WASHINGTON — He only allowed three goals, but Darcy Kuemper’s performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night was one to forget.
Kuemper, 32, has been one of the Capitals’ best players through the first almost-month of the season, entering the game with .919 save percentage and 2.42 goals against average. With the team’s skaters picking up a new injury or two every week, he’s kept the Capitals (6-7-2) afloat in the Metropolitan Division with some spectacular play in net.
He didn’t look like the same goalie in the second period Wednesday, allowing the Penguins to score three straight times in an eventual 4-1 victory for Pittsburgh. The Penguins scored two of their goals on low-danger chances and the third was on a Capitals power play.
“I don't like letting in goals like that, and I'm not used to letting in goals like that,” Kuemper said after the game. “So that's frustrating. Especially in a loss, I hate to lose, so tonight was a bad night.”
Both of the first two goals scored against Kuemper went between his legs. The first one snuck behind his pad on a wide shot from the corner and crossed the goal line when he tried to trap it with his knees. Instead, he kicked the puck in.
On the second goal, Penguins winger Brock McGinn found an opening and fired a shot that Kuemper slowed down, but it still had enough momentum to crawl its way into the net.
“There were some bounces,” head coach Peter Laviolette said in his postgame press conference. “Puck got whipped in there. He’d probably like another crack at them but he’s been, you’re right, he’s been there for us all year and tonight there were some tough bounces.”
Only a few minutes after the second goal, the Penguins put the exclamation point on their dominant period when defenseman Jeff Petry scored on a shot from the point. There were three players blocking Kuemper’s view of the puck and he never saw it, whiffing with his glove.
For as good as Kuemper has been this season, he has had most of his off nights at home. Including his start Wednesday, the goaltender has posted a save percentage below .900 in five of his six starts at Capital One Arena. In all five of his road starts, Kuemper has gone .920 or better including a shutout against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 29.
Should the Capitals turn to him in their next game, he’ll once again be suiting up in D.C. and this time to face the Tampa Bay Lightning (7-5-1) on Friday night. Whether he faces them Friday or waits until they head to Tampa for the second leg of a home-and-home series Sunday, Kuemper will look to put his tough night against Pittsburgh behind him and revert back to the player who looked like one of the best goaltenders in the sport over his first 10 starts.