The Washington Capitals went into Pittsburgh 7-0-1 in their last eight games against their bitter rival. They leave adding another one to the win total.
Dennis Wideman took a beautiful saucer pass from Nicklas Backstrom on a power play in overtime and beat Brent Johnson with a wicked wrist shot, delivering a 3-2 win, keeping the Caps season record pristine at 3-0-0 and sending the Penguins — who welcomed back star Evgeni Malkin — to their first loss of the young season.
Tomas Vokoun, who allowed five goals on 28 shots in the 6-5 Monday night shootout win over Carolina, proved up to the task last night, making 39 saves on 41 shots. And the captain, Alex Ovechkin, notched his first goal of the year, tipping in a Mike Green slapshot at the start of the third period.
Overtime was a necessity because the Penguins knotted this game with less than four minutes remaining. James Neal scored his second of the night on a play very similar to the game-winner by the Caps. The goal came on Pittsburgh’s fifth power play of the game. The Caps had none, until Jordan Stall tripped Alex Ovechkin at 2:04 of overtime.
The Capitals were outshot — badly — and outplayed for long stretches of this game, and seemed to be running out of steam at the end of the third, a period where Washington was outshot 18-3 (for the game, Caps were outshot 41-19). But with new life in the overtime, the Caps pulled it together to walk out of Consol Energy Center with the extra point.
The win was marred by a fight involving Jay Beagle and Pens’ enforcer Aaron Asham. Beagle hit Kris Letang up high and was on his way to the box when Asham challenged Beagle to atone for his sin. Beagle did not back down, but the fight didn’t last long, with Asham landing two heavy straight right hands to Beagle’s grill. The defensive forward crumpled to the ice in a pile.
As Asham skated away, he made a sweeping gesture with his arms to signal “it’s over,” then put his hands under his chin as if to say he put Beagle to sleep.
Beagle was slowly assisted by teammates and trainers off the ice and appeared to remove one of his own teeth on the way to the bench, his mouth bloodied and already swelling to grotesque proportion.
While the result of the fight was regrettable, those types of incidents are still part of the hockey landscape. Tough guys are still employed to “protect” their more-skilled teammates. The Caps carry D.J. King on their roster, though coach Bruce Boudreau hardly ever dresses him. But it was shameful the way Asham taunted the fallen Beagle, when he knew very well what mayhem he had done to Beagle’s face.
After the game, Asham owned up to his antics, calling them “classless” and uncalled for, citing the fact he was fired up and trying to get his teammates going. Good on him for taking responsibility.
However, hockey players have long memories, and you can bet that Asham will be prepared to stand up for his actions the next time these two fierce rivals get together on Dec. 1. Not that this rivalry needed any more drama to it.
But the bottom line from this one is pretty simple: the Caps went on the road for the first time this season, into a hostile barn, and walked out with two points despite being outplayed for long stretches, including most of the third period. Their free agent goalie got his legs back underneath of him. And the Captain got on track. There are worse ways to start a season than 3-0-0.
CAPS NOTES: Mike Knuble scored his first goal of the season, backing in against Brent Johnson (16 saves) and jamming the puck inside the post. Karl Alzner assisted on the play, the third straight game he’s registered an assist.
Backstrom assisted on both Ovechkin and Wideman’s goals, giving him four helpers in three games this season.
Malkin assisted on both Pittsburgh goals. James Neal has four goals in four games for the Penguins.