After playing four games against opponents who hardly could be considered bitter foes, the Penguins and their faithful were treated to their first honest-to-goodness rivalry game of the young season against the Washington Capitals. The fact that the Pens hadn’t beaten the Caps on home ice since December 27, 2007 only served to stoke the playoff-style atmosphere to a fever pitch.
To no one’s surprise, the contest lived up to the pre-game hype. The game featured a little bit of everything: a welcome return to action by Evgeni Malkin; a ceremonial face-off between Geno and arch-nemesis Alex Ovechkin to honor the 28 players from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl who perished in a plane crash; a stunning kayo by Arron (Crash ‘Em) Asham over Caps’ scrapper Jay Beagle; and a dramatic finish in overtime. Unfortunately, it was the red-and-white clad Capitals who earned the two points.
The home team wasted little time in getting the jump on Washington. Shaking off the soreness in his surgically repaired right knee that forced him to miss two games, Malkin streaked up the ice on his first shift and dished a cross-ice pass to James Neal, who was stationed along the right sideboards. Neal made no mistake and whipped the puck past Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun to stake the black and gold to an early lead.
“Geno came back and he was flying tonight,” Neal said.
Washington countered at 1:20 of the second period, when hulking Mike Knuble bulled his way past Deryk Engelland from the left-wing corner with a classic power move and jammed the puck through a tiny opening inside the goal post. The much-despised Ovechkin gave the Caps their first lead of the night just 40 seconds into the final period with his first goal of the season.
The Pens responded like champions, dominating the shot clock by a whopping 18-3 margin over the final 20 minutes. Their efforts were rewarded late in the period. With Troy Brouwer serving a holding penalty, Malkin sailed down the right-wing boards and found Neal in the left face-off circle with a tape-to-tape pass. The big winger drilled the puck through Vokoun’s five-hole for his second tally of the night.
Entering the overtime period the Pens appeared poised to pull off a thrilling victory. But two minutes into the extra frame Jordan Staal handed the Capitals their first power play of the evening when he tripped Ovechkin. Forty seconds later Dennis Wideman gathered in a nifty feed from Nicklas Backstrom and blew the puck past Pens goalie Brent Johnson from the right circle to seal a 3-2 win for the visitors.
“It’s just one of those games that maybe we could have won, (if) we get a bounce here or there,” Johnson said.
The Capitals ruined the Penguins’ perfect penalty killing record (1 power-play goal against in 17 chances) … The Pens were one for five on the power play (6 for 25 on the season) … Neal (two goals) earned the No. 2 star … The Pens out-shot the Caps 41-19 … Johnson (16 saves on 19 shots) started in place of Marc-Andre Fleury, who sat out with an undisclosed illness … Sidney Crosby was given clearance to participate in contact drills … Chris Kunitz signed a two-year contract extension … Mark Letestu, Steve MacIntyre, and Brooks Orpik were scratches.
The Penguins host the Buffalo Sabres at CONSOL Energy Center on Saturday night. The Pens lead the all-time series 71-58-37.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.