Capitals

Quick Links

Even after last year’s Stanley Cup run, there’s still ‘something extra’ in the Capitals-Penguins rivalry

Even after last year’s Stanley Cup run, there’s still ‘something extra’ in the Capitals-Penguins rivalry

The Capitals finally changed their playoff narrative last season with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship and they went through their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to win it. Washington’s run last season changed the nature of the Caps-Penguins rivalry, but if you think it made it any less meaningful, you are very much mistaken.

“No, I don't think they process it as a normal game,” Caps head coach Todd Reirden said of his player’s preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Penguins. “I think there's always a little something extra there.”

For many years, Pittsburgh was the major obstacle that stood in the way of Washington’s Stanley Cup dreams. Prior to last season, Alex Ovechkin had never defeated the Penguins in the playoffs despite facing them three times.

It is also not out of the realm of possibility to suggest the Caps could have hoisted another Cup before last season if not for Sidney Crosby and company, as Pittsburgh beat Washington in the playoffs in all five of the team’s Cup runs.

Things changed in 2018, however, as the Caps finally did the unthinkable. For just the second time in 11 postseason meetings, Washington defeated Pittsburgh.

“Being able to finally get through them last year was a huge part of us being able to win the Cup in the end,” Reirden said. “That's one of those watermarks in terms of your team growing and finally getting past something that's been in your way and that's a little bit of the same relief we talk about with winning a Stanley Cup, the relief you feel. It's also a little bit of a relief when we beat them.”

With that obstacle no longer hanging over their heads, it changes the narrative surrounding the rivalry this season. But it doesn't make it any less intense.

This time, the shoe is on the other foot. This time, Washington is the defending champ, and Pittsburgh is the team that’s chasing. The Caps are in first place in the Metropolitan Division, and Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down as the league’s most dominant scorer.

This year, the Caps have set the standard for the Penguins to try to match.

“It's taken on a different look to it now because we're the defending champs now so we know how that feels to be in their shoes and how much you're trying to gauge where your team's at,” Reirden said.

Wednesday’s game no doubt will feel very much like a rivalry in the stands. Amidst the sea of red, there will be pockets of black and gold clad fans with their terrible towels. There will be dueling “Let’s go Penguins” and “Let’s go Caps” chants, and plenty of boos for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But that intensity won’t just be limited to the people off the ice. The players will feel it too.

“It’s 32 games into the year so I wouldn't expect it to be a playoff game,” Reirden said, “But I always think there's a little something extra in those games.”

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

An emotional hangover leaves Capitals flat in 2-1 loss to Wild

An emotional hangover leaves Capitals flat in 2-1 loss to Wild

WASHINGTON – The Capitals were not quite ready to play on Friday against the Minnesota Wild and maybe you can’t blame them. 

Coming off one of the season’s most intense games, a wild 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, one of three games this month against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, Washington didn’t have it for a Wild team it had beaten eight times in a row. That 2-1 defeat offered a lesson they need to carry forward for the final two games of this homestand at Capital One Arena. 

The Capitals (43-24-8, 94 points) couldn’t match the desperation of a Minnesota team that entered the day one point out of a playoff position in the Western Conference. The Wild had to win. Washington would have liked a win. The difference showed on the ice.

“It was obviously a different game that way. I think you could tell they got more desperate as the game went on,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “They don't give up much, they're pretty stingy defensively. After coming off some emotional games lately I think we didn't ramp it up enough for this one, for their situation, how they were playing. It was a close game. It was one that we'd like to play a bit better, but we still did a lot of good things."

They just didn’t do enough of them consistently. The Philadelphia Flyers (80 points) are on the fringe of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and down to their final gasps of breath. Expect a similar effort from them on Sunday afternoon when they visit Capital One Arena. For the Capitals, who lead the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders by three points (93), they need a win on this four-game homestand.

Another loss will suddenly put the Metropolitan Division back in play for multiple teams. The Islanders also have an extra game remaining and know they play in Washington on the final day of the regular season April 6. 

“We can use this and learn from it,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “These teams are desperate for points and we still need to be, too.”

The Capitals weren’t bad; they just didn’t match Minnesota’s level. They were 0-for-3 on the power play, and on two of those attempts, didn’t generate any shots on goal. A couple of mistakes – a Brooks Orpik misplay late in the first period and a Matt Niskanen turnover in the neutral zone – led directly to goals by Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin. Holtby stopped 25 of 27 shots.

But it never felt like enough. Brett Connolly tipped home a shot from Jensen in the second period. But there weren’t enough puck battles won, there weren’t enough pucks sent behind the Minnesota defensemen. It was an average game and that was never going to be enough tonight. The Wild moved into sole possession of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Capitals stayed where they were in the standings.  

“That was a very intense game [against Tampa Bay], three games in four days for us, but that's a game that they deserved to win more than us,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Our execution level and desperation wasn't as high as theirs was and they were able to convert on a couple more of their chances than we did.”

Added captain Alex Ovechkin: "Everybody needs points right now, and it doesn't matter who you play against, it's not going to be an easy one, especially a team who fights for a playoff spot. It's playoff hockey. I don't think we were ready tonight, and the blame's on us."

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Wild tame the Caps as Washington fails to add to their division lead

Wild tame the Caps as Washington fails to add to their division lead

WASHINGTON – After the Caps and Tampa Bay Lightning treated fans to one of the best games of the season, the Minnesota Wild came to Washington and did just enough to walk away with a 2-1 win on Friday.

The Caps were able to fire 58 shots on goal against the Lightning, but managed only 22 against Minnesota, easy pickings for Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. With the loss, Washington was unable to add to its three-point lead atop the Metropolitan Division.

Here are four reasons the Caps lost.

An emotional letdown

Wednesday’s game between the Caps and Tampa Bay Lightning was one of the best, most intense, well-played game of the regular season in the NHL. Friday’s game was…not.

One reason the playoffs are such a grind is because of how much each game takes out of the players emotionally. Washington looked like a team that was still trying to recover from Wednesday’s playoff preview and the emotional letdown led to some pretty rough hockey. Passes were hard to connect, shots were not on target, the puck management was poor, nothing seemed to come easy for the Caps at all.

Perhaps the epitome of the type of night it was for Washington came early in the third period. With the game tied at 1, Tom Wilson came out of the penalty box and was fed an alley-oop breakaway pass by Nicklas Backstrom. The puck, however, never settled for Wilson and when he tried to move to the backhand it simply rolled off his stick. Wilson had a golden opportunity to give Washington the lead, but walked away without so much as a shot on goal.

The power play

The first three power plays of the game all were awarded to Washington, but the Caps failed to convert on any of them. Getting the puck into the zone was a struggle and even when they did get it in, it usually was taken right back after one bad pass and sent in the other direction. The threat of Alex Ovechkin is usually enough to open space on the power play, but that was not the case on Friday. The pass just was not there all night and still Washington tried to force the puck to him at times rather than take advantage of the room that opened up on the right side of the ice.

The Caps managed just as man shots on goal (one) in those three power plays as the Wild’s penalty kill.

Getting caught in the neutral zone

With the puck loose in the neutral zone, Brooks Orpik stepped up to try to get possession. Jordan Greenway swept the puck away from him and then just kept his feet moving to turn the corner around a trailing Tom Wilson. Braden Holtby went down to the butterfly, but Greenway deked around him and buried it into the net. He had plenty of room because Orpik was trailing the play after losing it in the neutral zone and Luke Kunin boxed out Nick Jensen.

Getting caught in the trap

Washington managed to battle back and tie the game at 1 in the second period, but the Wild retook the lead in the third period thanks to a neutral zone trap.

Matt Niskanen had control of the puck and was looking for the breakout. He thought he had Ovechkin open, but Zach Parise stepped up and swept his stick into the passing lane at the last second. Ryan Donato fed it back to Parise and Washington’s breakout was suddenly a 2-on-1 in the other direction.

Neutral zone turnovers are so dangerous because you instantly have gone from offense to defense with no time to get into position. Sure enough, the Wild caught the Caps completely out of position with one defenseman challenging Parise and three red jerseys trailing him meaning there were four Caps players on the right side of the ice and none covering Kunin. Parise found him with the pass and Kunin buried the puck into the top corner for the game-winning goal.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: