Game Grades: Game 22 @ Washington
The Penguins, for the third consecutive week, were featured in the Wednesday Night Rivalry game. This time it was against a team that is a divisional opponent for the first time since the 1992-1993 season, the last for the Patrick Division, the Washington Capitals. And while the status of the rivalry has been in various states of legitimacy and intensity, there was one major factor underlining this first of four meetings: first place in the Metropolitan Division. Hereâ€™s how it went down.
EVEN-STRENGTH OFFENSE: A
They got the first two goals of the game in the first, and got them fairly early. Getting a goal early in the game lets you play your system more easily and puts the pressure on your opponent. They peppered Braden Holtby all night, getting 34 shots on net at even strength. They never let up at any point in time, adding a fourth goal and keeping the puck away from their own net to preserve the shutout.
EVEN-STRENGTH DEFENSE: A
At even strength, the Pens held the Capitals to only 10 shots on goal. That is a staggering number. They held a team that was in a battle for the top of the division to only 10 shots at even strength. Itâ€™s hard to really express how excellent of an effort the defense had tonight. They insulated well, but the biggest key to their success was clearing the puck from the front of the net and quick exits from the zone. Their defensive strategy was executed to perfection.
POWER PLAY: A
The power play was good tonight, and they found the back of the net at the end of the 2nd period, which was a backbreaker for Washington. This was evidenced by the four shots the Capitals mustered in the final 20 minutes of the game.
PENALTY KILL: A
The first kill was a little shaky at first, but it settled down and didnâ€™t give the Capitalsâ€™ 2nd ranked power play to get anything going. They took away their passing lanes and gave them virtually no good looks at the net.
Marc-Andre Fleury only faced 18 total shots. The toughest ones came during Washingtonâ€™s first power play and their first penalty kill in the 2nd period. He was not called upon to make many saves, and only save a few difficult shots. But he saved all 18 that he faced, and got a little help from a post early in the game. Once again, MAF was in control in his crease and didnâ€™t give the Capitals second chances.
FINAL GRADE: A
This game was as one-sided as any the Pens have played. They dominated, plain and simple. This was a big game, and they not only showed up, but made a real statement.
AND FOR THE RESTâ€¦
PAUL MARTIN: A
He got the scoring started and had an assist, but his defensive play tonight was some of his best work of the season. He played extremely well against the top line of the Capitals. He is that calming presence on the blue line for this team most nights, and tonight may have been the best example of this.
JAMES NEAL: A
He scored a beauty, but had something of a quiet game otherwise. However, he generated a number of chances and played a good, simple game. Tonight was really the first game where he looked fully up to speed. If he and Evgeni Malkin get it going, the league needs to be on alert.
SIDNEY CROSBY: A
Heâ€™s back in sole possession of the scoring lead, and helped give his team some distance in the standings. He gets up for these kinds of games, both in terms of the magnitude of the game and the opponent. He made great play after great play tonight, and his power play goal was one only someone like Crosby could score. Heâ€™s starting to feel it again.
ALEX OVECHKIN: E
He was incredibly visible on the first Washington power play. And that was truly the last you saw of him in any significant situation for the rest of the game. This was a big game, the biggest of the year thus far, and Ovechkin shrank.
BRADEN HOLTBY: E
He made 36 saves tonight, but the goals he gave up were all tough ones to give up. The first goal of the game, scored by Paul Martin, was a routine wrister that never should have gone in. The Caps played poorly as a team and he faced 40 shots, but he did little help his team win.
THE CAPITALSâ€™ DEFENSE: E
They looked overmatched all night. The Pens had entire shifts in the Washington zone regularly in all three periods. Even when the game was still in reach, they couldnâ€™t make the plays to get the puck out of their own end and allowed Holtby to be riddled with pucks. Watching games like this illustrates why Washington just doesnâ€™t cut it come playoff time.
It was like trick or treat out there. Brooks was crushing guys all â€“ quite a few worth mentioning. His biggest may have been on John Carlson.