For the Pittsburgh Penguins, twice is nice.
Sidney Crosby led the charge as the visiting Penguins skillfully smothered all attacks from division rivals, the Washington Capitals. In a showing of a skill, grit, and tight defensive plays under the lights of the Verizon Center, the Penguins launched a relentless barrage of shots that ultimately secured the club’s second victory this week.
Prefaced by the offensive struggles of Russian forward Evgeni Malkin, the contest concluded on a high note—with marquee players Crosby and Malkin strategically cashing in on the many errors of Capitals netminder Braden Holtby. Crosby recorded a goal, his 11th of the season, in the second period and a helper. He is now leading the Hart Trophy race as the NHL’s points-leader. Malkin posted two assists.
The Penguins’ 4-0 trumping of the Capitals marks the club’s fifth consecutive victory in the series. The Penguins won all three meetings during the 2012-2013 campaign. Alexander Ovechkin was silenced and unable to force pucks behind the sharp Marc-Andre Fleury. The charismatic goaltender found his stride while frustrating shooters with quick glove saves, poke checks, and effective rebound control. Fleury stopped 18 shots and earned his 25th career shutout. The Penguins’ all around success only contributed to the hex on Ovechkin and the Capitals.
“I think this was as complete a game as we played,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma commented following the game. “We came out and pushed the pace, the speed of the game. … The second half of the game was a team effort: how we played the game, managed the puck and shut them down.”
The Penguins victory was in largely due to the consistent effort from the team as a whole. Finding their legs early, the Penguins played with intensity, awareness, discipline, and worked off momentum that started with star players. Most importantly, the club played a complete sixty minutes with no signs of fatigue, restlessness, or anxiety. Recent history has shown an uninspired and lackluster effort from the pride of Steel City—often falling apart before the final horn and giving opponents key opportunities to win. But tonight, we witnessed the intensity and desire of a team worthy of playoff contention.
The Penguins outshot the Capitals 40-18 and 34-10 at even strength. The lopsided numbers are credit to the Penguins’ blueliners—intercepting and blocking shots at every turn. Paul Martin is a standout in this regard. Partnered with Brooks Orpik, this defensive tandem kept it simple: shut down the Capitals. In 22 minutes of ice time, Martin notched two points (1G, 1A), recorded three shots, and earned a plus-two rating. Martin’s goal came at 6:38 in the opening frame and was followed two minutes later by a Beau Bennett goal. The Capitals were unable to respond—even with four powerplay minutes—and were outshot 17-6.
The remaining periods proved more painful than the first for the Capitals. The Penguins capitalized on turnovers, poor rebound control, and breakdowns in coverage in front of Holtby to netted two more goals—one from Crosby on the power-play and the other a quick snap shot courtesy of James Neal.
“It’s high execution, it’s great movement, set up there to start by Geno,” Bylsma said of the Crosby goal. “It’s a sharp, sharp angle, but it’s an awesome power-play goal.”
The Penguins now sit atop the Metropolitan Division and prepare to square off against the New York Islanders on Friday night.