WASHINGTON -- It has been a tough run for the Capitals of late, but for one day at least all of that was cast aside in a cathartic 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. The win vaults Washington back into first place in the Metropolitan Division and, for the moment, silences all the doubt that has surrounded Washington over the team's recent skid.
Here is how the Caps won.
Jakub Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead with a tremendous individual effort. On a defensive zone draw, Vrana picked up the puck and turned on the jets. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson wasn't ready for him and Vrana was able to turn the corner to create his own breakaway. Goalie Matt Murray made the initial save, but Pettersson slid in a desperate sweep attempt. He slid into the puck and knocked it into his own net shortly before knocking the net off its moorings.
After a quick review, the play was confirmed as a goal for Washington.
Overall this was one of the better defensive games the Caps have played in a while and it's a good thing because the offense took an extended nap in the first period and into the second.
After Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead, the Caps were outshooting Pittsburgh 5-1. They would then go 16:57 before getting another shot on goal, from 7:27 into the first period to 4:24 into the second.
Through two periods, Washington had only 10 shots on goal. And for anyone thinking, well, they had some chances, they really didn't. In addition to having only 10 shots on goal, they also had only 28 total shot attempts.
Heck, the Caps had more hits (31) through two periods than shot attempts.
That allowed Pittsburgh's offense plenty of opportunity to get back into the game, which it did. A bad misplay by Radko Gudas left Patric Hornqvist wide open in front of the net for Pittsburgh's first goal. Brenden Dillon joined the offensive rush on the next shift and the Caps could not recover on the counter-attack by Sidney Crosby, who was able to get in behind the defense and score just 26 seconds after Hornqvist.
Allowing two goals in 26 seconds is bad, but we did not see nearly as many of the egregious turnovers that have been a trademark for Washington throughout its recent cold spell. Had the team that played Saturday's game in New Jersey or Thursday's game against Montreal showed up to this one, Pittsburgh would have torn it to pieces and this one would have been a blowout before the Caps finally got shot No. 6 on the board.
You also have to give credit to Holtby who put up another strong performance in net as he turned aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced on the day.
The third period response
With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control.
But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. The Capitals even responded after Evgeni Malkin made a dazzling play to tie the game at 3.
The Wilson-Backstrom connection
Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the second period on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.
Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson then did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.
A relentless shift by the third line
Washington restored its lead just over three minutes after Wilson's tying goal as Carl Hagelin scored against his former team.
The third line battled in the offensive zone to keep control of the puck. Richard Panik won it back from Pittsburgh behind the goal line then kicked it out to John Carlson. Carlson fired from the blue line and Hagelin tried to deflect it but missed. His stick was high, however, and likely affected the vision of Murray who missed what should have been an easy glove save. Instead, Lars Eller got to the loose puck and crashed the net. Murray stopped him, but Eller cleared some room for Hagelin who finally poked it past Murray.
Hagelin would add an empty-netter for his second goal of the game.
You have to tip your cap to Malkin for his game-tying goal. He took the puck in the neutral zone, put it between the legs of Carlson, then shot it past Holtby for the fantastic goal.
Instead of boosting the Penguins, however, it was the Caps who responded less than two minutes later. Oshie took the puck from behind the goal line and would not be denied. He fired a backhand shot on Murray, then found the rebound through traffic and managed to chip it in for the game-winner.
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