Penguins lose a tough game against the Caps to split the mini-series

Jake Guentzel #59 and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Jake Guentzel #59 and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Despite an admirable two-goal comeback, a couple of broken sticks doomed the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals Thursday night

With third period goals from Brandon Tanev and Jake Guentzel to even the score after falling behind 2-0, the Penguins seemed primed for yet another late-game comeback against the Capitals.

Then Kris Letang’s stick broke on a late third period penalty kill, no one passed him their stick, and Capitals forward Tom Wilson scored an easy deflection goal past Letang and Tristan Jarry to push the score to 3-2.

Flash forward a few minutes, with less than a few minutes remaining in the game, the Penguins pulled Jarry and held the extra man advantage. Evgeni Malkin passed a puck to Letang along the blue line, Letang’s stick shattered again, and the Capitals scored an empty netter off of it. Courtesy of former Penguin Carl Hagelin no less.

No way, no how were those goals on Letang. It would be easy to blame him for both, and people will, but it was seriously unfortunate puck luck.

A Penguins forward on the penalty kill should have passed his stick to Letang at some point on the PK, and on the broken stick with the empty net, well, that was just the hockey gods favoring the Capitals.

The Capitals simply outplayed the Penguins Thursday night, and it’s as simple as that. The Pens aren’t going to win every game, and Thursday was an example of that. Jarry played well, the Pens played well at times, but the Capitals had the puck luck and better overall play.

After six games through the first two months, the Penguins won’t see the Capitals until April now.

First Period – 1-0, Caps

When someone tells you that Capitals forward Tom Wilson has changed, don’t believe them.

Wilson absolutely leveled Mark Jankowski in the neutral zone, three or four seconds after Jankowski swatted the puck back into the Penguins’ offensive zone. The puck was 30 feet down the ice when Wilson slammed into Jankowski, knocking him out of the remainder of the first period. (He would return for the second period)

On a play that was literally designed for a major penalty, the referees gave Wilson a minor call. … OK, well, the Pens would at least capitalize on the dirty hit, right?

No. No, they would not. The Penguins’ anemic power play continued to put no pucks on the net, instead choosing to pass the puck around the ice looking for the perfect play. I guess that perfect never came because no one would shoot the puck.

The Penguins’ first power play chance ended in the same fashion, with a lack of shots and no A+ chances. The Pens just do not like to shoot the puck. It’s… frustrating, to say the least.

The Capitals, on the other hand, used a strong passing play to find Caps forward Nick Backstrom wide open in front of Jarry. Backstrom one-timed a knuckling puck up and over Jarry, who couldn’t slide across the crease quick enough. 1-0, Caps.

A tough first period for the Penguins ended in a one goal deficit.

Second Period – 1-0, Caps

And just like that, a hero was born in Pittsburgh.

After Wilson’s dirty hit on Jankowski, I think it’s safe to say Penguins fans would have given quite a bit to see a strong hit delivered against Wilson. Cody Ceci sent Wilson to the ice with a strong, clean hit. It was glorious to see.

However, the rest of the second period went by without much fun.

The Penguins were awarded a couple of power play chances, and like their chances in the first period, they just did not seem to want to shoot the puck. With so much offensive talent on the ice, including multiple 40 goal scorers, it’s asinine. Why can the Pens not shoot the puck?

The only advantage was that the Penguins’ penalty kill was strong on the other side of the ice, killing off a Capitals’ power play. The best chance on the Caps’ power play came on a short-handed Pens’ chance, which was robbed by Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek.

Third Period – 5-2, Caps

What. A. Letdown.

An early goal from Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, a spectacular individual effort to bust through Mike Matheson and sneak a puck under Jarry’s outstretched arm, pushed the Penguins’ deficit to two. It was a bad play from Jarry but a particularly bad play from Matheson.

However, the Penguins channeled their early season comebacks and scored two quick goals, three minutes apart, to tie the game at two.

On the penalty kill just after the Oshie goal, Brandon Tanev picked up the puck in the neutral zone, skated around the Capitals defenders and wristed a goal through Vanecek’s five-hole. It was much needed, and it showed that the Pens’ penalty kill is somehow more effective than the power play. 2-1, Caps still.

Three minutes, Letang shot a puck in along the board, tipped along by Sidney Crosby, behind the Capitals’ net. Guentzel picked the puck behind the net, winning a puck battle with Caps defenseman Brendan Dillon, and slithered out in front of the net and wristed a puck through Vanecek’s five-hole to even the game up.

At 2-2 with time bleeding away in the third, Drew O’Connor picked up a hooking penalty, and it was all downhill from there.

Letang broke his stick, he didn’t receive a stick from any of the forwards on the ice and was helpless in front of the net for Wilson’s deflected goal. 3-2, Caps. Letang’s stick shattered again during the empty net chance, and Hagelin scored during the ensuing madness. 4-2, Caps.

To “cap” it off, Capitals forward Lars Eller scored another empty netter for good measure to ice the game off.

A frustrating, unlucky game ended with the Capitals grinding out a 5-2 win, and the Penguins can only brush it off and move on. There was some encouraging play, from Jarry especially, but the Caos were simply the better team.

Next. Check out some news on the Penguins' recently recalled forward!. dark

The Penguins will be back in action against the New York Islanders, yet again, Saturday night in New York. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on AT&T SportsNet for local viewers and ESPN+ for everyone else.