Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 4-3 win against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.
* The Penguins went into the lion's den and conquered the king of the jungle.
Pittsburgh came to Washington, D.C. to face the Metro Division-leading Capitals and reignite one of the NHL's best rivalries. The Penguins went up against the team with the best record in the NHL, and one of the most dominant home teams in the league.
And the Penguins will leave D.C. with a W and two points.
Pittsburgh used a three-goal outburst to stake a 3-1 lead, and then held on against a ferocious press by Washington in the third period. It was a satisfying victory for the Penguins. One that reminded the Capitals and the entire NHL that Pittsburgh shall not be overlooked.
Though many people called this a statement game for Pittsburgh coming in, it felt more like it was the Capitals trying to make a statement and prove something to the Penguins - and themselves. Pittsburgh has been a thorn in the side of Washington throughout both franchises' history. You know coming into the game that Washington wanted to assert its dominance.
Instead, the Penguins did what they do best…beat the Capitals.
* Goaltender Matt Murray was tested early and often against the Capitals, and he passed mightily. In the opening minutes of the game Alex Ovechkin stepped out of the penalty box to give the Capitals a 3-on-2 rush. Some sweet passing led to a chance for Garnet Hathaway in the slot. Murray stretch out his pad and glove to block the shot. That save set the tone for Murray and the game.
In the second period with the Penguins' leading 2-1 Jakub Vrana had a breakaway. The Caps' forward deked and tried to go backhand, but Murray closed his giant pads on the puck for the stop.
But his best save came late in the third period with Pittsburgh holding a one-goal lead. Ovechkin pulled the puck out of a pile of bodies at the Penguins crease, pulled it around and lifted a shot. Murray lunged forward with his pad and glove to stuff the shot.
It's been an up-and-down season for Murray, who hasn't reached his usually level of domination. The coaching staff showed some trust in him by giving him the start against the top team in the NHL. Murray rewarded their faith by coming through in the clutch. He made 29 saves in the game to pick up his sixth straight win.
* Forward Patric Hornqvist was hit from behind by Lars Eller in the first period and flew head-first into the boards. Hornqvist stayed on the ice and was shaken up on the play. Fellow Swede Marcus Pettersson responded by going after Eller.
But the Penguins overall responded the right way by scoring. That's how you really hurt a team that tries to run you.
Hornqvist re-directed a pass from John Marino at the crease. The puck went off of Hornqvist's stick and then off of rookie sensation Ilya Samsonov's stick and over the goal line to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
* After surrendering the game's opening goal to Washington, the Penguins bounced back to tie the game in a mere 68 seconds. And it was the recently recalled Sam Lafferty who notched that tying goal.
It was great to see for Lafferty, who has spent time in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch and was sent back to the American Hockey League to work on his game. Lafferty got a chance to be back in the lineup this afternoon and made the most of it.
Lafferty was streaking down the far side with the puck when he ticketed a bullet into the top corner over the shoulder of Samsonov.
* This afternoon was the first time the Penguins faced the 22-year-old Samsonov. He entered the game with 11 straight wins, and hadn't lost since Nov. 15. That all changed today.