When Matt Cooke went to the penalty box in the third period for boarding and received another minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after complaining about the initial call, the stakes were clear. The next four minutes would determine whether the Capitals or Penguins would triumph Tuesday night.
“That power play was going to be the game. I think everybody knew it,” Eric Fehr said. “You got a four-minute power play the last 10 minutes of a game. Obviously we need to score. The puck ends up in our net shortly after we don’t score.”
Washington failed to convert and just nine seconds later Matt Niskanen scored to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead that they carried to a 10th straight win. The Capitals have now lost five of their last seven games.
In that four-minute span the Capitals recorded two shots on goal, one each by Fehr and Alex Ovechkin, and attempted only two other shots. They had poor puck movement and the players didn’t move enough themselves to challenge the Penguins’ penalty kill, which is 15 for 17 over the past six games.
“We had a few good chances,” John Carlson said. “But they were throwing the press on us pretty good. I think Ovi had one in the slot and someone else had one in the slot. I mean, those are – [Troy] Brouwer scores on almost an identical play the day before. Their goalie makes a big stop and their guys are diving around.”
Eleven different players took to the ice for Pittsburgh during the four minute penalty kill, Matt Niskanen, Mark Eaton, Deryk Engelland, Paul Martin, Pascal Dupuis, Tanner Glass, Brandon Sutter, Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik, Simon Despres and Sidney Crosby.
“You try to roll them over, you try to stay short, you try to stay fresh,” Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma said. “And I think we did that. It allowed us to be aggressive in a lot of situations and we did a real good job keeping them to the outside, keeping in our setup.”
When the power play expired, the Capitals had possession but Joel Ward made an ill-advised centering pass to no one that was picked off by Niskanen who started the 3-on-2 rush up ice with Crosby and Cooke.
“The timing was perfect with when Cookie came out of the box. I think their power play was a bit tired, too, there at the end of their shift,” said Crosby, who played 1:10 during that penalty kill. “It worked out pretty well. You could see our kill as it kept going we just seemed to get more and more momentum. The building was pretty loud and I felt that we fed off that. That’s a big play in the game.”
Crosby brought the puck up ice and over the blue line before he passed to Cooke, who found Niskanen trailing. Karl Alzner dove and tried to block the shot but Niskanen managed to put the puck top-shelf past both the defenseman and goaltender Braden Holtby.
“He’s a right-handed shot, he got it kind of in the middle of his body. I squared up to him and then he made a shift to the right side a bit, to his right side,” Holtby said. “I wasn’t quick enough in regaining my position and gave him that slight area to shoot at, and he made a nice shot right above Karl. Karl did a great job trying to get in front of it. Usually when a D-man does that they’re shooting high because they don’t want to get it blocked. He made a nice shot.”