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Slow start stymies Caps, Sheary continues to punish Pens, Caps scuffling vs. Pens in games that go beyond 60 minutes, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Start Me Up - For the third straight game, the Capitals' took some time to get started on Tuesday night against the Penguins. And as it turned out, it was time they didn't have. Games between these two longtime rivals are too tight and too hard-fought to wade into slowly, and the Caps came out on the short end of a 3-2 overtime decision at night's end.

Kasperi Kapanen scored at 1:43 of overtime to give Pittsburgh its fourth win in five games against Washington this season, with three of those victories coming beyond the end of regulation. The Caps have owned a lead at some point in all five games they've played against the Pens this season but are 1-1-3 against them.

The Caps were impotent on a pair of early power play chances in Tuesday's game, and those turned out to be the only extra-man chances Washington would have on the night.

"Sometimes I think that your specialty teams are reflected in the game itself," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "And for me, the game - from a 5-on-5 standpoint - wasn't good. The power play reflected that. We just needed to be better, we weren't and there are no excuses for that.

"At the end of the day, those power play opportunities, you don't know when you're going to get them. We got them in the first period, and we weren't very good 5-on-5 and we weren't very good on the power play."

Pittsburgh cashed in its own lone first-period power play to take a 1-0 lead into the second, and the Caps came back to take a 2-1 lead after the midpoint of the second on goals from Richard Panik and Conor Sheary. But Washington's lead was most fleeting; it lasted all of 22 seconds before Jake Guentzel tied it with an adroit deflection, utilizing the shaft of his stick.

Three of the five games between Washington and Pittsburgh this season have been tied heading into the third, and all three of those third periods have been scoreless. Pittsburgh prevailed in all three, winning one in a shootout and the other two on overtime goals from Sidney Crosby on Jan. 19 and Kapanen on Tuesday night.

"When it gets to overtime or a shootout, you obviously want to do what it takes to win," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "But at 3-on-3, there is a ton of ice out there and stuff can happen. In a shootout, really anything can happen.

"I think we've got to be more focused on our regulation where there is room for improvement in a game like tonight. There wasn't a whole lot either way, but the points are important. We don't like losing to those guys. These are big points, big games and if we put a little more emphasis into the full 60-minute game, and maybe we can an upper hand and get a goal lead or something like that. That being said, if it goes to OT we've got to get it done, but it's a bit of a crapshoot at that point."

Biting The Hand - Sheary's goal was his fifth of the season and his second in three games this season against the Penguins, with whom he got his start in the NHL. Pittsburgh signed Sheary as an undrafted college free agent, and he played the first 184 games of his NHL career in a Penguins sweater before being dealt to Buffalo in the summer of 2018.

A year ago today, the Pens reacquired Sheary from the Sabres, and he skated in eight more games with them before the pandemic halted the 2019-20 season.

Of the 148 games Sheary has played for Buffalo and Washington, eight have been against Pittsburgh, and he has now scored six goals in those eight games.

"I don't really know," says Sheary of his success against his former employers. "I guess I know a little bit of their tendencies from being there, but a lot of guys in this league have a team that they just find ways to score against and play well against, and for whatever reason that has been Pittsburgh since I left there. I don't really know what it is specifically, maybe I just get a little bit more amped up to play them.

"But I don't think I had many opportunities tonight. Just the one opportunity I did get I was able to bury, which was good. But I don't know what it is specifically."

All five of Sheary's goals have come at even strength, and he is tied for the team lead in 5-on-5 tallies.

Hard Eight - Including their three losses to the Penguins beyond 60 minutes this season, the Capitals have now dropped eight straight regular season overtime/shootout decisions to the Penguins. Six of those losses have come in overtime and two in the shootout.

Washington's most recent shootout or overtime triumph over the Penguins in the regular season was on Oct. 13, 2011 when the Caps prevailed 3-2 on Dennis Wideman's power-play goal in overtime.

Missing Man - Midway through the third period of Tuesday's game, Penguins winger Jason Zucker seemed to catch his left leg awkwardly as he tried to exit his own zone right in front of the Pittsburgh bench. Zucker was writhing in pain on the ice for a couple minutes before being helped off, but he wasn't able to put any weight on his leg and was clearly in a great deal of discomfort.

Obtained from Minnesota a year ago this month, Zucker has totaled 10 goals and 19 points in 32 regular season games with Pittsburgh, including four goals and seven points in 17 games this season.

"He is a popular guy," says Sullivan of Zucker. "He's a real good person, he's a great teammate, he's totally invested in the Penguins and anytime a teammate like that goes down, there is obvious concern from everybody because we all care about him. But he has really become one of the quiet leaders in the locker room. He is a veteran guy for us, he plays the game hard. He is a popular guy in our room."

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 22 minutes in ice time in Tuesday's game. Each of Washington's six defensemen skated at least 18:34 in the contest … Eight different Caps skaters recorded two shots on net to tie for the team lead … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shot attempts … Brenden Dillon, Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd each had four hits to lead Washington … Dillon led the Caps with four blocked shots.

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