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#CapsPens Postgame Notebook: Goal Rush

Caps winning streak stopped in one of highest scoring NHL games in last two decades, Eller line shines.

by Washington Capitals @Capitals /

Heading into their Monday night matchup at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, both the Capitals and the Penguins were missing their top defensemen in terms of average ice time per game. The Caps were playing without John Carlson (lower body, day-to-day) for the first time this season while the Pens played without Kris Letang (lower body, week-to-week), who ranks ninth in the NHL in average ice time per game. 

The way the game turned out, though, you would have thought the two sides played without goalies.

Video: Penguins and Capitals combine for 15-goal classic

In one of the wilder games of this season, this decade or this century, the Caps and Penguins turned back the clock and turned up the offense. The result was an 8-7 Penguins win in overtime in which both teams rallied from multiple-goal deficits, and both teams combined for nine second-period goals.

"It was a number of different games in terms of momentum," Caps coach Barry Trotz remarks.

That it was.

The Caps put together a strong start that led to a 1-0 lead, but by the midpoint of the first period they were guilty of being far too careless with the puck on their own side of the rink, shortening the ice for the opportunistic Penguins. 

Instead of strong and sustained offensive zone shifts in an effort to wear down the Letang-less Pens defense, the weary Caps seemed content to trade rush chances with the fresher Penguins and it proved to be a faulty recipe. 

A puzzling bit of justice in the wake of an uncalled Patric Hornqvist punch to T.J. Oshie's grill led to two minutes of four-on-four hockey early in the second, and the Pens used it as the springboard for their comeback. They scored twice in those two minutes, closing the gap to a single goal. 

But the Pens were far from finished. Those two tallies were the first of five unanswered in the middle period, pushing Pittsburgh to a 5-3 lead. Washington rallied to tie the game at 5-5, getting two goals in a span of 107 seconds.

Evgeni Malkin completed his hat trick less than 30 seconds later to restore the Pittsburgh lead, and a Washington video challenge alleging goaltender interference on the play fell on blind eyes. 

Early in the third, Pittsburgh ran its lead to 7-5, but Washington rallied once again to tie the game and force overtime. Pittsburgh's Conor Sheary ended it quickly, scoring off a goalmouth scramble when the puck trickled over the goal line. 

When it was over, few of the participants knew quite how to sum up what they'd just witnessed/participated in. 

"A lot of stuff going on," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "It was kind of a head scratcher, to be honest with you." 

Caps winger Justin Williams summed it up best, saying, "All around, it was like a 1988 Smythe Division game out there, not something we want to do."

Both coaches used a form of the word "resilient" in describing their team's performance.
Video: Coach Trotz on Monday's 8-7 OT loss to the Penguins
"I feel fortunate we got a point," says Trotz. "I liked the resiliency of our group. Down two goals twice in this game - even though we had a 3-0 lead - I liked the resiliency of the guys fighting back, because we should be the tired team. We've played a lot of games and a lot of high quality games here in the last little while." 

"I think the thing that we're most pleased about is the resilience," says Pens coach Mike Sullivan. "You get down three goals to a real good team like that, and I thought at that particular point that game could have went one of two ways. That could have turned into a rout quickly, and it didn't. And I give our guys a ton of credit for that. We've got a resilient group and they know they're capable of coming back in games when they get down multiple goals." 

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Caps and Pens are the first two NHL teams to combine for 15 or more goals in a game since Oct. 27, 2011 when Winnipeg outlasted Philadelphia, 9-8.

Nipped At Nine - Washington's nine-game winning streak ended in Monday's loss to the Pens. During the life of the streak, the Capitals outscored the opposition by a combined 40-11 and 35-6 at even strength, authored four shutouts, permitted two or fewer goals in eight of the nine games, and scored five or more goals in six of the nine. 

Washington went 5-for-22 (22.7%) on the power play and 38-for-43 (88.4%) on the penalty kill during the life of the streak. 

This season's nine-game winning streak marks the third time the Caps have reached that number since forging a franchise record 14-game winning streak in 2009-10. The Caps also won nine straight in 2010-11 and in 2015-16. 
Video: Caps talk after 8-7 OT loss in Pittsburgh
The Finish Line - The line of Lars Eller between Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky was Washington's most productive on Monday, accounting for more than half of the team's offensive output. Each member of the trio scored, with Eller scoring twice; and both of his goals were tying tallies that enabled the Caps to come back from two-goal deficits. 

Eller's first goal was shorthanded, his first shorty with the Capitals and the fifth of his NHL career. Burakovsky scored the game's first goal at 7:06 of the first, and he added an assist on Connolly's goal late in the second period, Washington's fourth goal of the game. 

"I thought Eller's line was excellent tonight," says Trotz. "They scored some big goals - some timely goals - to get us back in and give us some momentum." 

Eller now has three goals and five points in his last four games. Burakovsky has two goals and four points in his last three games and Connolly has three goals in his last five contests.

Scoring Spread - Twenty-five of the 36 skaters who suited up for Monday's game earned at least a point. That figure includes 14 members of the Capitals and 11 Penguins.

In Letang's absence, Justin Schultz logged a team-high 24:15 in ice time, registering four assists. Schultz and Sidney Crosby (goal, three assists) paced the Pens in scoring with four points each while T.J. Oshie's three points (one goal, two assists) led the Caps.

For Schultz, his four assists is a single-game career high. 

Seven Down - Monday's game marked just the sixth time in Washington's franchise history - and the first time in more than 28 years - the Caps scored seven goals in a game and did not come away with a victory. 

The last time it happened was Oct. 11, 1988, also in Pittsburgh but at the old Igloo. Mike Ridley scored four goals for the Capitals and Mario Lemieux notched a hat trick for the Pens in that one. Pens goalie Wendell Young stopped 32 of 39 to earn the win, while Clint Malarchuk was tagged with the loss. Malarchuk gave up the last two Pittsburgh goals in relief of Pete Peeters. 

Metropolitan Marauders - With its seven-goal outburst on Monday, Washington moved into fifth place in the league in average goals per game (3.11). But the Caps rank fourth in the Metropolitan Division in that category, trailing Pittsburgh (3.51), the New York Rangers (3.41) and Columbus (3.31). 

Seven of the Metro's eight resident teams are among the league's top 12 in scoring. The New York Islanders rank eighth with an average of 2.83 goals per game, Carolina is 11th at 2.77 and Philadelphia is 12th at 2.76. 

New Jersey is the only Metro team not among the league's top dozen in scoring. With an average of just 2.18 goals per game, the Devils rank 28th in the NHL. 

Going The Distance - Despite surrendering seven goals on just 28 shots, Pens goalie Matt Murray went the distance in Monday's game. He earned the victory, running his record to 7-2-1 in his last 10 decisions. 

Along with Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec, Murray becomes just the second NHL goaltender in a span of almost 23 years to surrender as many as seven goals in a game and still earn a victory.

Home Cooking - The Penguins have been virtually unbeatable at home this season, so perhaps the Caps should consider themselves fortunate to have picked up a total of two points in their two visits to the Steel City this season. 

The Pens are 19-2-2 overall at PPG Paints Arena, and they won their sixth in succession at home over the Caps on Monday. Pittsburgh is 12-0-1 in its last 13 games at home, and it leads the NHL in home victories and points (40) this season. 

By The Numbers - Niskanen led all skaters on both sides with 26:42 in ice time … Oshie led the Caps with five shots on net while Alex Ovechkin led Washington with 11 shot attempts … Washington was credited with 41 hits in the game … Four Caps registered at least five hits, led by Ovechkin's nine and followed by Brooks Orpik's six and five each from Niskanen and Tom Wilson … Twelve different Caps combined to block 16 shots …  Washington went more than 19 periods without allowing a five-on-five goal before Nick Bonino scored to tie Monday's game at 3-3 in the second period.

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