since being bounced out of the playoffs by them in 2009? Eight games, seven wins and one shootout loss, which as we all know doesn’t really count. Disco Dan and the boys have some work to do.
- In game based on puck possession, the Capitals won just 48 percent of the faceoffs. Pittsburgh was missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but still managed to keep every Capital except for Brooks Laich at 50 percent or lower in the dot. Broken record: Washington needs to bring in a 2C.
It has been nearly three years since the Penguins defeated the Capitals in regulation (March 9, 2008). The win pulls Washington within three points of Pittsburgh and one point of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The rocky road that started this trip has been paved and a smooth ride back home awaits Friday against the New York Rangers. But really, defeating the Penguins is always good. Hot triplet good.