PITTSBURGH — The shift that led to the Penguins’ first goal Tuesday night — the only goal they would need in the 2-0 win — might as well have been a summary of the Washington Capitals’ first period.
Defenseman Dmitry Orlov, with the puck on his stick and a chance to clear the defensive zone, instead sent the puck straight to Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. The star center kept the possession alive by setting up a chance for Taylor Pyatt, who didn’t get a shot off but managed to battle with Nicklas Backstrom enough to prevent him from getting full force behind the puck as he poked it toward the blue line.
Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi settled the puck at the point and chipped it back in, where it bounced back toward Orlov. But once again, the young defenseman sent the puck to Malkin when he took another swing to try and clear.
This time Malkin outmaneuvered Orlov along the boards and sent the puck to defenseman Matt Niskanen, who jumped up on the play for a one-timer. At the same time, Jussi Jokinen raced in off the bench and straight toward the net as all three Capitals in the slot — Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Backstrom — failed to pick him up. With no protest from the Capitals, Jokinen was able to tip Niskanen’s shot between Jaroslav Halak’s legs for a 1-0 lead after Pittsburgh had dominated the first period.
All told the Capitals squandered three chances to escape their own end on that shift and by the end of it both Orlov and Green had been on the ice for 61 seconds.
“We had the puck and we gave it away,” Coach Adam Oates said. “That was a product of the period, puck with possession with no one really on you and we didn’t put it in the right spot.
“We’ve got it on our forehand with no one on us and I know you’re tired but you’re tired because you gave it away,” Oates said. “We’ve all got to help each other but at the end of the day too many guys gave the puck away and allowed them and easy period.”
That shift was the standard in the opening 20 minutes, Washington in its own zone unable to take the pressure off even when opportunities were there. Not only did it tire the team out but it forced them to try and play catch-up against the top-ranked team in the East.