Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 4-1 loss to Washington on Friday at Capital One Arena...
* The difference in this game was special teams. The Caps went 2-for-6 on the power play and held the Pens scoreless on all of their opportunities, including two chances in the first five minutes of the third period. The teams played a fairly even game at even-strength, with a decent amount of scoring chances on both sides.
* The Caps may have scored twice on the man-advantage, but I don't think that's necessarily a reflection on Pittsburgh's penalty killers. They did a good job considering the circumstances. The Pens gave the Caps too many opportunities, exemplified when Kris Letang got called for two penalties on the same play like Jake Guentzel did earlier this season. The PKers didn't give up much, and seemed set to kill it off when an opportunistic T.J. Oshie was able to sneak a shot in with just one second left to break a 1-1 tie, and it stood as the game-winner. Tough break for the Pens, who certainly have to be more disciplined moving forward. They can't give up that many opportunities to a dangerous power play like that without any consequences.
* The Pens talked afterward about needing to be more resilient. That goal by Oshie, as Sullivan put it, definitely stung, but they needed to have a better pushback, especially on the first shift coming out of it.
* The Caps were able to get timely, opportunistic goals on their power plays, while the Pens were not. It wasn't for lack of trying. The Pens had a lot of zone time and puck movement, but just weren't putting it on net enough. "I thought we had opportunities to shoot the puck. We've been reluctant for whatever reason the last couple of games to shoot the puck, and I think we can generate offense off of it," Mike Sullivan said after the game. "When we have that shot-first mindset, I think that's when the power play is at its best." I thought Patric Hornqvist was the glue out there tonight. His battle level and work ethic created a lot for his teammates.
* As Sullivan said this morning, there's always a heightened emotional level between the Pens and Caps because of the rivalry and some of the high-stakes games they've played the last couple of the years. That manifested tonight in the form of physicality. Players on both teams were hitting everything that moved and making sure to finish their checks, which meant a lot of bodies flying. Brian Dumoulin took a check in the first period that sent him to the locker room, but he was able to return. Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves for a fight with Liam O'Brien, quickly laying him out with a few well-placed right hooks.
* Sullivan decided to switch up his lines towards the end of the second period, and I thought the team got a spark. He put Guentzel with Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and Conor Sheary with Riley Sheahan and Carl Hagelin. The trios were connecting for some pretty passing plays, which was exemplified on Kessel's goal from Rust and Malkin, the lone tally of the night for Pittsburgh.
* Kessel has been consistently producing for the Pens this season. His goal was his sixth of the year, and team-leading 20th point. He has tallied at least a point in all but four of the Pens' 18 games, including goals in two straight. Both have come at even strength, which is positive step considering most of his production had been coming on the power play.