Boy did they need that. The Capitals scored three goals in the first period and dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday for a massive Metropolitan Division win. The win snaps a two-game losing streak and gives Washington a two-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers atop the division enetring the Flyers game Saturday night against Buffalo.
Here is how the Caps won.
The fourth line
Since Richard Panik was moved down to the fourth line, that line has taken off again as it did earlier in the season. The fourth was Washington's best line on Saturday and got the game off to a great start as Nic Dowd scored less than two minutes in.
Panik charged the offensive zone to retrieve a puck in the corner. He beat out the defense and fed Garnet Hathaway who was behind the net. Hathway then set up a wide-open Nic Dowd in the slot for the one-time goal.
The fourth line tallied again late in the period as Justin Schultz stepped up to try to keep a puck in the offensive zone, but the puck trickled past him and Dowd picked it up to launch a 2-on-1. Rather than trying the cross-ice pass, Dowd instead dropped it to a trailing Nick Jensen. The reactive Penguins lost track of Panik who was with Dowd on the 2-on-1. Jensen passed to him and Panik was able to shoot it past a sprawling Matt Murray.
A huge penalty kill
Limiting penalties was a major point of emphasis in this game after the Caps practically handed the New York Rangers the win on Thursday by their inability to stay out of the box. So, of course, Washington had to kill off 1:25 of a two-man advantage less than halfway into the first.
Brenden Dillon was called for interference and the Caps were soon caught with five men on the ice on the penalty kill and Pittsburgh had a chance to tie the game at 1 and regain momentum. Instead, Washington came up with a huge penalty kill, keeping the Penguins off the board.
Penalties were still a problem for the Caps. They took five of them, but this time the penalty kill was able to bail out the team, keeping Pittsburgh off the board until the third period. The Penguins scored only once on five power plays.
The Caps have been burned with long stretch passes where the team is too far up allowing the opposition to cut them off in the neutral zone. If you do it right though, it can be very effective. Finally, they did it right on Saturday.
As Michal Kempny wheeled around the net with the puck, he kicked it up to T.J. Oshie at the blue line. Oshie turned and hit Jakub Vrana cross-ice in the neutral zone. Backstrom was right next to Vrana giving the Caps a 2-on-1 against Brian Dumoulin. It looked like Dumoulin expected Backstrom to be covered on the backcheck as he did not react at all when Backstrom separated from Vrana and headed for the middle. Vrana found him and Backstrom was alone in front for the goal. That goal snapped a 10-game goal drought for No. 19 and it gave Washington the 2-0 lead.
The second period
Washington scored three goals in the first period and none in the second. Why was the second period so key to the win? Because the Caps also kept the Penguins off the board.
Saturday's game is the third straight in which Washington scored first. In the two games prior, however, the Caps lost both games as they were unable to build off those strong starts.
Jared McCann had the best opportunity of the period as he was awarded a penalty shot for a hook from Jonas Siegenthaler. Holtby gave McCann no room to shoot and denied him with the pad stop.
Obviously the first period was the stronger one for Washington, but not allowing Pittsburgh to score in the second was absolutely crucial to preventing the Penguins from getting back in this game.
Two critical third-period goals
You can pretty much guess what the message in the locker room was for Pittsburgh prior to the third period. Down 3-0 with a power-play to start the third, you knew the Penguins were telling themselves 'we're right back in this if we get a goal.'
Dowd, however, put an end to that with a shorthanded goal just 34 seconds into the final frame. Carl Hagelin broke the puck out as Pittsburgh was caught too deep, giving him a 2-on-1 with Dowd. Hagelin faked a shot and then passed it to Dowd who potted his second goal -- and third point -- of the game.
Give credit to Pittsburgh. The Penguins didn't go away. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored to make it 4-2 and you could see the makings of a huge comeback or an utter collapse coming. Oshie, however, ended those hopes scoring from the slot to make it 5-2.
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