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Insider Only Post-Washington Reactions & Observations

Pittsburgh — In a game with three ties and three lead changes through two periods, the Washington Capitals had a championship hockey vibe about them Thursday night, scoring four unanswered goals en route to a 6-3 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Despite taking the Penguins to seven games last spring and being a bounce away in overtime from going up 3-0 on Pittsburgh, there were times where Washington struggled to handle success.
This season, that doesn’t appear to be the case for the Eastern Conference leading Capitals. Washington has a mature look about them and their focus is getting where Pittsburgh was and tonight was another step forward for the Capitals.
They’re {Pittsburgh Penguins”} an unbelievable team, star winger Alex Ovechkin said. “We want to improve, and we want to gain that spot where they were last year.”

Washington dominant in face-off department

Washington’s league-leading offense fuels off of their ability to win face-offs in the offensive zone. The Capitals dominated on faceoffs, winning 62 percent of their draws and they got Pittsburgh in situations where the Penguins were on the ice for extended shifts.
Pittsburgh’s second shift of the game, Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal were on the ice for over 2:30 minutes as the Penguins iced the puck three times and couldn’t win a draw to get the puck out of the zone cleanly.
Pittsburgh was caught in an extended shift early in the second as the Caps won a key face-off and Eric Fehr scored to put the Capitals up 2-1. Importance of face-offs against elite teams can’t be overlooked.

Capitals beat Penguins, Red Wings in consecutive games

The Washington Capitals have won 8 of 9 games and have beaten the past two Stanley Cup champions in consecutive games. However, tonight’s win was a big win for the Capitals mentally.
“We have won five in a row and we just want to continue it,” Ovechkin said. “We beat great teams and the last two were in the Stanley cup. The last game we played terrible and we still get the points. But today we started great and we finished great. It’s a big sign for us.”

Johnson struggles against former team

Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson struggled against his former team, making 28 saves on 33 shots. However, there was a sequence in the game where Johnson gave up 4 goals on 11 shots.
Alexander Ovechkin was among the Capitals who felt going into the game that the Capitals had the advantage due to Johnson being a former Capital. “Of course it’s a good sign for us,” {Ovechkin said this morning of Johnson starting} “We know his good strengths and bad strengths, ” Ovechkin added.

Penguins felt they played good enough to win

Dan Bylsma talked after the game how he thought the Penguins played very well and even sort of got annoyed when a reporter indicated that the Penguins were out of the game when the Capitals went up 5-3 early in the third period.
Michael Rupp even stated that this was the Penguins best game since Christmas. Losses in 10 of 16 games, we’re going to hear those kind of statements but the Penguins can’t keep overlooking their defensive breakdowns.

Observations

*Nick Johnson is regarded by scouts as the most complete NHL prospect in the Penguins system. He showed that tonight.
Johnson only saw 9:21 of ice time and should have seen more ice time down the stretch but he did a lot of good things.
He showed good hands in around the net, found the soft spots in the slot and won battles in the corners.
Dan Bylsma praised Johnson’s play and indicated after the game that Johnson’s legs weren’t all the way there tonight as he’s been off the ice for a few days.
He clearly deserves another look and Bylsma hinted he may get another one.
*Meanwhile, Dustin Jeffrey showed why he’s only considered a bottom tier 4th line role player at the NHL level.
It was only one game but like a talent evaluator told me tonight, “he’s never going to make it in the NHL playing wing”.
He’s more suited at the NHL level as a center man as he struggles with his acceleration.
*Pittsburgh was exploited at times with Kris Letang matched up against Alex Ovechkin. Due to Brooks Orpik playing the left side, Pittsburgh’s not able to get a physical presence on Ovechkin coming down the wing.
*Bill Guerin has not played left wing too often since playing for St. Louis but he did so tonight as Tyler Kennedy was moved up to the top line. Guerin indicated today he’s comfortable playing either side.
*In talking to some league insiders this week, true enforcers are really being phased out of the game. Washington is among a number of elite teams that doesn’t have one.
Eric Godard’s role has been completely phased out in recent weeks. He had 1:24 of ice time against Washington.
*Word inside the organization is that management is not overly concerned regarding the Penguins recent stretch of play.

Injury Report

*Goaltender Marc Andre Fleury did not look comfortable this morning with his newly ordered glove. The pain is still there and the Penguins are exploring other options. Fleury has been hopeful to play by Monday night against New York.
*Max Talbot (foot) believes he should be ready to play by the weekend, however, he was very limited today. Pascal Dupuis (facial injury), once cleared to practice will have to wear a shield for a few days.
Neither player will be out long-term.
Trade Buzz
Trade talk is really picking up around the league. Penguins had scouts at the Canes/Thrashers game Thursday night. Tom Fitzgerald is scheduled to be very active in the scouting process over the next two weeks.
Pittsburgh just ended their pre-trade deadline evaluations this week…. I’ll have an article up in the morning about some trade chatter regarding the Penguins. They’ve been exchanging names with Carolin and it’s not just Ray Whitney……

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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