Tristan Jarry stopped all 24 shots he faced and Bryan Rust gave him all the support he would need early in the first period, scoring on Pittsburgh's first shot of the game as the Penguins blanked the Capitals 3-0 on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.
Rust added a second goal early in the second period, helping Pittsburgh take over sole possession of the top spot in the East Division standings. The two teams entered the game all even atop the East.
"He's just been so solid," says Pens coach Mike Sullivan of Jarry, who is now 8-1-1 in his last 10 appearances. "He is tracking the puck so well, his rebound control has been terrific. I thought his handles tonight on some of the rims - especially on our penalty kill - he got to some pucks and helped us get 200-foot clears. That's a dimension of his game where he can be so good for us in helping us get out of our end, whether it be 5-on-5 with our breakouts or on penalty kill when teams dump the puck in."
The Penguins scored on their first shot of the night, before the game was even three minutes old. When Washington winger Garnet Hathaway lost his footing along the wall in neutral ice while lunging to keep a puck in at the Pittsburgh line, Rust ended up with a breakaway and a trailer. Rust called his own number, fired and scored at 2:56 of the first to give the Pens a 1-0 lead.
All of the first frame was played at even strength, but the Caps were rarely able to get the puck moving in a northerly direction. Turnovers in neutral ice and spotty execution were usually the culprits, and there didn't seem to be much speed, flow or crispness to Washington's overall game. The Caps' best first-period accomplishment was getting to the intermission down just the one goal, but the Pens doubled their lead in the first half-minute of the second period, doing so just 10 seconds after losing a draw in their own end.
Michael Raffl won the left dot face-off back to Dmitry Orlov at the left point. Orlov walked the puck to the middle and let go of a clapper, but Rust blocked it high in Pittsburgh ice and was able to outrace the Caps defenseman to the resulting loose puck in Washington ice. Rust deked Ilya Samsonov and scored his second unassisted breakaway goal of the game just 26 seconds into the second period.
Pittsburgh expanded its lead just past the midpoint of the middle period, this time doing so seconds after an offensive-zone face-off win following a television timeout.
Jeff Carter won a left dot draw in Washington ice, pulling the puck to defenseman Kris Letang. From the left half-wall, Letang threw the puck toward the Caps' net, and it clanked off Carter's skate and in at 10:43, making it a 3-0 game.
Down three goals at this juncture of the contest, the Caps turned on the jets as much as they were capable of doing on this night, playing their best hockey of the game in the back half of the middle period. But they weren't able to solve Jarry, and weren't able to cut into the Pittsburgh lead at all. Seven of Washington's 23 shots came between the Carter goal and the second intermission, and Jarry made sure the Caps had nothing to feel good about.
"I thought he made some huge saves in the second half of the second period - the last nine minutes of the second period," says Sullivan. "I thought our game got away from us a little bit. Give Washington credit, they pushed hard there and they had momentum in the second half of the second period, and I thought Tristan made some real big saves to keep the score where it was."
The Caps managed only five shots on net in the third period, losing to the Pens for the sixth time in eight games this season (2-2-4).
Video: Postgame | TvR and Backstrom
"Obviously you're going to have games like this," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "But even if they won 3-0, I don't think we played that bad. I think we probably should have scored on our chances there in the second, it would have been a different game. But in the third, I felt like we couldn't get anything going there. They're a good team and they're playing good defensively, so a tough loss."
Washington went through the first 38 games of the season without suffering a shutout, but the Caps have now been blanked three times in their last 13 games.
"They were able to take advantage of a couple of tough things that happened on the ice," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "We hit a rut on a skate and lost a player [on the first goal] and then the blocked shot [on the second goal].
"Those were the big moments and the big opportunities inside the game, and they capitalized on both of them."