Love is in the air tonight in Pittsburgh after Penguins beat the Capitals

Brandon Tanev #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Brandon Tanev #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Crosby, Guentzel, Rust and crew hand the Washington Capitals their fourth straight loss as the Pittsburgh Penguins pick up a 6-3 win over the Caps on Valentine’s Day

With seven points from the Crosby line Sunday afternoon, the Penguins rode an offensive surge to their first two goal lead this season, their first third goal lead and their first three goal win.

A close 4-3 contest late in the third period dissolved into a 6-3 cruise on the back of empty net goals from Zach Aston-Reese and Crosby. ZAR picked up the puck deep in the Penguins’ zone and flung it rink wide and into the back of the net. The start of a goal streak for the newly minted No. 12.

Crosby’s goal wasn’t so much of a hail mary as it was a full back busting through the middle of the defense. Sid corralled a clear from Jake Guentzel, was dragged to the ice by Caps forward Tom Wilson’s stick and iced the game with a rip from one knee while falling away from the goal… from near center ice. GOAT doing GOAT stuff, I guess.

The Penguins outskated the Capitals much of the game and were clearly the better team on the ice, as they should have been with the Caps coming off a week-long layoff, but the Pens still have much to work on.

Tristan Jarry allowed some soft goals today. He wasn’t at fault for every goal today, but he simply must play better for the Penguins to be contenders this season. If he can’t, it’s time to find someone who can.

What’s not helping Jarry or Casey DeSmith is the Penguins’ team defensive lapses every game. The Pens goalies need to be better, but the team around them has to back check and help out around the net.

Regardless of the issues, the Penguins are 3-0 against the Capitals this season, 5-0 at home and have started a two game winning streak. The Pens were the better team tonight AND denied the Capitals any points.

There are reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism. Depends on how you like your glass to be filled.

First Period – 2-1, Pens

Maybe giving the Capitals back to back power play chances to open the game isn’t the best way to start? Maybe?

The league’s No. 1 power play (converting on 37% of chances) faced off against the league’s No. 29 penalty kill (allowing goals on just about 30% of chances) after Kris Letang slashed Caps forward Alex Ovechkin and the Pens penalty kill unit got the upper hand.

Then, about a minute later, Jason Zucker slashed Caps forward Nick Dowd, and this time, the Caps made the Penguins pay.

Back for his first game after an eight game Covid absence, Caps forward Evgeny Kuznetov took a shot from near the boards, which deflected off John Marino, past Tristan Jarry and into the back of the net. A screen from Caps forward Lars Eller took away Jarry’s eyes on the play, and the Caps took a 1-0 lead.

The Penguins controlled possession throughout the early portions of the first period but couldn’t generate many solid chances. It wasn’t until the Crosby line hit the ice again that the Pens could draw something up.

Crosby and Mike Matheson played a little give-and-go to open up the middle of the zone, with Matheson feeding Sid, who pushed it back on the backhand, to create a two-on-one with Bryan Rust. Rusty took Matheson’s feed and buried it in the back of the net to tie things up (with video courtesy of the Penguins’ Twitter).

You really can’t speak highly enough of this Jake Guenztel-Crosby-Rust line so far this season.

The flood gates didn’t bust open, but they did open enough for more less than a minute later when Teddy Blueger won a faceoff in the offensive zone back to Cody Ceci, who put a shot on net that Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek couldn’t corrall, and Brandon Tanev was there to battle around him and bury it in the back of the net. 2-1, Penguins.

If you had to guess which two lines would score the first goals of the game, I feel like picking the first and third would have been the top choices picked

The Penguins had a chance to their add to their totals after Caps forward Nick Backstrom took a high sticking penalty. Guentzel found himself with two Grade-A chances off a cross-crease feed from Crosby, but Vanecek’s pads stood tall on Jake’s initial shot and the rebound.

Taking two early penalties against the lethal Caps power play typically doesn’t lead to success, but the Pens fought back to take the lead after one. That’s the resilience we continue to see from the Pens this season.

Second Period – 4-3, Pens

Matheson has been a brand new player since I wrote an article about him, earlier this week. I don’t want to take all the credit, but….

After his assist on the first goal, he made a beautiful diving defensive play on Caps forward Garnet Hathaway to stymie a potential breakaway chance. If this kind of play keeps up… phew, man, that’ll be a massive plus.

However, after a strong first period from Jarry, he made a pretty bad judgement play to help spur the Caps’ second goal of the game. Jarry cleared a shot to the corner, kind of stumbled a bit after doing so, and he when the puck worked back in front of the net, he pushed it right to Caps forward Jakob Vrana. Vrana backhanded the puck past Jarry to even things up at two. Not the best effort from Jarry.

With Dowd sent to the box not long after the goal, the Pens had the chance to use the power play to create some chances.

And the Penguins actually scored a power play goal! Crosby won a face off back to Guenztel, who passed it back to Letang near the blue line. Letang found a creeping Rust, who snuck in behind the Caps defense, and Rust finished it past a slow reacting Vanecek. 3-2, Pens.

Almost as if on cue, the Penguins took their once-per-game delay of game penalty, with Letang as the culprit this time around. Four. Straight. Games. C’mon, fellas.

How many times do they need to be taught this lesson?

Fresh off a penalty kill, a power play goal AND a penalty kill in the same period, crazy, I know, Guentzel received the puck into the zone off a pass from Rust. Jake fired a pass on net, which bounced off Caps defenseman Zdeno Chara, and fell to Jake again. He snapped a shot past Vanecek for a goal—the Pens’ first two goal lead of the season, no less. In game 13.

There was a tough look for Sid, who tripped Dowd later in the period. No ill intent, but that wasn’t a good play for Crosby there.

The second period was going too well for the Penguins, so the hockey gods decided to make things a bit more even. Ovechkin fed a pass toward a streaking Backstrom, who was covered by Malkin. Malkin had the inside position, but Backstrom lifted his stick and lofted a backhander by Jarry. Malkin has got to clear that puck, and it’s a tough play for Jarry, but he’s got to come out and challenge a weak backhander.

Team defense and goaltending continue to be the Penguins’ Achilles heels this season.

Third Period – 6-3, Pens

The Capitals regained a bit of pep in their step as the third period began, perhaps shaking off a bit of rust after the lengthy time off from game play.

Ceci, who played his best game of the season, assisted on two goals and made a couple of defensive plays. Midway through the third period, he broke up a shot attempt from Caps forward T.J. Oshie and joined the rush to create a two-on-one chance. Instead of forcing a pass or taking a shot, Ceci attemtpred to play the puck off Vanecek’s pads. It didn’t work, but I like the try from Ceci.

The Caps outskated the Pens throughout much of the third period, but neither team could really generate many solid chances, and neither had a chance on the power play.

The first line continued to generate the best scoring chances, Jarry did make some solid saves to keep the game at 4-3 and the Pens thwarted the two odd man chances for the Caps late in the period.

It was a really solid game from the Penguins, with nice resillency in the initial comeback and weathering the storm a bit in the third period.

If you didn’t get enough Pens-Caps action, they’ll be back in action again on Tuesday night.