The Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 win over the Capitals is being looked at by the Penguins as a very important one.
This was a game from a psyche standpoint that the Penguins believed they needed to have.
“We definitely owed them a few,” Brandon Sutter said.
“Tonight we notched it up,” Penguins head coach Mike Johnston said after the win. “See how we started the game and to our credit, thought Washington ran around quite a bit, tried to get hits and tried to play outside their game.”
The key for the Penguins coming into last night’s game wasn’t necessarily going to be the final score but the Penguins being able to get the Capitals out of their element for long stretches. The biggest issue the Penguins had vs Washington in their previous three meetings is Washington was able to dictate the style of play for all three games. They dominated the neutral zone and made the Penguins play a tight checking game that doesn’t favor Pittsburgh.
Wednesday night Pittsburgh was the team dictating the style of play with a strong start, relentless forecheck early and a key overall in the game for the Penguins was winning the neutral zone.
Washington needed 7 minutes, 59 seconds before its first shot on goal.
That said it was far from a perfect game from the Penguins. Minus the minor penalty fiasco that led to little flow in the game, issues were for Pittsburgh in protecting a lead in giving up a 2-on-0 during the early stages of a power play in the second period when leading 3-1 as everyone was puck watching, to forwards floating on the backcheck leading to Joel Ward’s third period goal, but overall it was another small step forward for this group.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz cited a lack of focus for the Capitals going back to the morning skate. While this win was a good one for the Penguins, this might be a good loss for the Capitals moving forward.
“To me, it’s just focus,” Trotz said. “You’ve got to focus and be ready to go. For whatever reason we’re not as focused as we need to be. We’ll work on that.”
In the offensive zone, Pittsburgh got the Capitals running around and when the Capitals aren’t playing a disciplined, structured game, suddenly Braden Holtby doesn’t look like Henrik Lundqvist.
Does one game now give the Penguins a psychological edge if these two teams meet in the post-season? Not buying it but Mike Johnston seems to think so.
“Psychologically heading into the playoffs, Washington would have had an edge,” Johnston said. “Now you could almost say that maybe we have the edge. It will be interesting to see if our two teams meet up in the playoffs.”
From the Capitals end, they played like they did a bit during the Adam Oates era in running around and not playing structured hockey, yet, the difference in the game ended up being a horrendous Matt Niskanen giveaway leading to Brandon Sutter’s shorthanded goal in the first period.
Each team got a power play goal, two 5 v 5 goals and nearly identical shot attempt numbers at even strength, 37 to 35 in Washington’s favor.