By Adam Vingan
Hockey is a 60-minute game and the Washington Capitals have failed to realize that on several occasions this season. That did not change Wednesday in a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins; the 60-minute game was broken into smaller spurts not just by Washington, but Pittsburgh as well. Yet, the Caps’ spurts simply did more damage en route to victory.
The Penguins dominated the first 10 minutes of the game as they pinned the Caps in their own zone, earning the first three shot attempts. With only 2:19 elapsed, Matt Hendricks took exception to a hit from Craig Adams and the two dropped the gloves with the former ultimately dropping the latter onto the ice. It was at that moment that Jason Chimera felt the momentum shifting.
“I think we kind of came out a little flat,” he said. “I think [Hendricks], with the great fight, he sparked us big time. [Hendricks] got it all started for us with the fight.”
While Chimera believed that Hendricks’ fight turned the tide in Washington’s favor, that moment did not come until over ten minutes later. Pittsburgh had six of the next nine shot attempts after the fight and continued to apply pressure. With 10:03 remaining in the first period, the Caps had a total of three attempted shots (one shot, one blocked shot and one missed shot).
Things continued to trend in the Penguins’ favor, but it was the one mistake they made in the first period that ultimately cost them the game.
Evgeni Malkin attempted to enter the offensive zone while surrounded by four Caps. Joel Ward poked the puck away from Malkin, which started the breakout that led to Chimera’s breakaway.
“We settled down a little bit and started making a few plays out of our zone instead of just kind of throwing it away,” Karl Alzner said when asked what Washington changed during the first period that led to Chimera’s goal. “I think we settled down, we took a little bit more time with the puck, we were a little more poised. That’s what’s been happening to us. Teams have been getting one opportunity and they score. For us, it was the other way around tonight.”
The Caps settled down too much in the second period as the Penguins dictated the flow of play. Pittsburgh’s fourth line kept their Washington counterparts pinned down in the latter’s defensive zone and generated a few chances early in the period, which set the tone for the rest of the period. The Caps seemingly could not exit their own zone cleanly or consistently. By period’s end, the Penguins earned 10 of the period’s 14 shots, but Tomas Vokoun single-handedly kept the Caps in the lead.
Washington, however, regained the momentum with several effect spurts in the third period. The period started with a strong shift from the Caps’ fourth line, punctuated by Hendricks’ near-miss when his shot hit the post. About three minutes later, the fourth line did it again, hemming the Penguins in their own zone as the Caps threw four pucks at Marc-Andre Fleury in less than 30 seconds.
This led to a spirited shift from Alex Ovechkin midway through the period as he found Alzner open in the slot for a one-timer that Fleury stopped. On the next shift, Alexander Semin could not take advantage of a wide open net as Fleury flailed in the crease, but damage was still done as the Penguins’ psyche definitely took a hit.
“The second period we sat back way too much,” Chimera said. “The third period we kind of went at them a bit and it worked out better for us. We got a lot more chances and kept it in their end.”
Pittsburgh mustered one more flurry within the last five minutes and had some quality chances, most notably Dustin Jeffrey’s shot off the post and Malkin’s tight shot on Vokoun. Yet, Washington held on for the victory.
With about a minute left in Wednesday’s game, the Verizon Center video board showed a clip of Al Pacino’s memorable speech from the film “Any Given Sunday.” In the clip, Pacino says that “the inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the difference between winning and losing.”
The Caps were that team Wednesday, clawing for every inch and using short spurts of energy in order to make the difference.
“We played a not very good game in L.A. and this is a good bounce back,” Vokoun said. “[We played a] tight checking game. The score says it all. Our effort was much better today.”