Pens vs. Capitals: 18 Feb 2007

10 points between 4th and 11th in the East. 2 points between 1st and 3rd in the Southeast. Detroit and Nashville are neck-and-neck in the Central. 3 points between 1st and 3rd in the Northwest. Pittsburgh has pulled within 5 of New Jersey in the Atlantic. All you sports columnists who think it's cool to ignore the NHL until playoff time, get off your asses. The playoffs have already started!

Even teams that are a long way from the 8th seed, like Washington, are playing with playoff intensity, and we haven't even reached the trading deadline. Yesterday afternoon, the Pens and Caps played an aggressive, tight-checking game from beginning to end.

With a 1:00pm matinée at the Islanders today, Coach Therrien decided that yesterday would be his best opportunity to give Marc-Andre Fleury a rest, so Jocelyn Thibault got the nod.

It didn't take long for the Pens' power play to take advantage. Mark Recchi redirected a Sergei Gonchar slapshot from the center point to make it a 1-0 game after six minutes. Richard Zednik came back a minute later, getting the last touch on a pinball from above the left circle. Tied at 1's. The rest of the first was a lot of good defense, a nice series of saves by Thibault, and Alexander Ovechkin and Erik Christensen escalating the chippiness for a moment.

The Zamboni doors almost benefited the Pens in the second, when a dump-in clanked off the glass behind Brent Johnson, skipped off the crossbar, hit Johnson's shoulder pads, and jumped straight up in the air, where Johnson was able to glove it.

It looked like a stalemate until 18:44, when Michel Ouellet dumped a pass behind the net, where Evgeni Malkin picked it up, skated to the right circle, passed it back to Gonchar at the point. Gonchar quickly looked the scene over, couldn't find a shooting lane, and passed it back to Malkin, who was in that narrow strip of ice between the bottom of the face-off circle and the goal line. The odds of finding the inside of the net from such a sharp angle are slim to none. Never tell Evgeni Malkin the odds. Geno one-timed the pass, and Johnson totally mis-read the play, dropping into the butterfly on a rising shot when he should have stayed up and hugged the post. Over the shoulder, just inside the top left corner, nothing but net. 2-1 Pens. Malkin hijacks the Crosby vs. Ovechkin hype plane, and forces it to land in Havana.

The Pens got a much-needed insurance goal early in the third, on a wrist shot by Maxime Talbot. It looked like the Caps were going to collect when Alexander Semin was awarded a penalty shot. Thibault whiffed on an attempted poke-check, and was hung out to dry, but Semin's wrister clanked harmlessly off the crossbar. Semin got a small measure of revenge, rebounding a Matt Pettinger shot with the goalie pulled, but it was too little, too late.

Final Score: Penguins 3, Capitals 2, Ovie's score line: 0G, 0A, 0 PIM, -1.

Three Stars:

  1. Evgeni Malkin
  2. Sergei Gonchar
  3. Alexander Semin

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