It is only November and there are far too many games left in the NHL season to draw conclusions from a single contest.
But the Capitals, after shaking off a rough start to the year, found a worthy measuring stick when the Pittsburgh Penguins visited Verizon Center on Wednesday night.
It didn’t turn out as planned. The Penguins scored twice in the first period and a Sidney Crosby power-play goal late in the second put the game out of reach in a 4-0 Pittsburgh victory.
The win kept the Penguins (14-8, 28 points) on top in the Metropolitan Division and showed the Caps (12-9-1, 25 points) that, no matter their stellar record over the previous 15 games, there are still areas of their game that need improvement.
Winger Brooks Laich said as much after practice on Tuesday. In a way it provided comfort – the Caps are in a relatively good position in what has been a mediocre division so far and yet aren’t entirely happy with their play. They won’t have much practice time to work out the kinks, either, this week with back-to-back games at home against Montreal and on the road at Toronto on Friday and Saturday.
The Penguins dominated the first period, scoring twice to take an early 2-0 lead. Defenseman Paul Martin struck first at 6:38 after a faceoff win. Holtby was screened on the play and lost sight of a high shot that nestled in the top right corner of the net. There was no deflection on the play.
Just 5:19 later the Penguins went up by two when winger Beau Bennett record his first goal of the season. That one came off a rush up the right wing. It looked like Holtby had a solid angle to stop a wrist shot, but the puck slid past him. Washington was outshot 17-6 in the first period despite having three full power plays and 1:25 of a fourth to end the period. The Penguins failed to score on their lone power-play attempt and took a penalty in the midst of it to kill the advantage early.
Pittsburgh put the game away with just 29 seconds left in the second period. Some pretty passing from Evgeni Malkin to Chris Kunitz to James Neal to Crosby at the left faceoff circle led to the clincher. Crosby smashed a shot past Holtby from a bad angle to make it 3-0 Penguins.
James Neal added insult to injury with his wrist shot from the left side midway through the third period. That made it 4-0 and at that time Pittsburgh was leading in shots 36-16. Washington just never had the puck enough to remotely scare the Penguins. Life was pretty easy for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who needed to make just 18 saves for his 25th career shutout. Braden Holtby faced 40 shots against in goal for the Caps.