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Capitals spoil Sullivan's debut as Penguins coach

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made 44 saves and spoiled the debut of Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan in a 4-1 victory at Consol Energy Center on Monday.

"I was seeing the puck well. Seeing it through traffic," Holtby said. "And I thought my movement was good, but it had to be because my rebound control wasn't very good. It was a lot of shots, but I think we did a pretty good job battling in front and keeping those second opportunities to the minimum."

With the Capitals up 2-1, T.J. Oshie scored an insurance goal when he carried the puck past Penguins defenseman Ian Cole before wrapping a shot around the left post 8:50 into the third period.

Oshie scored again with 48.1 seconds remaining.

Pittsburgh outshot Washington 45-34, but Sullivan, who was named coach after Mike Johnston was relieved of his duties Saturday, said he thought the Penguins were pressing in some areas, particularly while failing to capitalize on two power plays.

"I think we've got to think we've got to find a way to free ourselves up to be more instinctive and not press," Sullivan said. "Sometimes when you try too hard, you're out of that instinctive mindset where you're seeing the ice and you're in that flow mindset. … Having said that, we'll go back to work tomorrow, we'll focus on the process and we'll pull ourselves out of this."

Pittsburgh (15-11-3) is 11 points behind Washington (21-6-2) in the Metropolitan Division after losing its first game under Sullivan. The Capitals earned a point for the 10th time in 11 games to extend their division lead to three points over the New York Islanders.

Oshie said the Capitals realized the Penguins might feel revitalized under a new coach Monday and had to account for that.

"We were stressing it quite a bit before the game, that they were going to come out with some intensity. They're going to try to impress their new coach," Oshie said. "They're going to earn their ice time. You get lifted when you have a new opportunity. For me, personally, when you see a coach go, you feel a little let down because that obviously means you're not playing that good, so you pick your own game up.

"I thought we did a good job matching their intensity and having a good start."

After a spirited first shift from the Penguins' top line produced three shots in the first 43 seconds of the game, the Capitals rebounded to score the opening two goals.

Defenseman Karl Alzner slid a pass to Backstrom entering the offensive zone with Sidney Crosby trailing. Backstrom sent a snap shot over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's glove from the top of the right circle for a 1-0 Capitals lead 3:53 into the first period.

John Carlson extended the lead when he collected his own rebound, beating Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta to the puck, and took a wrist shot into the upper-right corner 7:04 into the opening period.

"It always feels better to score the first goal," Backstrom said. "Statistically, I think we're pretty good when we score the first one and we got 2-0 there in the first, so that was obviously big for us and I thought we managed the game well."

Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin cut the deficit in half when he deflected a Ben Lovejoy slap shot past Holtby to make it 2-1 with 6:01 remaining in the first.

Pittsburgh nearly tied the game when Patric Hornqvist's backhand shot hit off the right post and sat at the Washington goal line. The puck eventually came to Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, with Holtby out of position, but Kunitz backhanded a shot into Carlson before it was cleared with 8:47 remaining in the second period.

"We knew they were going to funnel pucks toward the net," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "That's just the first thing that usually [happens] when there's a coaching change is you're going to drive the net really hard and throw pucks from everywhere, and they did that."

The Capitals thought they took a 3-1 lead 1:49 later when Justin Williams followed the puck through the Penguins crease before backhanding a shot into the net, but it was ruled he ran into Fleury.

Penguins forward Beau Bennett left the game with 1:04 remaining in the first period after Oshie hit him into the boards.

Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi was a late healthy scratch and was traded during the game to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Trevor Daley. Adam Clendening replaced Scuderi in the Penguins lineup.

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said he does not anticipate making another trade at this time.

"I'd like to give Mike a little time with this group, see how it settles in, then we'll take a look at it," Rutherford said. "One of the things with making the move was the coaching change, making it when we did, it gives us enough time to make other adjustments if necessary."

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