Close game quickly gets out of hand at home
The Capitals looked at Sunday's rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Penguins as a test. As they adapt to new coach Adam Oates, could they take some of his lessons and make them work against an elite team?
Not yet. Goals 37 seconds apart in the second period by Pittsburgh's Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz gave the Penguins the lead for good in an eventual 6-3 Super Bowl Sunday victory over Washington at Verizon Center.
Mike Green scored for the Caps (2-6-1, five points), and defenseman John Carlson was credited with another when his dump-in into the offensive zone smacked off a stanchion and caromed directly into the net past stunned Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun.
But it wasn't enough. Letang and Kunitz took advantage of Washington's second-period lapse. Kunitz would add a third goal for the hat trick with just eight seconds left in the game and the Penguins on a 5-on-3 power play.
"I think that's something that we haven't really gotten over," Caps forward Joey Crabb said. "When the chips aren't quite falling our way, we kind of -- I don't want to say give up -- but we change our game plan a tiny bit. We just got to stick to what we're doing. That was a big turning point."
Pittsburgh opened the scoring at 3:37 of the first period when a Paul Martin point shot snuck past Washington goalie Braden Holtby. But the Caps answered 88 seconds later after a monster shift by Green. He pushed the puck up the left boards hounded by Penguins the entire way and eventually dumped it into the offensive zone, took a big hit that dropped him to the ice and immediately jumped to his skates.
Meanwhile, teammate Alex Ovechkin smashed into a couple of Pittsburgh players in the opposite corner. That left the puck free for center Mike Ribeiro, who found teammate Wojtek Wolski in the slot. By then Green had occupied an opening left of Vokoun and crushed a deft pass past him.
Penguins forward Matt Cooke deflected home a shot at 8:20 of the first period. Then the Caps caught a break when Carlson's shot deflected in for the most bizarre goal of the season at 4:03 of the second. They even had a chance to take the lead with a power play 12 seconds into the next shift. But the Penguins killed that penalty and went ahead for good with the Letang and Kunitz goals.
"A lot of times when you don't create much on your power play, you just lose momentum, and then other teams come back and score," Ribeiro said. "And the line who goes out there after us has to realize, too, that you cannot get [scored on] after a so-so power play. Just keep us in the game."
Holtby struggled as Pittsburgh scored five goals on the first 14 shots he faced. Oates admitted he thought about pulling Holtby to spark his team. Vokoun, playing against his former team, stopped 21 of 24 shots to earn the win.