Capitals 1 – Penguins 0
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
Another low-scoring battle resulted in another loss for the Penguins Monday night when the Washington Capitals and goalie Michal Neuvirth shut out Pittsburgh for the second consecutive game, defeating the Penguins 1-0 at the Consol Energy Center. Alexander Ovechkin scored the game’s lone goal, a power play marker at 16:38 of the second period, and Neuvirth stopped all 39 shots he faced in the Caps’ third consecutive win over the Penguins this year. The Penguins played without the services of Paul Martin (undisclosed injury) and Alex Goligoski (trade) in addition to their hefty list of absent forwards.
Ovechkin’s goal came after the gifted winger had already been robbed by Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on two solid scoring chances. First, Fleury stymied Ovechkin on a clean breakaway in the first period, then quickly gloved another one of Ovi’s attempts out of the air in the second period to keep the score tied 0-0.
The flashy Russian forward finally broke through on the power play with a hard shot from above the right circle.
Despite allowing a goal, the Penguins penalty kill performed well and generated quality chances, including a breakaway for Jordan Staal and a short-handed opportunity for Matt Cooke.
Ovechkin’s breakaway shot was the Capitals first of the game and didn’t come until nine minutes had already elapsed in the first period. Scoring chances were lopsided in the Penguins favor throughout most of the night as the home team outshot the caps 39-24 In the game, 18-7 in the first period and 14-3 in the third. Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma, who, along with many of his players, seemed optimistic despite the loss, counted his team’s offensive effort as a positive.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is. It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. That’s exactly where we need to play now,” Bylsma said of the team’s effort. “You get 14 shots to another team’s 3, (you have) 18 shots in the first, you’re going to win hockey games; you’re going to get goals; you’re going to get chances.”
Pens defenseman Zbynek Michalek echoed Bylsma’s sentiments that the Penguins have not deviated from their game plan, and that should result in success.
“We can build on this game and bring it to Wednesday’s game,” Michalek said. “If we keep playing like this we will win some games eventually.”
Post-game discussion also shifted to the biggest Penguins news of the day: the trade that sent 25-year-old defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas for forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Niskanen, 24, will slip into Goligoski’s place in the lineup, while 23-year-old Neal, who has 21 goals and 39 points so far this season, is expected to add offense to the Penguins – not just in their current depleted state, but going forward this season and beyond.
“James Neal is a guy who has been on our list as a power forward, offensive zone presence, physical guy, overpowering when he plays down low,” Bylsma said. “His name didn’t come up in the last week. It’s been on our radar for a long time.”
While the Penguins can still be considered a young team, comprised of a core group of players that have grown together, they know very well that swapping players and saying goodbye to good friends is part of being in the NHL.
“You have to give up good players to get good players,” Penguins center Jordan Staal said. “We are lacking in forwards right now. It’s going to be a good boost for us.”
The Penguins play at home again Wednesday against San Jose (33-21-6). The Pens 9-4-2 mark against the Western Conference this year is one of the best records in the East in that category.
1. WAS – Michal Neuvirth; 2. WAS – Alexander Ovechkin; 3. PIT – Marc-Andre Fleury
Goals: WAS- Alexander Ovechkin (24)
Assists: WAS- Marcus Johansson, Mike Knuble
IN THE NET:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury (L) – 23-24
WAS: Michal Neuvirth (W) – 39-39
Penguins (36-20-5); Capitals (32-19-10)