The task of making the playoffs just keeps getting harder and harder for the Washington Capitals.
Tuesday night, after being shut out in Pittsburgh 2-0, the Caps fell three points out of a wildcard spot while all the teams they are trailing (Columbus, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Detroit) still have games in hand.
It was the Capitals fifth loss in six games overall and seventh straight loss to the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury, not tested through the first two periods, was terrific in the third stopping all 20 Caps shots for 32 saves total in the game.
Pittsburgh got its first goal during a non-stop first period that didn’t see a whistle for over 13 minutes. At 16:41, Evgeni Malkin picked Dmitry Orlov’s pocket and dropped a pass to D Matt Niskanen at the right wing point. Niskanen’s blast was tipped by Olli Jokinen, who had eluded Mike Green, and the puck skittered past Jaroslav Halak (32 saves) to put the Pens up 1-0. The Caps were outshot 13-6 in the period, with the Penguins enjoying a 21-12 advantage in total shot attempts.
There was no scoring in the second period. Though the Penguins had plenty of chances — outshooting the Caps 13-6 in the frame — the best chance of the period came from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who corralled a rebound just to Marc-Andre’ Fleury’s right and flipped it toward the right post. Kuznetsov’s shot eluded Fleury’s right foot but hit the post straight on and deflected harmlessly away from the net.
The Penguins added an insurance goal in the third period. Dmitry Orlov tried to keep a puck in the offensive zone, but recently-acquired Lee Stempniak kicked it ahead to a streaking Sidney Crosby, who came in on a two-on-one against Connor Carrick. Crosby poised to pass, but at the last sent a screaming wrist shot past Halak blocker-side.
The Caps were awarded two third period power plays, but could do nothing with them, nor could they succeed with an extra skater for much of the last two minutes of the game.
Washington was a woeful 31.9 percent in the faceoff circle.
The Caps are off until Friday when they host the Vancouver Canucks.