Pittsburgh vastly outplayed the Capitals throughout Wednesday's game, but a night of stellar goaltending from Braden Holtby, a couple of sweet setups from John Carlson, and a timely and late tally from a battered T.J. Oshie enabled the Caps to come out on top, 2-1.
The Pens lugged a four-game losing streak into Wednesday's game, and they probably deserved a better fate after playing one of their best games of the season to date. Although the Caps didn't play nearly as well as they did in their previous game on Monday against Edmonton, they come out of Wednesday's game with their first pair of consecutive wins on the season.
Video: TJ Oshie | November 7
Takes A Licking, Comes Back Clicking - Hockey players are notoriously tough and rugged, and they're the types to fight through all manner of maladies and ailments to get back on the ice and help their team.
Oshie endured a difficult evening on Wednesday night. After taking an inadvertent - and unpenalized - hi-stick to the face from Pens defender Olli Maatta early in the first period, Oshie went off to get stitched up and he missed the remainder of the first frame.
While killing off a Caps penalty early in the third, Oshie took an open ice hit to the head from Pens center Evgeni Malkin. Oshie went down in a heap, and Malkin was ejected from the game and assessed a five-minute major for an illegal check to the head.
"He got over the blueline," says Oshie, in recounting the hit from Malkin, "and went to make a drop pass and my read was to let him skate by, then jump around and go pressure the guy on the blueline there. And he might have maybe thought I was coming to hit him, and so he threw the reverse shoulder out there. I mean, I try to do that all the time; I did it at least once tonight. I just wasn't expecting it, being on the [penalty kill]. You don't typically go for hits. He caught me there, and it is what it is. I passed my concussion test and we won the game, so we're feeling good in here."
Video: Holtby, Oshie lead Capitals past Penguins, 2-1
Manufacturing The Winner - When Oshie scored the game-winning goal, only 74 seconds remained in regulation and overtime seemed to be in the offing. It took a couple of icings on the part of the Pens, a couple of good plays, a perfect pass and a perfect shot, and some maneuvering from behind the bench to create the difference in the game.
Frequently this season, Caps coach Todd Reirden has deployed a forward trio of Alex Ovechkin and Oshie flanking Nicklas Backstrom, but he has done so only for the last shift of periods, seeking to make a difference in the game before the two teams head off for intermission. In Wednesday's game, the gambit paid off, but with Evgeny Kuznetsov on the ice instead of Backstrom. Oshie had just returned to action after passing his concussion protocol; he scored the game-winner on his second shift after coming back.
"As a coach," says Reirden, "there are certain opportunities you get in the game where you can get a match-up that you feel is strongly to your advantage, especially at home. We were fortunate to get an icing call; we forced them to ice the puck. We had their third [defensive] pairing on the ice. Lars [Eller's] line was on, and then I went right with Kuznetsov's line [with Ovechkin and Dmitrij Jaskin], and I had Jaskin there on the one side because we were running a face-off play that was particular to the right dot.
"And then [the Pens] iced it again, and then I was able to put Oshie out there [in place of Jaskin]. I was going back and forth on that one, because I needed to have T.J. play the last 45 seconds I thought against [Sidney Crosby's] line. But I went with a gut call on that one, and it was able to work out. It was a great play by John and T.J.; it was just fitting that it ended like that."
Ovechkin drew some attention in front, leaving a little space on the weak side for Oshie to slip into.
"I was kind of looking around the short side," says Pens goalie Casey DeSmith, "because Ovechkin was in front tied up with somebody. I was a little flat-footed there, so I didn't get a good read and a good pushover. I definitely could have gotten a little closer to that one if I had made a better read, I think."
"I just saw Osh busting his tail around the pile there," says Carlson. "[The Pens] had some duplication or didn't really check off. That's our goal in the offensive zone, is to - if it's a man-on-man team - make them have that indecision, because it's easier sometimes to pass off. But I feel like the tendency when you're man-on-man is to run into each other almost, and that's kind of what they did. They gave me some extra time and Osh saw some open ice and he made a great shot."
As Maatta battled Ovechkin at the top of the paint, Pittsburgh defenseman Jamie Oleksiak advanced toward Carlson, ready to block a shot if needed. Meanwhile Oshie slipped below all three Pittsburgh forwards and toward the far post.
"It was a play going on down the wall there," says Oshie. "I saw Kuzy coming up the wall, and I kind of flashed back to the last game [against Edmonton] with Backy coming up the wall. I kind of struck through the middle there, and [Kuznetsov] went up and gave it to Carly, and I just came up and ended up getting lost in the front of the net there, and he made a great pass. I probably didn't have to put it in that high a portion of the net, but [the puck] was kind of on end. I was glad she stayed low enough."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | November 7
Back On The Beam - Holtby was brilliant on Wednesday, stopping 41 of the 42 shots he faced to help the Caps steal a couple of points from the Pens. In addition to the saves he made, the Caps helped him out with 21 shot blocks and the Pens missed the mark 15 times, too.
With Wednesday's win, Holtby halted a three-game personal slide (0-2-1).
"For us, it's probably fortunate to come away from that one with two points," says Reirden, but you have to find ways to win in this league when you are not at your best. Your goalie has got to play a huge role in that if you're going to be able to pull something off like that, and I thought tonight was his best effort."
Moving On Up - Ovechkin scored Washington's first goal on a Caps power play in the second period. The power-play goal was the 235th of Ovechkin's career, moving him into sole possession of eighth place on the NHL's all-time list. Ovechkin now trails seventh-place Mario Lemieux (236) by one and he trails sixth-place Brendan Shanahan (237) by two.
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 28:17 in ice time … Kuznetsov and Brett Connolly led the Caps with four shots on net each and Ovechkn led the Caps with eight shot attempts … Jaskin led Washington with four hits … Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with six blocked shots … Eller won seven of 10 draws (70%) … Wednesday's road loss in Washington was the Pens' first suffered in regulation this season; they're 4-1-2 on the road … Pittsburgh outshot the Caps 42-22 and out-attempted Washington by 78-46 … Crosby got all eight of his shot tries on net and won 17 of 25 draws (68%) … Crosby had his highest single-game shots on goal total since he fired nine shots in a March 11, 2017 game at Vancouver.