Endgame: Penguins 2, Capitals 1
Thursday, 12.1.2011 / 10:34 PM ET / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
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Everything you need to know from the Penguins' 2-1 triumph over Washington:
REVERSING THE TREND
The Capitals have accumulated plenty of regular-season success against Pittsburgh the last three years, compiling a 12-1-2 versus Pittsburgh since 2008 entering Thursday’s game.
But if the Penguins continue to play like they did tonight at the Verizon Center, that trend will reverse itself pretty quick.
Thanks to an absolutely stingy defensive effort and a solid team performance, the Penguins topped their conference rival, 2-1 – and handed new Capitals head coach Dale Hunter his second-straight loss since taking over for Bruce Boudreau on Monday.
“There weren’t a lot of mistakes,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “In the second period we had a couple lapses, but not big ones. All-around, it was a good team effort.”
After a strong first period where Pittsburgh dictated the play and earned a 1-0 lead, the Penguins weren’t as happy with the following frame as the Capitals came out fired up and pushing hard.
“There’s a lot about that team that is scary in terms of the skill that they bring,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I thought today, especially starting in the second, they came at us hard and forechecked hard and were tough to handle that way. They were very aggressive on the forecheck and getting to the offensive zone.”
But the Penguins buckled down in the third and committed themselves to cleaning up their play, which they were able to do successfully.
“I think most of the chances they got in the first and second, it was pucks we gave away or mistakes we made,” forward Craig Adams said, who scored the game’s first goal. “We limited those in the third. We played a pretty good road period in the third. We played in their end a lot. We made plays getting the puck out and D zone coverage was a little better.”
No Kris Letang? No Zbynek Michalek? No problem.
Despite missing two of their top four defensemen due to injury, the Penguins efficiently and effectively shut down a Capitals squad that has one of the deepest, most dangerous forward lineups in the league – especially late in the game when it really counted.
The game was tied 1-1 entering the final frame, with both teams pushing hard for the lead and the Capitals coming off a strong second period. However, Pittsburgh went into total shutdown mode and managed to limit Washington to a mere two shots in that period – and just 17 total on the night.
“I think any time you can keep that team under 20 shots, you’re playing well defensively but you’re also playing with the puck and going the other way,” Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh recalled Simon Despres to replace Alexandre Picard this morning, and the 20-year-old made his NHL debut against Washington. He joined Robert Bortuzzo, playing just his third career NHL game, on the third pairing.
“We needed those guys to play against some good players, and they did,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins didn’t allow the Capitals’ top guns of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom to get going, holding each of those players to just one shot apiece. The credit for that has to go primarily to the six defensemen in the lineup that stepped up to fill the void left by Letang and Michalek – namely the pairing of Paul Martin and Deryk Engelland.
Bylsma was especially pleased with Engelland’s play. Engelland, who normally skates in the third defensive pairing when the team is healthy, logged a season-high 22:46 minutes – many of those being tough minutes against Washington’s top two lines.
He finished the night with four blocked shots and three hits while fulfilling his tall task admirably.
“That was a strong game (from Deryk), both physically and defending real well,” Bylsma said. “He played really well and was real confident with the puck. He needed to do that against the assignment he was getting tonight against their top lines, their top players.”
Defenseman Brooks Orpik also gave kudos to the forwards for fulfilling their defensive responsibilities – explaining that when they limit turnovers like they did tonight, it makes the defense’s job much easier.
“It allows us to have a really good gap on those guys,” he said. “They’re good when you give them turnovers because Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom – they’re a really good transition team. They get that gap to work with and they’re really skilled players with a lot of speed.”
DESPRES’ DANDY DEBUT
Despres, who was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this morning to replace Alexandre Picard, certainly made his NHL debut memorable.
“It was a great first game. I enjoyed it a lot,” Despres said with a big smile following the contest. “It was a whole lot of fun. I’m so happy we won.”
“It’s easy to play here. Everyone talks a lot. It was fun.”
He skated 10:30 minutes and last season’s QMJHL’s Best Defenseman made every one of them count.
Despres was on the ice for both Penguins’ goals – notching his first NHL point with an assist on Chris Kunitz’ winning goal – and his confidence level increased as the game progressed.
Bylsma was happy with Despres’ play.
“I thought he looked confident, looked good and made some good plays,” Bylsma said. “He got the assist in the first period also had another play on a puck retrieval with our goalie that we almost scored a second goal on there in the first. I thought that gave him a lot of confidence as the game went on.”
Despres used his imposing 6-foot-4, 225 pound frame to level three hits, one of them being a crushing check on Capitals forward Marcus Johansson in the second period that allowed him to win a puck battle in the corner and make a precise first pass to Matt Cooke.
“He’s playing against some good players and in some tough situations, and I thought he looked strong and aggressive,” Bylsma said.
FOURTH LINE FIREPOWER
There’s no shortage of big names dotting Pittsburgh and Washington’s rosters – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin and Backstrom, to name a few.
But on Thursday, it was the Penguins’ fourth line of Arron Asham, Richard Park and Adams that came up with a big goal to get things rolling.
Adams scored his second of the season when Asham stepped out from behind the net while surrounded by a sea of red jerseys and sent him a gorgeous cross-crease feed.
Then just seconds after the goal was scored, Asham dropped the gloves with Capitals defenseman John Erskine to get the teams even more fired up than they already were.
“He made a great play,” Adams said. “’Ash’ came out, obviously made a big play around the goal and it was a great fight answering the bell there. He came out focused, ready to go and got us going in the right direction.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo