- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Before the Capitals’ 3-2 loss Wednesday night, an optimistic Barry Trotz said he thinks his team is “inching closer” each year to solving the postseason riddle of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But before the Capitals can think of beating the Penguins in the postseason, they probably need to find a way to win in the regular season.

The Stanley Cup champions took advantage of Washington’s carelessness in committing penalties on their way to another win on the Capitals’ home ice Wednesday, the first meeting between the teams this season. Pittsburgh scored three power play goals on six chances.

“The first four games, I said to the guys, ‘Let’s be real, we’ve got to get our penalties down,’” Trotz said. “Our 5-on-5, we’re outscoring teams. So that’s a real good process for us. We’re getting good goaltending. But today they got three power play goals.”

Entering Wednesday, Washington (2-1-1) had 14 penalties in three games. The frequency was concerning, though the Capitals’ penalty kill was among the top five in the NHL — fighting off nearly 93 percent of all chances.

Against a quality team, though, results were different. The Penguins routinely used the extra attacker to crowd the net, blocking goaltender Braden Holtby’s sight and deflecting in goals.

The latter is how the Penguins first got on the board.

In the first period, Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang scored on a rebound with a wide open net as Holtby was turned in the opposite direction, blocking multiple shot attempts.

Dorward Patric Hornqvist added another at 8:20 into the second period, again crowding Holtby.

“The goals [were] in tight that I would like to play better, especially the first two to give myself a better chance,” Holtby said. “They do a good job of screening up top and screen passes to the net, trying to create stuff. That’s something we’ll have to work on.”

Name a type of penalty and there’s a good chance the Capitals committed it.

Washington were called for two tripping penalties, slashing, holding, interference and even a rare delay of game. In the first period, Holtby rushed far past the net, almost to the blue line, to stop a puck with his glove.

In the off-season, the NHL announced they were cracking down on slashing and face-off violations. During the preseason, the whole league saw a rise in calls made, but most figured they would ease up in the regular season. For the Capitals, that hasn’t happened.

“It’s probably on us to be a little more disciplined,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

Trotz said, in general, he was pleased with the team’s penalty kill, pointing out the Penguins often scored late in the power play. He said he would look at the tape to see if the Penguins were exploiting an area around the net.

Still, Wednesday’s game was winnable for Washington.

The Capitals had moments of their own success. Defenseman Christian Djoos, making his NHL debut, scored with 52.9 seconds left in the second period on a well-timed slapshot that sailed past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray to make it 2-1.

After Pittsburgh added another goal on the power play to begin the third, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin scored his eighth goal of season to narrow the gap to 3-2.

Ovechkin’s goal gave Djoos another point after he was credited for the assist.

“First game in NHL, you get a goal and an assist, that wasn’t like my plan when I showed up to the rink,” said Djoos, who saw 13:20 in ice time.

The final six minutes echoed a similar pattern from the playoffs: the Capitals chasing and the Penguins hanging on.

“I thought from our standpoint, [the penalties] didn’t allow our players to get going,” Trotz said. “We started going in the third and maybe getting a little more ice time, but every time we started getting any rhythm, we’d get a penalty.”

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