January 27, 2021

Washington Capitals Game 8 Recap: Fleury stifles Caps as Penguins win

 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

After a western Canadian trip that saw a powerhouse of offense, the Washington Capitals failed to topple Marc Andre Fleury and fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1.

Although the first period did not start with a barrage of shots and goals as the previous few games have, the Caps proved they are no one-trick pony with their defense and Braden Holtby showing up tough.

The Penguins were given a golden opportunity with 13:36 in the first when Brooks Orpik received a boarding call. Chandler Stephenson (on a  questionable elbowing) was already in the box. The 5-on-3 chance was for 1:45 and the penalty kill was a hero. The Caps had the puck out of the zone and disrupted the Penguins at every turn.

It may have been all for naught, however, as Karl Alzner was sent off immediately at the end of the kill for another two minutes for high sticking. The usual Verizon Center angry chants ensued.

With great defense, and an even greater performance from Holtby, the Penguins added to their league worst power play — they entered play 2-for-31  (6.5 percent) this season — and remained scoreless.

Just before the 15 minute mark, the lovingly dubbed “TKO” Line (T.J Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin), put the pressure on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fluery with some fantastic snipes. It was all for naught however as Fleury provided some prolific stops and kept the high octane Caps offense in check.

When Orpik was asked about Fleury’s  top notch play, he responded, “It’s tough to get pucks by both of them (Holtby and Fleury). It can be frustrating, but he was my teammate for a long time, it is kind of the norm for him.”

The best early chance of the night came when the Penguins’ Pascal Dupuis sneakily placed a one-timed slap shot into the net past Holtby, but it was quickly waved off for a hand pass.

The first ended scoreless thanks to Fluery and Holtby both stopping the thrust of shots.

Then came a glimpse of relief. With defenseman Kris Letang off for slashing, the Capitals went on their first of  three power plays on the night. Despite a barrage of shots, a number of close calls, and a Jay Beagle shot from his knees, the Caps were held off the scoresheet. A second power play followed soon after with the Penguins’ David Perron sent off for charging Tom Wilson. All for naught, the Caps remained scoreless.

“We weren’t playing fast early, and then  I thought in the second period we played a little bit better, it showed in the shots and the chances. We couldn’t get one past Fleury,” coach Barry Trotz said of the teams performance.

Not to say there was no action on the ice however. With less than thirty seconds remaining in the second period, the match reached its combustion point. All players on ice (including Fleury) appeared to be in a bit of a scrum with punches, shoving, and take downs on both ends. Penalties were handed out for two minutes roughing on each side.

Fleury was proving his worth, and with 27 shots from the Caps after 40 minutes, the score never inched.

Then there was the third period.

Starting at 4-on-4, Evgeny Kusnetsov carried the puck in over the blue line. With Marcus Johnassen on his left, Kuznetsov used the Penguins defenseman to screen his shot and slide the puck right between Fleury’s legs. Caps took a 1-0 lead.

For all of twenty four seconds.

After Kuznetsov gave the home crowd hope, the Penguins’ Beau Bennett (playing in his 100th NHL game) shot the puck, had it ricochet right back to him, and then tapped it in. The goalie battle had quickly turned into an offensive showdown.

At 3:49 into the third, Matt Niskanen lost his man in a coverage breakdown, and with a quick pass from Evgeni Malkin to Phil Kessel at the entrance of the top of the crease, the puck was pinched past Holtby. All of a sudden the Caps were down 2-1.

A third power play opportunity for the Caps bloomed at 10:15 of the third. Brooks Laich drew the interference call, giving the Caps a great opportunity to tie it up. A beautiful centering pass placed Niskanen at the blue line with a open lane, but a broken stick on his shot snuffed the best opportunity in the two minutes.

Confusion hit the Caps bench when it was time to pull their goalie. Holtby seemed to wait too long for Trotz’s wave and by the time he started to leave the ice the Penguins tossed a puck down the ice and it slid in for the empty netter.

“Yeah I think that we got a little crossed up. It was the first time we had been in that situation this year,” Holtby said when asked about the confusion.

Despite an onslaught of shots by the Caps with 33 shots to the Penguins 25, Fleury proved himself too much for the Caps to get it by.

NEXT GAME: Caps play at the Verizon Center on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m.

Caps Notes:

  • John Carlson is one point shy of 200 NHL Career points. This would make him the ninth defenseman in franchise history to hit that mark.
  • Nicklas Backstrom is one goal shy of reaching 13th place for on the Caps franchise goal list.
  • Jason Chimera is four assists short of reaching 100 Capitals assists.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov extended his point streak to four games, matching his career long.
  • The Caps went zero for three on the power play.
About Jacqueline Martin

Jacqueline Martin is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page. She grew up in Northern Virginia and has developed a deep love for all things sports and all things DC. While attending American University she worked for the athletics department and followed the Men’s NCAA Basketball team to their first ever apperance in the tourney. She is an aspiring journalist whose ideal day job is running a large DC sports bar that favored only DC teams. If she is not in her office you may find her at Kettler attempting to skate backwards. You can follow her on twitter @JacqueMMartin.

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