Matt Niskanen’s third period goal to break a 1-1 tie following a Matt Cooke four minute minor, lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins (23-8-0, 46pts) to a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals (12-6-1, 25 pts) on Tuesday night at the Consol Energy Center.
The win extended the Penguins winning streak to 10 games as the Penguins continue to climb in the standings, ranking 1st in the Eastern Conference with 46 points and boasting the second best record (tied with Anaheim) in the NHL. Pittsburgh trails the league leading Chicago Blackhawks by just five points as the Penguins might give the Hawks a run for the Presidents trophy with 17 games left.
What the Penguins showed again Tuesday night is how dangerous they are in that you can outplay them for forty minutes but they find ways to put the game away with a momentum changing goal.
Killing off a Matt Cooke four minute minor gained immediate momentum for the Penguins and nine seconds after Cooke’s penalty ended, the Penguins came in transition off a Capitals turnover, and Matt Niskanen (4) scored off a 3-on-2 rush beating Braden Holtby with a blistering snap shot high to the glove side to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 11:58 of the third period.
Just like that the Penguins take a 2-1 lead in what just deflated a struggling Capitals team that needed the win.
“We turned it over at the end,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said about Niskanen’s goal. “It was a winnable game. At the end of that power play there’s no way we should give up a turnover. That hurts.”
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma sensed a goal coming.
“You just kind of felt like somehow that was going to end in a goal,” Bylsma said of the Penguins killing off Cooke’s four minute penalty.
“We created a lot of energy and some momentum from that,” defenseman Matt Niskanen, the games No. 1 star said. “You could feel the crowd getting into it and we were able to go out on a rush there and finish.”
Paul Martin (6) also scored in the win, a power play blast from the point at 11:07 of the second period. Sidney Crosby had two assists, earning points 49 and 50 on the season. Crosby leads teammate Chris Kunitz and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos by 10 points for the NHL points lead. Marc Andre Fleury was strong between the pipes, making 28 saves and improving to 15-3 in his last 18 games.
Two very positive trends for Penguins that continue is their play on the penalty kill and keeping the puck out of the net.
Alexander Ovechkin scored a power play goal but Pittsburgh killed off 4 of 5 penalties, including the momentum changing four minute minor. Pittsburgh has been much more effective in picking their spots when being aggressive, especially along the wall. They are not letting teams setup and get comfortable out there.
Defensively, it wasn’t the Penguins best night from a structure standpoint as they got caught running around at times and Sidney Crosby mentioned afterwards about it being a sloppy game, but giving up just six goals in six games shows there has been markable improvement.
One area the Penguins are being effective at is keeping the opposition to the outside as they are boxing out a lot better than they were earlier in the season.
“They did a good job keeping us to the outside,” Capitals winger Eric Fehr said. “Obviously that was part of their game plan. We just passed it around, maybe trying to get a little too fancy,” Fehr said. Fehr indicated the Capitals didn’t get enough traffic in front. “They did a good job boxing out in front. I don’t think Fleury was seeing a lot of pucks.”
The Penguins blocked 23 shots in the game, lead by Deryk Engelland (5), Paul Martin (4) and Matt Niskanen (3). Martin who had an excellent game against the Capitals top line, logged 28:14 of ice time.