Sloppy defending dooms the Penguins in loss to Capitals

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Linesman James Tobias breaks up Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Brenden Dillon #4 of the Washington Capitals during the first period at Capital One Arena on February 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Linesman James Tobias breaks up Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Brenden Dillon #4 of the Washington Capitals during the first period at Capital One Arena on February 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Despite shutting out the Washington Capitals’ top-ranked power play, the Penguins couldn’t handle the Caps’ offensive onslaught Tuesday night in a 3-1 loss at home

The Capitals’ four-game losing streak has come to an end, as has the Penguins’ five game home winning streak. Unfortunately, both of those feats happened Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

With 42 shots on goal, the Capitals ran roughshod over the Penguins, and the defense couldn’t keep up. Kris Letang, Marcus Pettersson and Mike Matheson couldn’t contain the Caps forwards, allowing strong scoring chances, and Tristan Jarry’s shaky yet inspired 39 save contest was wasted.

Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang looked a step slow against the Capitals, continuing a trend that has lasted since a 6-3 loss in early January against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Despite successfully killing off five penalties, it shouldn’t have needed to happen. The disjointed second period was definitely exacerbated by four sloppy penalties, although no one iced a puck over the boards at least.

Even the Sidney Crosby line was quiet Tuesday night, with the only goal coming from the third line.

It was a rough night, with not many positives. The Penguins’ season-long struggles were only magnified in the loss, with sloppy special teams play, poor defending across the board and a goaltender who made 39 saves but looked unsure of himself all night.

It’s only one game, but the Penguins need to bounceback the next time out.

First Period – 0-0, tie

Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin makes you hold your breath anytime he enters the offensive zone still. Even if the Russian dynamo is slowing down, that shot is good for 35+ goals a season.

However, he was held without a goal, so that’s always a win.

Teddy Blueger and Caps defenseman Zdeno Chara had a little scuffle midway through the first period, and clearly, Blueger frightened the hulking defender. And in the next sequence, Chara hooked Jake Guentzel as he skated for a puck just outside the crease. Worried about Blueger still?

Chara went to the box, and the Penguins’ power play created some solid chances, gave up some solid chances and ultimately failed to capitalize on their chances.

The Penguins gave up a breakaway chance to Caps forward Garnet Hathaway, whose shot was stifled by Jarry and subsequently bowled him over. The Pens earned a short 5-on-3 chance but were unable to generate any legitimate chances.

On the ensuing man-up, the Penguins created their best chances of the night, with Letang hitting pipe from distance and Crosby ringing iron from down low, but the Pens couldn’t break the deadlock. That Sid shot, for a player of Sid’s caliber, should been buried in the back of the net. If only it had been… the night could have gone much differently.

The ice was tilted toward the Penguins over the first half of the period, but the Capitals skated circles around the Pens in the second half, generating double the scoring chances. Jarry didn’t allow a goal on 15 shots, but he didn’t necessarily look comfortable in net either.

Regardless, the first period ended scoreless.

Second Period – 2-0, Caps

The Caps jumped out to a fast start early in the second period with a noticeable edge, outskating the Penguins through the early portion of the period. Helped, of course, by an early Guenztel penalty.

The Penguins’ penalty kill held up, but the Capitals didn’t have to wait long for another even-strength chance. Pettersson was tied up down below the net by Caps forward Richard Panik, who fed a quick pass to fellow forward Nick Jenson. Jenson found a wide-open Conor Sheary, who wears a Caps’ jersey now, whose shot snuck over Jarry’s arm for the opening marker. Jarry was buried in the crease, but the Sheary was wiiiide open in the slot. 1-0, Caps.

Goaltending and team defense continue to plague this team.

On the faceoff following the goal, Malkin took a bad tripping penalty and gave the Capitals another power-play chance. The Pens killed it off, only to take another penalty not long after off a Pierre-Olivier Joseph high stick.

The Penguins killed that off, too, which included a Brandon Tanev breakaway shut down by Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek, but the Pens were sluggish off three early PKs. Joseph received the puck upon leaving the penalty box, skated into the offensive zone and teed up a breaking Pens forward on a two-on-one, but none other than Ovechkin broke up the play and created a Caps chance going the other way. That tends to happen.

Caps forward T.J. Oshie found the puck on his stick along the wall in the offensive zone, and he slid a backhand pass across the Pens’ zone to Caps forward Jakob Vrana, who roofed one up over Jarry’s glove. Vrana was given a lot of space from Mike Matheson, who should have clung to his man tighter upon entering the zone. 2-0, Caps.

The Capitals outskated the Penguins heavily over the second period, generating numerous chances and shot attempts, but the Pens fought back toward the end of the period. A Matheson rush toward the end of the period, in which Matheson crashed into Vanecek, led to the fourth power play of the period for the Caps.

With so many man-down opportunities in the second period, the Penguins couldn’t really get any sort of play clicking. The Crosby and Malkin lines were forced off the ice, and the Capitals were allowed to just pepper Jarry with shots.

Not exactly the recipe for success going forward, especially with such a shaky goaltender in net.

Third Period – 3-1, Caps

Welp, it didn’t take the Capitals long to continue their offensive onslaught in the third period.

Tanev turned the puck over when attempting to clear, allowing Chara to keep it in the Pens’ offensive zone. Chara got a shot on net, which bounced off Jarry to Panik. Panik and Eller rotated in front of the net, and with Letang lost in front of the net, Panik sent a pass through Letang’s skates for an easy goal from Eller—just his seventh shot on net. 3-0, Caps.

Wow, has this been a masterclass of horrible defensive zone coverage, or what?

The Capitals continued their onslaught, and Joseph took a bad interference penalty on Sheary to give the Caps their fifth power play of the night.

If there’s any consolation about tonight, it’s that the Penguins faced off against the Capitals’ power play five times and shut it down all five times. That should provide a boost to the bottom-dwelling PK unit.

As time wore down in the third period, the Penguins looked to be in danger of being shutout by Vanecek of all people, but John Marino sashayed into the offensive zone with a nice move, dished to Blueger, and cut to the net. Caps defenseman Justin Schultz knocked Marino into Vanecek, and Blueger feed Zach Aston-Reese for an easy goal—his third in three games.

The Penguins pulled Jarry with about two minutes left, and even drew a penalty, but were unable to put a shot past Vanecek over the last two minutes with a 6-on-4 advantage and fell to the Caps for their first home loss of the season.

The Penguins will be back in action Thursday night against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh. With six games left in February, the Pens will play the Isles four times and the Capitals twice more.