In the first of what should be four entertaining and important games this season between the two Eastern Conference rivals, the Capitals and Penguins showed again that no matter the setting or the circumstances, they don't like each other very much.
At least not nearly as much as the Capitals enjoy appearing in Pittsburgh, where they have won eight in a row – and in three different venues: Mellon Arena, Heinz Field and Consol Energy Center.
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While the Capitals improved to 3-0-0 -- all three wins have come after regulation -- the Penguins (3-1-1) lost in regulation for the first time this season despite a strong game by Evgeni Malkin, who came out flying in spite of right knee soreness that kept him out of the last two games. Malkin assisted on both Pittsburgh goals.
The night began with Ovechkin and Malkin, Russian Olympic teammates in 2010, patting each other on the shoulder following a ceremonial opening faceoff. Both teams wore jersey patches honoring Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the KHL team from Russia that was wiped out in a plane crash last month. The jerseys will be auctioned, with proceeds going to the players' families.
"I think it's America showing respect, respecting the memories of the guys who were in the plane crash and for the Russians," Ovechkin said. "It means a lot; it's nice of both organizations and the NHL to do that."
But the game quickly became rough and tumble, just like nearly every Capitals-Penguins game. In the third period, a punch by the Penguins' Arron Asham leveled the Capitals' Jay Beagle, who briefly lay on the ice, blood pouring out of his mouth, before he could skate off the ice.
No, these teams don't like each other much. And it's only mid-October, with six months of the season and some more chippy moments between the two teams certain to follow.
The Penguins certainly don't like losing so often to the Capitals, who are 12-1-2 against Pittsburgh since 2008 and haven't lost in Pittsburgh since Dec. 27, 2007. The Capitals don't like it that, in the lone playoff series between them during the Ovechkin-Malkin-Sidney Crosby era, the Penguins won Game 7 in Washington in 2009.
"They're entertaining games, and usually they're a little bit more intense than they are tonight," Knuble said.
Crosby, who is mending from a concussion, didn't play but received good news earlier in the day when he was cleared for full contact in practice – a necessary step before he can resume playing in games. Knuble expects to see Crosby when the teams meet again Dec. 1 in Washington.
"For our new players, you try to tell them these are pretty good hockey games, they're really good hockey games, they're the ones on the schedule that are fun to play," Knuble said. "I hope they enjoy playing them -- you see a little bit of everything in the games and now the stars are getting back in there. Everybody will be on board for the next one."
"It's just the way it's worked out. It's funny because (Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and I are from the same area (of Michigan) and we've known each other a long time," Knuble said. "I bet it just irritates him a little bit. I don't know why it's worked out that way, why you get hot against certain teams."
While Ovechkin was held to one goal on 22 shots against the Penguins a season ago, he has 19 goals and 14 assists in 25 career games vs. them. Thursday's goal was his first in Washington's three games this season. However, Ovi didn't even get to celebrate his go-ahead goal in the third period because a video review was required to determine that he deflected Alexander Semin's shot from the left point under the crossbar.
"I tipped it and it hit the post so I didn't know if it went in, so my celebration was not that good," he said. "But I'm glad I scored it."
Especially against these guys.