Capitals 3, Penguins 2
The lineup the Pittsburgh Penguins used Sunday won't resemble the one they'll put out when the games count. But that didn't diminish the Washington Capitals' collective feeling of accomplishment after securing the team's first victory in five preseason games, 3-2, at Giant Center.
"Anytime you come to play, you want to win," Capitals Captain Jeff Halpern said. "It's nice to walk away with a win. It's definitely not the same Pittsburgh Penguins we'll face in the regular season, but we did some good things that hopefully we can build off of."
Pittsburgh fielded a mostly minor league lineup that did not include Sidney Crosby, the team's No. 1 overall pick in June. Also absent from the Penguins' roster were star veterans Mario Lemieux, Sergei Gonchar, John LeClair, Mark Recchi and Ziggy Palffy.
But the Penguins did have goaltender Marc Andre Fleury -- and he was almost enough. Fleury finished with 37 saves in front of 6,216 fans, but the No. 1 overall pick in 2003 wasn't able to stop Brian Willsie and Halpern from scoring power-play goals 21 seconds apart midway through the third period. Washington had a two-man advantage for both scores.
"Eventually you want to be rewarded for your work, and the only way to do that is through winning a hockey game," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon. "[But] we're happy because we executed our systems and we seem to be coming along with everything."
Alexander Ovechkin's name was absent from the score sheet, but that wasn't an accurate barometer of his performance. The Capitals' prized prospect fired six shots on goal, almost scored twice, threw several solid body checks and showed some attitude after tangling with Pittsburgh's Rico Fata in the third period.
"He just seems to get stronger the more ice he gets," Hanlon said. "He's good. We're taking it in small steps. Tonight was a great night for him."
Ovechkin said: "I play for team. If I score, I'm glad. If we win, I'm glad, too. We lose all games. We must win something. This game we win. We're happy."
Several Capitals who had been injured made their preseason debuts last night, including center Andrew Cassels, Washington's biggest free agent addition, and defensemen Jakub Cutta and Nolan Yonkman. All three performed solidly.
Starting goaltender Olaf Kolzig was sharp again, turning away 19 shots. And if there was any doubt whether defenseman Jamie Heward would make the team, there isn't anymore. Heward assisted on both of Willsie's power-play goals.
The game took an ugly turn in the second period after Pittsburgh tough-guy Andre Roy and Washington prospect Robin Gomez fought for the second time. The two continued to swing at one another after being separated by the linesmen, and Roy directed a throat-slashing gesture in Gomez's direction before being ejected from the game. Roy told reporters after the game that he expected to hear from the commissioner's office.
Despite outshooting the Penguins, 16-7, in the opening period, the Capitals trailed 1-0 at the first intermission. The Penguins' Tomas Surovy redirected a shot past Kolzig only 14 seconds after Washington defenseman Mathieu Biron was penalized for tripping.
Willsie scored a power play goal to tie the game at 1 with about five minutes remaining in the second period. The power play goals by Willsie and Halpern put Washington ahead 3-1.
But Pittsburgh's Michel Ouellet scored on Frederic Cassivi with about five minutes remaining to make the score 3-2 and force Washington to sweat it out. Cassivi replaced Kolzig at the start of the third period.