The Washington Capitals managed to keep tabs on Evgeni Malkin for the better part of their matinee against the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday, but the all-star center showed why even one slip up can be damaging.
Malkin’s game winner in overtime came off a fortuitous bounce as James Neal’s shot was tipped by Paul Martin then caromed off the end boards straight to the Penguins’ star pivot. Defenseman Roman Hamrlik tried to chase the puck behind the net, but was never close to obtaining it and by the time Brooks Laich saw Malkin open near the right post it was too late for him to scramble over.
For his part, Michal Neuvirth had pushed off to try to get over to the right post but the split second was all Malkin needed to chip the puck in and send the Capitals home with a 4-3 overtime loss.
“Malkin slips away for a second,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He’s a good player and good players score them kind. To find that puck coming off the backboard and so quick to get it in, Neuvy was coming hard and he would have been there, most guys would have took another second and he would have had it.”
Said Malkin: “I needed to go to the front because [Neal’s] a shooter. He always shoots the puck. Lucky bounce off the boards and shot to an empty net.”
Malkin recorded three points and improved his league-best scoring totals to 59 points (26 goals, 32 assists) overshadowing Alex Ovechkin’s first three-point showing of the year.
“He play great, I think he control the game so well right now,” Ovechkin said. “He knows without Crosby this team is good but not that good. . . . Everything goes well for him right now. For Pittsburgh it’s very good sign — without Crosby he’s a key for their game. Right now Malkin take all the attention and pressure to his shoulders.”
While the Capitals earned an important point, it didn’t seem to dull the sting of the loss. In what was perhaps the most exciting game this season, though, it offered an example of how well Washington can play when fully engaged and that is something the team hopes to build off of.
“We battled back, we hung in and we battled back, I think that’s a big point,” Dennis Wideman said. “There’s been times in the last little while here that we’ve been a little unemotional. I think when we’re going that hard and playing that way we’re a lot better team, a lot harder to handle that’s good. We need to play like that every night.”