In their first meeting of the season, the Capitals dominated the rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday in a 6-1 rout. The Penguins had a number of reinforcements returning from COVID protocol for this game including Sidney Crosby and head coach Mike Sullivan, but this one was all Washington. The Caps have now won fourth straight as they prepare to head out west for a lengthy road trip.
Here are some observations from the win.
Martin Fehervary may have played his best game of NHL hockey and it's only partly because of his goal.
Fehervary opened up the scoring with a shorthanded tally he scored on a 2-on-1 with Tom Wilson. Wilson pressured the puck out into the neutral zone and was trailing the play once the Penguins re-entered the offensive zone. Jeff Carter misplayed a pass, Wilson grabbed the loose puck and wheeled around for the breakout. Fehervary took off like a rocket, blowing right past Bryan Rust to start a 2-on-1. Wilson passed it off to Fehervary and it looked like goalie Tristan Jarry may have expected the pass back to Wilson because he looked delayed in his reaction when Fehervary shot it. The shot hit the back of the net to give Washington the 1-0 lead.
It was a great start for Fehervary, but he was also fantastic defensively. Later in the first period, Vitek Vanecek gave up a rebound that looked like easy pickings for the Penguins, but Fehervary was in front of the net, he played the body well and managed to get the puck out of danger before Pittsburgh could even get a shot off. Fehervary was snuffing out plays along the wall, blocking lanes and was skating like a rocket all night. This was a very impressive night for him.
Hathaway is hot
Garnet Hathaway did not record a single point in his first 13 games this season. With a goal and an assist Sunday, he now has three goals and an assist in his last two games.
In the midst of a line change, the Caps pushed the attack. Ovechkin entered the zone and pulled the stick back for a slap shot. Instead, he sent the puck through the seam for Hathaway on the back door for the goal. Hathaway also assisted on Fehervary's shorthanded goal.
Flexing their depth
The Caps have relied a bit too much on Ovechkin and his line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Wilson for offense of late, but the depth showed up in a big way on Sunday. Ovechkin tallied one assist and Kuznetsov and Wilson both scored a goal and an assist, but Fehervary, Hathaway, Daniel Sprong and Conor Sheary scored the team's first four goals giving Washington a sizable lead to work with.
Crosby under wraps
After a stint on the COVID list, Crosby returned for just his second game of the season Sunday and he was kept largely under wraps by the Caps defense. Crosby played 16:57 with only one shot on goal and no points. Frustration was evident in Crosby as, in one moment in the third, he grappled with Fehervary and seemed to throw him into the boards. He also delivered a cross-check to Kuznetsov for which he was penalized. The Caps would go on to score on that penalty.
There's a level of rust that comes without playing for long stretches and conditioning was likely a factor as well as Crosby dealt with COVID symptoms. But, regardless of why, if you can restrict Crosby to the degree Washington did on Sunday, you are most likely going to win the game.
An important lesson for the power play
The Caps were great in this game in almost every way, but the power play remained a struggle early on. Washington failed to score on its first two opportunities in what appeared to be a growing trend.
This tweet was prior to the third period when the Caps were really struggling on the break-in. In the third, Crosby took a cross-checking penalty and the Caps cashed in thanks to a quick pass from Kuznetsov to set up Tom Wilson on the breakaway.
There's a lesson in this. It's the quick break-ins that are effective and hard for a penalty kill to defend against. The slow and plodding drop pass the Caps like to employ, meanwhile, is largely ineffective.